Reflections on a Recent Visit to Ethiopia: What's Next?


This entry is the final of four from Jim Goering, who, with his wife Shirley, joined Water to Thrive in Ethiopia in June. In two multi-year postings in Ethiopia, first as an economic advisor from Harvard University and then as an official of the World Bank, Goering gained extensive experience in the country and brings this perspective to bear on Ethiopia's economic and social situation as well as on the work of Water to Thrive. This entry, providing his questions and recommendations for the ongoing work of Water to Thrive in Ethiopia, was preceded by his overview of Ethiopia's economic position, an overview of the nation's water issues, and a recap of the group's visit. In days to come, W2T founder Dick Moeller will also address the question of next steps and ongoing work.

It would be presumptuous in the extreme to attempt any recommendations regarding Water to Thrive's program on the basis of a visit of a few days to a relatively small number of water projects. Rather, I will share a few random thoughts, mainly in the form of questions, which came to mind as I saw the projects and listened to the related discussions by those involved. They are, in no particular order of priority:

* Could the program be made a bit more intentional in its underlying Christian basis by ensuring that the words “God,” “Jesus Christ,” or “Christ” appear in the permanent signage attached to each well-site? Or perhaps inclusion of a relevant verse from the Bible?

* To ensure sustainability, any philanthropic effort needs some degree of effective publicity attached to its efforts. Would there be merit in having most, if not all, of the signage at each well stated in the local or national language of the host country? My recollection is that all of the signage I saw was only in English—of interest to the relatively few international visitors that might visit these isolated sites, but virtually meaningless to the great majority of the local population or many local nationals.

* The total cost of identifying, capturing, and delivering a liter of water to the spigot at the well is significant, i.e., every drop is precious and every reasonable effort should be made to conserve it. I noticed considerable wastage of water at some sites from the fact that no funnel was being used to convey all of the water from the spigot directly to the jerry can. In contrast, on some wells, funnels were improvised from one liter plastic water bottles, cut into halves, inverted and wired to the spigot—a simple and effective way to eliminate wastage. A policy of working to achieve zero water wastage at the spigot would seem reasonable.

* I was impressed with the amount of community development work, much in the nature of tree planting, water harvesting, etc., being carried out by local community members. My understanding is that some of this work was being financed by USAID or other international funding sources. In the interests of capturing possible synergies in this community development work, would there be merit in W2T coordinating its water development efforts with this work carried out by other donors—perhaps through occasional coordination meetings in Addis?

This visit to Ethiopia under W2T auspices was a mind-changing experience for which both Shirley and I are grateful! The American novelist Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again,” implying that after any truly moving experience, mindsets and attitudes are forever changed. That sums it up well for me!





Reflections on a Recent Visit to Ethiopia: Rural Water Projects


This entry is the third of several from Jim Goering, who, with his wife Shirley, joined Water to Thrive in Ethiopia in June. In two multi-year postings in Ethiopia, first as an economic advisor from Harvard University and then as an official of the World Bank, Goering gained extensive experience in the country and brings this perspective to bear on Ethiopia’s economic and social situation as well as on the work of Water to Thrive. This entry, recapping the trip and looking at the needs of rural villages, was preceded by his overview of Ethiopia’s economic position and of the nation’s water issues, and will be followed by recommendations for the ongoing work of Water to Thrive.

The NGO Charity:Water has estimated that in Ethiopia, most rural families survive on about five liters of water per day, with family members (almost always the women and girls) walking up to four hours each day to collect this essential commodity from unprotected sources (and at considerable risk of sexual abuse during the walk). The risk of major infectious diseases is judged to be “very high,” due in large part to the prevalence of water-borne diseases, of which typhoid fever looms relatively large. This factor has particular relevance to the W2T program to expand safe water supplies in rural areas.

Other significant benefits of domestic water supply programs can be identified. Less time spent by women in collecting water for domestic use provides more time for the no less essential tasks of nurturing children, assisting them with schooling, and engaging in other economically valuable household tasks such as home gardening and poultry rearing. Safe water enhances child health and improves school attendance—a valuable benefit in the view of one school principal met during our field visits.

Our group for these visits was led by Dick Moeller, the founder of W2T, and assisted by executive director Susanne Wilson. Although the major purpose of our visit was to review on-going village water projects in northern and southern Ethiopia, with a view to giving participants an understanding of the W2T model and fostering interest in financing expansion of the program, the trip also included visits to historical and cultural sites for which Ethiopia is well known, including the magnificent stone churches of Lalibela and the 3rd- and 4th-century steles of the Axumite Kingdom in the north. In the more verdant southern areas of the country, the group visited the Mursi tribal area, saw the magnificent agricultural terraces of the Konso people, and were exposed to village life among the enset-eaters, viz., the Sidama people, in the lovely central and southern highlands.

In terms of impressions and conclusions, I begin with an overwhelmingly positive view of what I saw and heard during our visits to well sites and in subsequent discussions in the vehicles or around the evening meals. The overall W2T program seems well-conceived, with a focus on developing strong relationships with both funding and implementing partners.

It would not be an exaggeration to suggest that the Achilles heel of many well-intentioned well-drilling projects around the world is inadequate attention to the critical issue of sustainability. Water to Thrive deserves particular commendation for its emphasis on creating a strong institutional framework to foster sustainability over the several years of service of each developed water point. This includes proper training of maintenance staff, creation of a dedicated Water Committee, and buy-in of the initiative by local governments. For future program design, there might be merit in carrying out a survey to determine how many of the W2T water projects remain functional after five or even 10 years. 

Permit me to indulge in a bit of economic philosophizing on this point! The issue of sustainability of a water well installation bears some relationship to the economic concept of “the tragedy of the commons.” The term denotes a situation where individuals act independently and rationally according to self-interest (individual users of the well), but whose behavior is contrary to the best interest of the whole group by depleting some common resource (misusing or abusing a fully-functional well). The challenge of ensuring sustainability of the well is to ensure that the well is neither seen nor treated as a common resource with ill-defined ownership, but instead is seen as belonging with equal commitment to every user, ensuring buy-in from every individual involved.


From survive to thrive: a life-changing trip


This blog post was written by Water to Thrive summer intern Lars Anderson, sharing his experiences in Ethiopia.

As an intern with Water to Thrive this summer, I had the awesome opportunity to travel with the W2T team to Ethiopia. I’m a student studying civil engineering at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Over the past year, I have discovered that I have an interest and passion to connect my engineering skills to international humanitarian work. So taking a trip where I would not only experience a new culture but also see the technical process involved in providing clean water was a fulfilling, yet challenging endeavor.

I learned a lot about the nature of working in another country. I recognized the difficulties that arise when implementing water projects and the amount of people and resources that are necessary to provide a sustainable source of drinking water. Fortunately, I saw a lot more success than failure. The impact that W2T and its implementing partners are having in rural communities in Ethiopia is clear. In each of the twelve communities that we visited, we heard about the effects that clean and available water could have on the well-being and health of people. 

The communities that we visited had each recently had a well completed or would have one soon. Each one serves at least 200 people and often many more due to the need in the areas. At some of the most recently completed wells, we were greeted with popcorn, coffee, dancing, and shouts of celebration. But at every completed site, we heard how much of a difference the clean and accessible water was having on the health and well-being of the people.

As W2T’s Executive Director Susanne Wilson explained well in the previous post, clean and accessible water is a link to so much more. And along with all of the benefits she listed, water can bring hope and life to a community and enable people to seek further improvements and opportunities that may not have been present before. There is an incredible transformation that happens in a community of people when there is a shift from only surviving to thriving, and it’s inspiring for me and I think for everyone who may have witnessed that on a Water to Thrive trip. This also gives so much more meaning to the organization’s name and mission.

Over the span of two weeks, we were able to see this impact that clean water has but we were also able to visit many historic landmarks and tour major cities in the country. Our tour guide, Yohannes, was full of information about and passion for the people in his country, which made it enjoyable wherever we went. We traveled to six major cities, and spent the most time touring three: Addis Ababa, Lalibella, and Axum. (If you haven’t had the chance to read about all that we experienced in these cities, take a look at the previous blog entries.)

I mentioned that for me, this trip was both fulfilling and challenging. Certainly, learning so much about the country and celebrating with the communities on behalf of generous donors was the fulfilling aspect. The challenging aspect, and maybe it would be better stated as the humbling aspect, came in as we spent time with representatives of W2T’s implementing partners. We met just a few of these Ethiopians from W2T’s partners REST and DAASC and one thing was clear to me as we traveled with them: Without these organizations and their intuitive and skilled leaders, none of the projects we saw could have been  completed with the same results. For me, it was really neat to see how these leaders, who each had technical backgrounds, had committed themselves to addressing the massive need of clean water supply in their country.

I realized that a sustainable water project requires so much more than technical knowledge. It requires forming water committees, performing WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) training, encouraging community mobilization, and considering a multitude of different social and economic factors. It’s easy to read about these, but it can be very difficult to understand the amount of work and resources that are necessary. It was neat to see how W2T’s partners dealt with all of these challenges and implemented wells that will hopefully last for a long time.


I am so thankful for this opportunity to travel to the beautiful country of Ethiopia. It was certainly an experience that has impacted my life and perspective in many ways. I look forward to the rest of my internship with Water to Thrive and to learning more about working internationally in the area of clean and accessible water.


Reflections on a Recent Visit to Ethiopia: The Water Crisis


This entry is the second of several from Jim Goering, who, with his wife Shirley, joined Water to Thrive in Ethiopia in June. In two multi-year postings in Ethiopia with first Harvard University and then as an official of the World Bank, Goering, an economist, gained extensive experience in the country and brings this perspective to bear on Ethiopia’s economic and social situation as well as on the work of Water to Thrive. This entry, examining the country’s water crisis, was preceded by an overview of Ethiopia’s economic position and will be followed by a recap of the June trip and recommendations for the ongoing work of Water to Thrive.


To understand Ethiopia’s water resource development program, it is useful to distinguish ambitious hydropower projects on its major rivers (the Nile in the north, flowing into Sudan and Egypt, and the Omo in the south, flowing into Kenya’s Lake Turkana) from much less-known government efforts to meet domestic water needs from local sources, principally groundwater.


Although our Water to Thrive visit focused on village water development, some understanding of the expensive hydropower program is helpful, as it constitutes an important potential drain of the government’s scarce financial resources that might otherwise be available to better meet domestic water needs. As Wikipedia sources note, Ethiopia considers itself the “powerhouse of Africa” due to its high hydropower potential. With less than 20 percent of Ethiopians having access to electricity, there is great need for the additional power that these big dams are, or will be, producing. Irrigation development, focusing on intensive agricultural production, is also planned for some dams. The government’s 25-year Master Plan outlines a very ambitious future dam construction program.


Large dams offer much needed benefits related to electricity production, foreign exchange earnings, flood control, and irrigation development, and clearly should be part of Ethiopia’s national development efforts. However, as worldwide experience illustrates, big dam construction is a complex undertaking, with both positive and negative effects. Potential negative impacts may include damage to the environment, displacement of existing populations in the reservoir areas, human rights issues and, in the case of dams on transnational rivers, political tensions with riparian neighbors. Where construction contracts are let without competitive bidding, there are also risks of corruption and inefficient use of financial resources.


The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, under construction as the largest dam in Africa, scheduled for completion in 2018, and located on the Blue Nile about 20 miles from the Sudanese border in northwest Ethiopia, may illustrate some of this complexity. Its total cost has been conservatively estimated at US $5.4 billion (Euro 4.8 billion). It will displace an estimated 20,000 people. And its construction contracts were awarded without competitive bidding to an Italian company which has been involved with construction with three other dams in Ethiopia, also under no-bid arrangements. The failure to employ a competitive bidding process has deterred financing from international sources, with the Ethiopian banking system now selling bonds to provide needed finance.


In contrast to the local and international publicity accorded Ethiopia’s hydropower program, much less seems to be known of laudable efforts by the government and several local and international non-governmental organizations to augment supplies of pure, easily accessible water for domestic consumption. These needs are pressing, and benefits to the public from such programs are substantial and incontrovertible.


Arguably, a hypothetical US$1 million spent in Ethiopia in a well-conceived, carefully implemented village water program would contribute more to the well-being of underserved populations than a similar amount in a large dam project. At an initial briefing in Addis Ababa, we were told that about 75 percent of Ethiopia’s rural population has “reasonable access” to safe water. This stretches credulity, and in fact, even a more likely estimate provided later of about 42 percent has been questioned by those who work in this sector.



A closer look at our mission


Just two weeks after joining Water to Thrive, Executive Director Susanne Wilson embarked on our June mission trip with staff and supporters. Here are her thoughts on the trip.

For many who will read this, water has always been readily available from a faucet as close as the nearest bathroom or kitchen. If you are of a little older generation, you may have memories of a well and collecting water from the yard. 

Yet the majority of people in the countries where we work have never witnessed water coming from a tap. Water is one of the resources most taken for granted, but in developing countries, every 90 seconds a child under 5 dies as a result of disease caused by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and unsafe hygiene practices. 

The basic human rights include clean water, food, health care, and education. But all of these are jeopardized by the lack of one underlying link, water. Water to Thrive’s tagline, “Build Wells, Change Lives,” goes straight to the essence of what W2T means to the recipients of wells. In my three weeks traveling in Tanzania and Ethiopia, the stories shared from the villagers who now have access to clean water were always similar. They (especially the women and children) no longer spend the majority of their days collecting water. The children can now attend school. The women are more involved in the development of their communities. The women’s health is not as compromised by the heavy hauling of water across long distances. The girls are not as exposed to sexual predators on their way to water collection points. The community members don’t suffer illnesses associated with unclean water. 

One of my most vivid memories from the recent trip to Africa is from a day that started with a two-hour, 18-mile drive, one hairpin turn after another. The W2T team arrived at the top of a very isolated mountain in Tanzania, at the village of Matamba. Villager and water committee member Julia Konga spoke very eloquently about how a well had changed her life.

Julia stressed that women are the ones who suffer most from the lack of clean, safe water. Before the well was built, she had to make a one-hour round trip to a small river. She would wake up at 3:00 a.m. to avoid the line of others waiting to collect water and to avoid contamination caused by cattle and other animals arriving at the same area.  Julia mentioned that men would get to bathe and maybe the children, but the women weren’t as fortunate. When I asked her about diseases were caused by unsafe drinking water, Julia asked for a pen and paper. Her list included diarrhea, worms, typhoid, cholera, trachoma (an eye infection that can lead to blindness), and schistosomiasis (a parasitic worm living in freshwater snails). The children are the most susceptible to illnesses and many times, medical care is not adequate if available at all. 


In reflecting on the work of Water to Thrive and my role as Executive Director, the comments of my friends come to mind: “You are so brave,” “what you’re doing is amazing,” “I’m so inspired by the choices you’ve made and the work you’re doing.” But I don’t feel very brave. The women and children and people who work harder than I’ve ever worked simply to have food and water for their families are the truly inspirational ones. My role is to share the impact and stories of Water to Thrive’s accomplishments. It is through the vision of others, the gifts of our supporters, and the grace of God, that Water to Thrive will grow, expand, and continue to “Build Wells and Change Lives.”






Reflections on our recent visit to Ethiopia


This entry is the first of several from Jim Goering, who, with his wife Shirley, joined Water to Thrive in Ethiopia in June. In two multi-year postings in Ethiopia, first as an economic advisor from Harvard University and then as an official of the World Bank, Goering gained extensive experience in the country and brings this perspective to bear on Ethiopia’s economic and social situation as well as on the work of Water to Thrive. This overview entry will be followed in the next week by Jim’s look at the country’s water crisis, his recap of the group’s two-week trip, and by suggestions for Water to Thrive as it continues its work in the field.


It is useful to place the Ethiopian village water development initiative within a broader national context.

The Ethiopian economy has been one of the fastest growing in Africa, with annual GDP growth in the 8-9% range. Major factors contributing to the country’s economic growth are an aggressive infrastructural program, much of it financed and implemented by Chinese interests, and commercial agriculture, based on leasing of large tracts of land to foreign interests. The rise of commercial agriculture has raised concerns from the international community about displacement of existing farmers and herdsmen. (To the government’s credit, it recently permitted a review of this issue by the EU’s Development Assistance Group, which strongly suggested improvements based on greater involvement in the decision-making process by those likely to be negatively impacted by these investments.)

Economic factors of national concern include continued high national unemployment of about 15%, annual inflation in the 8% range, and the reality that about 40% of the country’s population remain below the poverty line—although significant improvement in this variable has been achieved in recent years.

Some progress can be reported in the lives of the Ethiopian people.  Female fertility rates have declined, although population growth remains relatively high at 2.9% per year (compared with 2.1% in neighboring Kenya) and infant mortality is high at 56 deaths for 1,000 live births (Kenya’s rate is 41/1,000). Rural incomes remain among the lowest in Africa, but recent gains have been registered and improved emphasis on agricultural production has greatly reduced the risk of serious food scarcity in rural areas.

In more negative terms, the combination of relatively rapid economic growth and continuing constraints on freedom of the press appear to be exacerbating the problem of corruption in government. While the international corruption assessment organization, Transparency International (, recently ranked Ethiopia as the 110th most corrupt country among the 175 assessed, my recent conversations with a few Ethiopians who seemed reasonably well-informed suggest that corruption is a growing problem in government and is putting further strains on the political and social fabric of the country.

One might also question the longer-term impact of the growing role of Chinese involvement in the Ethiopian economy. It is abundantly clear that Chinese finance and development skills (road construction, extension of the electrical grid, large-scale agriculture) have benefited significant numbers of the Ethiopian population. Less clear is the extent to which this approach is effectively transferring requisite technical and managerial skills to Ethiopians, and, perhaps more significantly over the longer term, the extent to which this approach is compromising Ethiopia’s national sovereignty.

Jim’s next post will provide a look at the water crisis in Ethiopia.


Our Ethiopia experience


Impressions from Homer and Mary Goering after their trip to Ethiopia, where they were able to join in the celebration and inauguration of the water project they funded. 

Traveling with the Water to Thrive group in Ethiopia was a life-changing, informative, emotional, and rewarding experience.  Coming face to face with the poverty of the villages clearly illustrated the stark difference between our own materialistic lives and their daily struggles to survive. However, there are similarities – the need to provide for family, a faith in God’s blessings, and a community that shares both hardships and celebrations.

We did not expect to visit “our well” on this trip. What a surprise! We truly appreciate the hard work and coordination that went into its completion ahead of schedule. It was a humbling experience to see the difference our donation will make for a village of 50 families. The wonderful celebration and their generous gifts of food, coffee, and honey touched our hearts deeply. We saw firsthand how clean water will improve the lives of 250 people in this village. This has motivated us to share our story with others who may be willing respond to the need of God’s children in Africa.


We are impressed by the model which W2T uses to improve the success and longevity in its projects, including:

  • Advance training in maintenance and hygiene
  • The water committee for effective user rules
  • The guard assigned to each individual well to protect the project's integrity
  • The modest user fees required from the individual users to provide backup maintenance funding as well as a sense of ownership

The burdens on the women’s backs, the oxen pulling the simple plows in the fields, and the donkeys, cattle, and goats on the “roads” are vivid memories of this trip. But the dearest memories of all are feeling the children’s hands clutching ours and seeing their beautiful smiles.


June 16 - Sabana Lodge to Addis


After some long driving over the last several days, it was nice to overnight at the Sabana Lodge on Lake Longano, about an hour north of Hawassa. The lodge was quiet and peaceful, with a lot birds and even some tortoise! It was a real treat to wake up to the melody of five or six different bird specie “talking” to each other.  Even though the water was a bit chilly, a couple of our group went for a morning swim.


After a hearty breakfast, we gathered for a group photo with our Pump Run t-shirts, overlooking Lake Longano in the background. You can see it has a red tint, caused by a high content of ferrous oxide, but perfectly safe. In some parts of the lake there are alligators and hippos! Not around the lodge, luckily.

Also along the road to Addis, we made a stop at Lake Zeway and visited a local fish market.  Mary captured the two storks pictured above fighting over some leftover fish. Yummy! We reached Addis by mid-afternoon, giving us time for a couple of meetings with partners and some rest.


We ended our evening with a cultural celebration of food, drink, dance, and fun at the Habesha 2000 restaurant. We got to experience first-hand many of the regional dances and food from around Ethiopia. Everyone had a great time! Thanks, Diversity Tours! (

Speaking of Diversity Tours, our group wants to honor the team that has been with us the last days. Pictured above are Yohannes, our tour leader for the last 10 days or so, with Tesfaye, Mundie, and Teddy, our fearless and skilled drivers. Their service has been excellent! We are grateful for their help and knowledge, which made our time here so enjoyable.

Tomorrow will be our last day in Addis and Ethiopia, a bit of sightseeing and shopping with a few meetings mixed in. Then we all head back home with more stories and renewed dedication to the mission.


June 15 - Arbegona Projects


Today, with our implementing partner The Development and Social Services Commission (DASSC)of Mekane Yesus, we visited projects, both completed and under development in the Arbegona region near Hawassa. We have been implementing projects with this particular Synod of Mekane Yesus for three years now and have a completed 30 projects, with another 10 that should be completed by the end of summer. Arbegona is a two-hour drive from Hawassa, with elevations between 6,000-7,000 feet... definitely considered highlands topography.

Our first two sites are projects that are still under construction.  Shown above is the inside of the well at Bukesa, located adjacent to the Chucko Elementary School. This project just recently had the rings set in place after digging about 35 feet. The aquifer was reached at about 12 feet, and the water has risen to within about six feet of the surface, producing a reservoir of water of almost 30 feet, demonstrating excellent capacity.


At Bukesa, we met Adola, the principle of the elementary school, shown in the picture above with our intern Thomas. Adola and Thomas are discussing the impact that clean water will have on the students in the school. Adola’s school has 1,000 students in first through eighth grades. They attend school in two shifts. First through fourth grades have school in the morning, and fifth through eighth grades attend in the afternoon. They have a total of 20 teachers. Adola also serves as the chairperson for the water committee that is already functioning in anticipation of the well being completed in the next couple of months. Adlola says that now, without that well, the children must leave the school to fetch water from a nearby river that is unsafe. He knows the well will improve the health and attendance of his children.


Next we visited two of the completed wells in Arbegona, at Sharo and Nira. These have been operational for about three months. At both sites we were met by members of the water committee and the community, all expressing their gratitude and joy over the blessing of clean water. The area around Arbegona is in short supply of clean water sources, and because of its remoteness, no other NGOs beside DASSC are working in this area to bring new sustainable sources of clean water.

We are fascinated by the houses in this highland area ... they look almost space-age-like. Very cool-looking, with the roof and sides all woven together to create a smooth, symmetrical, round hut. The one shown above is about 25 feet high and about 30 to 35 feet in diameter at the base. This style has been prevalent in this area for hundreds of years.


On the road from Hawassa


Tedium lends itself to creativity. W2T executive director Susanne Wilson and fellow traveler Mary Goering composed this poem during the day's long drive. 

"Ode to the Donkey"

Oh Ethiopian beast of burden, on back, loads of wood, water and teff
Small but mighty, dependably strong
Head down, ears up
Alert to the needs of both woman and man

Primitive carts with upright drivers, seemingly surfing through traffic, avoiding
Collison on left, car on right, goat in the road

What reward for the donkey, the Ethiopian beast of burden?
Is it the satisfaction of serving his master, a job well done?
Is it the evening's rest? Or perhaps the twinkle in his eye, knowing< unlike his friend the goat, he'll survive another day. 


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