June 16 - Bahir Dar: The market, Lake Tana, Monasteries and the Blue Nile Falls

 Our flight from Addis arrives on time in Bahir Dar about 8:40 am.  We load our luggage in the van and head into Bahir Dar.  Immediately, we notice the large stream of people walking into town, carrying all sorts of goods.  Alem tells us that today is market day in Bahir Dar and it is home to one of the largest and busiest open air markets in Ethiopia. We decide this is something to witness, so after dropping our stuff at the Lake Tana Hotel, we head to the market.


Hundreds of booths and stalls offer everything imaginable, all grains, spices, green coffee beans, butter, eggs, all varieties of local vegetables, live chickens, goats, clothes, shoes, sewing repair, and so on… want it, you can probably find it here. The aisles are jam packed with thousands of people. We are impressed with the commerce taking place here.  Even Alem, our local guide notes how much of the local food is available and within reach of the average person living in Bahir Dar. A few in our group managed to help the local economy too!


After the market, we return to our hotel, ready for the afternoon adventure. One of Bahir Dar's main attraction is the selection of Ethiopian Christian Orthodox monasteries which are found on some of Lake Tana's 37 islands. The monasteries are reached by boat, which we board right at our hotel.


On our way to the monastery, we pass several merchants, paddling their boat with a heavy load of wood to be sold at the market in Bahir Dar.  But the amazing thing is that their boat is hand made from papyrus reeds.  This is still a preferred boat from the islands in Lake Tana.  We also learn from our guide that they only last about 2 months, and then must be replaced.


Our other unexpected treat is the spotting of a large hippo, languishing near the shore.  Our boat captain spotted the hippo just before we docked to go see the monastery.  We watched for about 10 minutes, as the hippo bobbed up and down, but never getting more than 6-8 inches out the water.


We dock at the Zege Peninsula, which is home to the Ura Kidane Mihret monastery and dates from the 16th century. It has changed little since its creation. The is the  largest and most-visited of the monasteries in the area. The round building consists of three concentric circles, the innermost of which is the Holy of Holies containing the monastery's replica of the Ark. The walls of the inner circle are covered with bright murals and paintings, depicting many of the stories from both the Old and New Testament.


Our final stop of the day is at the Blue Nile Waterfall. The Blue Nile Falls are one of the greatest falls in Africa. It is located in Ethiopian plateau, passing the Blue Nile River. The Blue Nile river starts in Lake Tana and is one of the major headwater sources for the Nile River that flows through Sudan and Egypt. This waterfall is also known as Tis Issat meaning smoking water, as the continuous dropping of water creates a smoke-like bounce of water droplets. The Blue Nile Falls has an enormous height of 37 to 45 meters or around 150 feet and its width is estimated at about half a mile. Watching the river water drop down the waterfalls is truly breathtaking.



June 15 - Water Project visits in the Abichu and Gnea Districts of Oromia

Today is an exciting day for our group.  We are headed to the field to visit some water projects, all hand dug wells (HDW) that have just been recently started.  Thus we get to see the projects at the very early stages of work, as the well is being dug.

W2T recently (less than two months ago) released funding to start the construction of 22 water projects (17 HDW’s and 5 Spring Protection Developments) in the Abichu and Gnea districts of Oromia.  This area is north of Addis Ababa (about 3 hours drive) and is in an area the has low access to clean safe water.  These projects are being constructed by our implementing partners Glimmer of Hope (AGOHF) and Oromia Development Association (ODA).  This set of projects are also important because of it the first implementation in our relationship with ODA.

We spent another night in Ambo (2 hours west of Addis) so to have enough time to complete our field visits, we start really early. Our sleepy group pile into the van about 6:30 am and start driving toward Addis.  We meet our hosts from Glimmer and ODA on the north edge of Addis and drive together to the project area.  We take some time in Debre Brihan, near the project area for some coffee and light snacks, as we know we will be in the field all day today.

Our projects are part of a larger Integrated Community Development (ICD) program that Glimmer is implementing for these districts.  It includes not just our water projects, but also a health posts, several new school blocks and some micro-finance assistance for economic development in the area.

We arrive at the first site, serving the village of Daye Adela.  What a wonderful image as we drive up to see about 40 women, men and children from the village all hard at work on their project.  As in all our projects, the local community is expected to contribute to the wells, at least 10% of the total costs. The women and children are gathering local materials, mostly rock and wood, and bringing it to the site. These materials will be used in the construction of the well.  The men are digging and excavating the actual well. They had reached a depth of about 20 feet. The minimum depth of the well is 8 meters (about 25 feet), but they had not yet reached an aquifer with sufficient water, so they are expecting to continue digging several more days. We get to discuss the new project with the community, hearing in their voices the joy and excitement of the promise of clean water to come. ODA has organized the water committee and the community is collecting money already for the maintenance fund and the bank account is open!.....even before the water is a reality. What a joy to participate in this anticipation of great things to come from this community!

Community members gather materials at Daye Adela

Jan and Eleanor help gather stones for the well's fence

Digging the well at Daye Adela

Our second project stop is at the community of Chitu. Much is the same here, but two thing things were notably different. First there is an open, very contaminated spring nearby that the community has been using to fetch water for their families.  That, of course, will no longer be necessary in a few short weeks. Second, the community digging team is struggling with some hard rock which they must penetrate to reach the aquifer.  No to be deterred, the men swap off at regular 10 minute intervals to provide relief from the back-breaking work of chipping away at the rock.  They too expressed their confidence that they would be through to the aquifer in the next couple of days.

Chipping away at the Chitu well

The current spring at Chitu

Our third project stop is at the community of Tamame. As we are talking with the workers at this site, an older gentleman of the community interrupts and says he has something to say….we turn to hear his comments.  He said over the years many had come and promised water, but nothing had happened. So, this time he didn’t really believe that it would happen either. “I didn’t believe it would be any different”, he said. But when the digging began several ago…”well, this time it may be a reality, and now that I see you here, I know we will be blessed with clean water. God bless you for coming to our community!” It is these special, blessed moments that keep us motivated to be even greater advocates for the blessing to clean safe water for those who have never had it.

Our partners at ODA give us some great news….they think that all 17 of the hand-dug wells in our project set will be completed and in use by the end of June, before the rainy season start in earnest in this area.  Clean water for about 5,000 people is just around the corner.

We start to make our way back to Addis, but on the way, we stop at the new health post that has been implemented by Glimmer/ODA for this community.  The two nurses in our group, Eleanor and Jim get to tour the place and talk personally with one of the two health workers assigned to the post.  The health posts focuses on women pre-natal care and they do many of the deliveries of newborns for area.  They also do health education as well as make some home visitations. Cases with significant complications are referred to the nearest hospital that is about 15 miles away.

Eleanor and Jim talk with a community health worker

Our interaction with the communities today remind us how so little can do so much to transform lives with clean water. And if given a chance, the communities will not only be committed to helping with the construction of the project in a major way, but also be committed to preserving this precious resource for the next generation.

June 14 - Ejajii and Central Gibe Synod of Mekane Yesus

We got an early morning start today as we were going to be "in the field" visiting water projects with our implementing partner, the Development and Social Services Commission (DASSC) of Mekane Yesus (Ethiopian Lutheran Church). We have implemented a total of about 25 projects in this area during that time, and DASSC has recently completed 11 such projects earlier in 2012.

We met the DASSC program manager for water, Bikila, at our hotel in Ambo and started for Ejajii about 7:45 am. We've been working with the DASSC staff at Central Gibe Synod over the last 30 months or so. We got to the Synod office in Ejajii after about 3 hours driving, the last 1/3 is under construction for replacement and pretty challenging. Our group was greeted by some of the Synod staff who will accompany us on visits to the communities. 

Two members of our group, Eleanor and Jan, brought a suitcase full of school supplies and dental supplies on the trip.  They decided this was a perfect opportunity to provide some additional support for the school children of the Synod, so they left the materials with the President of the Synod to distribute to the schools in greatest need.  They were very grateful for the items and will put them to good use.

Jan and Eleanor present supplies to Mekane Yesus in Ejajii


After that, everyone piled into the DASSC team's two Toyota land cruisers (4WD) since our van couldn't make it to some of the rural areas we were visiting. The rural roads are unpaved and can be very bumpy. Our first stop is at the project site for the community of Sayo.  It is a spring protection system located near the village, down a fairly steep path.  We were amazed at the number of members using the project, a lot of empty jerry cans going down the path, and full ones coming up! The community expressed it appreciation and thankfulness for the clean water and the benefits it was bringing to the community.

Sayo spring protection system

At this site, Jill spent some time visiting with one of the female Water Committee members, Diribe. Before the spring protection system was completed, she told us, "We were expected to come in the midnight because there were a lot of people waiting for this unprotected water source. That was beyond the capacity of the water source's output. It was difficult to access water, especially in the dry season. Now thanks to this project we are getting pure water within a manageable distance and whenever we like."

Diribe collecting water

Our next stop was at the project site of Sayo Gudatu.  This project is also a spring protection system, and a water trough for the cattle had been built with this project as well. We spoke with several community member who were busy collecting water for their families, all of whom expressed great joy over the presence of their new clean water source. 

Gathering water at Sayo Gudatu

Our time in the field was cut short as several dark clouds came up on the horizon and rain drops started to fall.  The remoteness of our location (down a path through the adjacent fields) made a treacherous retreat back to the gravel road.  After our drivers put the vehicles in the 4WD mode, we made it out with just a bit of slipping and sliding.

As we headed back to Ambo, we visited the village of Midakeng, also located in the Central Gibe Synod.  This is an area without any sustainable clean water sources for its community members.  We were able to meet with the leadership of the local district who explained the lack of potable water for this area.  This area could represent a future project area for Water to Thrive. We made our way back to Ambo, tired after a long day of driving, but joyous to have been able to experience firsthand with the community members the blessings of clean, safe water.

June 13 - Lakes and springwater, people who need water

After leaving Lake Longano we drove north through Addis Ababa on our way to Ambo, stopping at a small wildlife resort for lunch. There were monkeys playing in the backyard as we ate! Then we visited Wonchi Crater Lake, high in the mountains near Ambo. The view of the lake from the surrounding mountains was beautiful, and our guide Alem said it is his favorite place in Ethiopia.
We arrived in Ambo in time for dinner. The city is known for its springs, which produce fizzy mineral water that is bottled in Ambo and sold throughout Ethiopia. This naturally carbonated beverage also bears the name Ambo.
Each day, we have the opportunity to look out the van window at the towns, villages, and farmland. Everywhere we look, there are people who have overwhelming need. I am glad that through our many donors and supporters we are able to help this beautiful country, though I wish that change would come sooner for the people living in poverty here.
Wonchi Crater Lake


June 12 – Fish, carols, and serendipitous meetings

We started off the day with a visit to the fish co-op at the lake in Awassa. This is a one-stop-shop for catching, cleaning, cooking and selling fish. The workers buy in to become owners of co-op so that they can benefit from the many aspects of this micro-economy. They also had an area where you could eat the fish, which is a popular college hangout, according to our guide. They call it the "Sushi Club."

The Fishing Co-Op

For lunch, the Water to Thrive staff has a good meeting with DASC of the South Central Ethiopia Synod. We worked very successfully with Tessema, their new director, when he was formerly based in Addis, and we are optimistic about the opportunities to work with him in his new synod.

We spent the night at a resort or retreat center-like place on Lake Longano. Each “room” was a small cottage with a back patio overlooking the water. After walking along the lakeshore, we had dinner in the restaurant at our place of lodging, where our meal was accompanied by… Christmas music! They were broadcasting a CD of instrumental flute music including Deck the Halls, Silent Night, and What Child is This. We had a good, prolonged laugh about this.

Then, we were surprised to learn that Dr. Catherine Hamlin was eating at a table near us. She is one of our board member Jim Sorensen’s personal heroes because she founded seven hospitals to treat women suffering from fistulas, horrible childbirth injuries that cause the women to become outcasts in their communities. Jim introduced himself to her, and it was special to see them connect over their medical work in Ethiopia. (Many of you  know that Jim was a nurse and medical missionary there 50 years ago and has returned on other occasions to teach psychiatric nursing.) Read more about Dr. Hamlin here.

Relaxing at Lake Longano

June 11 - Visiting Zeway and Jido

After breakfast yesterday our group drove to Zeway in the Rift Valley, where we had a meeting with employees of the Mekane Yesus Development and Social Services Committee (DASC). This is the NGO (non-government organization) we are working with to try to bring water to a nearby impoverished community called Jido. At the DASC office we learned about the challenges that have kept this community from receiving safe drinking water thus far. The groundwater here has a very high mineral content, and is so high in flouride that it is dangerous to drink. It leaches calcium from the bones, and can turn the teeth black over time. Jido has a well already, but it pumps this flouride-poisoned water. The only other water source comes from the ponds and puddles left by rain, but this has problems of its own. The rainy season here is very short, and the rainwater is contaminated by waste and runoff the moment it touches the ground.

The plan for bringing clean water to Jido involves a pipeline from a spring resevoir in Bulbula. Since Bulbula has higher elevation, the pipe would use the force of gravity to bring water down into the valley. Now, the struggle is to figure out how to make this project efficient and affordable.

After our meeting, we drove to Jido, where we were greeted by dozens of children and looked upon with some confusion by their older relatives. They were actually awaiting the arrival of another group of U.S. visitors, our friends from Food for the Hungry who work with the community's orphaned youth, who arrived a little while after us.

It was clear that these families lack the water needed to sustain their lives and livelihood. Many of the kids' teeth showed decay, and because they have so little water in such a dusty place, it is impossible to keep clean. We really hope to be able to make this project work in the near future to help improve the livelihoods of Jido's children.



June 10 - "Reflections" Team Arrives in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa

The five travelers arrived in Ethiopia on Sunday morning after a 12 and a half hour flight from DC.  We promptly met up with Water to Thrive founder Dick Moeller and our tour guide for the trip, Alem. After taking a little bit of time to rest, we spent some time exploring Addis Ababa. At the Ethiopian National Museum, we learned about Ethiopia's long history and even got to visit a replica of ancient human ancestor "Lucy," who was discovered here.

We also viewed the beautiful stained glass windows at Trinity Cathedral, an Ethiopian Orthodox church that also commemorates Ethiopia's liberation from Italy after World War II. After our dinner at the Kaleb Hotel complete with cupcakes for dessert, everyone is looking forward to a restful night so that we can be ready for tomorrow's drive south to Zeway.

Thanks for following along with our travels! We will share more of our adventures in the next few days.


Kenya - June 2012 Day 3

Today I made a visit to the LWR office in Nairobi.  George introduced me to the finance team, Grace and Mark.  We had a chance to visit about some of the processes in the offices and see how the finance team works with the programs and assists with the reporting. They handle the financials for all three countries in East Africa under George’s directive, trying to visit each country quarterly and coordinate financial reporting with the field partners for the projects.  Both the country managers and program managers add programmatic content to the reports. These discussions helped confirm that there are very good policies in place for tracking both the field and financial progress and status of the field programs.


Off to Addis Ababa early tomorrow to await the arrival of the group on June 10th!

Dick Moeller

President of Water to Thrive

Kenya - June 2012 Day 2

Today George and I met with representatives of three NGO’s that work in the water sector in Kenya.

One of the most interesting was Herman Waiche from Forum for Development Programs in Africa (FODEPA).  Located in Bungamo, 450 KM from Nairobi, they operate strictly in the western part of Kenya that has a considerably greater amount of rainfall than the east. They do spring protection systems as well as HDW’s and are able to complete more than 50 projects per year.  Because of the amount of rainfall, water catchment systems are used in areas that are not appropriate for wells.  They also do a few boreholes in areas that have substantial bedrock, but these tend to be more expensive.

We also met Josephine Ekhuya of Kumea.  Her NGO operates predominately in the drier eastern region of Kenya, working mostly with boreholes. In addition, they do some HDW’s near river banks, allowing aquifers to recharge during the rainy seasons, as well as water catchment systems, specifically at schools. 

Both NGO’s have the capacity for a full range of community engagement, WASH training and operational sustainability.  Also at the meeting was Peter Okaka, a consultant who provides in-depth capacity building in WASH and direct programming support for NGO’s. He is very knowledgeable about WASH best practices and specific issues related to Kenya. All of the NGO’s shared with us examples of the kinds of proposals they have done in the past to seek funding for water projects.


Until later,

Dick Moeller

President of Water to Thrive

Kenya - June 2012 Day 1

We arrived on time in Nairobi at about 9:40 where we met the East Africa Director for LWR, George Odhiambo. Our driver, Daniel, took us directly to Makindu which is about 2 ½ hours to the east.  Makindu is part of the East Africa Drought Project for LWR.  We visited the village of Ndukangeuke, where the LWR has helped the community organize a Self Help Group. Jack Mulwa, the chairperson of the Group, greeted us and explained its operation.  They started up about 3 years ago with only 44 members. That number has now grown to over 350, representing about 2/3 of the community.  Each member contributes a small amount (20 Kenyan schillings, about $.25) per month and the group as a whole determines how it is used, from agricultural needs to education to specific family support.  Education and accountability are key elements of their operation.  We spoke with six people of the governing committee, including two women, one of whom serves as the treasurer.

This area is plagued by low annual rainfall, about 8-12 inches annually. When it does rain, it rains heavily for a short time period, so river flooding often occurs.  A river (normally dry except during the rainy period) runs nearby.  Often, community members go to the dry river bed and dig sand holes to try to locate water for their families.  LWR is working with the community to construct 6 new check dams along the river.  Large pools of water created during the rainy season can be used for crop irrigation, recharging the sub-surface water table and maintaining livestock during the dry season.

The community already has experience with a check dam, as one was constructed by the government last year.  It is being used for cattle and irrigation by nearby farmers.  The LWR project would add 6 more just like this one at different points along the river:

After viewing the first check dam constructed by the government, we also visit an aborted hand-dug well started by the community.  It is close to the river, so they hit a water source at about 25 feet.  However, because the community did not have the technical expertise to finish the well with the water running into it, the effort was abandoned.  This is still encouraging to us, though, because of the amount of water flow found close to the surface.  LWR has conducted an assessment of the area and six locations have been deemed suitable for hand-dug wells. 

After visiting the abandoned well site, we walked farther up the river and got to see several sites where the new check dams will be located and where additional HDW sites could be placed for easy access by the community.

We had a chance to discuss the need to set up the water committees for projects, conduct WASH training and build a community maintenance fund for sustainability.  Because this community already collects a monthly amount, they were confident they could do so.

Without any viable source of clean water today, 6 HDW wells in this community could provide much needed relief during the long dry season. In addition, the check dams are an excellent way to ensure the aquifers in the area are recharged each rainy season.


More to come,

Dick Moeller

President of Water to Thrive

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