June 14 - Arba Minch



Today we continued our exploration of the area around Arba Minch, with 40 springs scattered around at the base of the Rift Valley. It has rained heavily the last two nights, which has helped to settle the dust. Word to the wise, it's best to be in the lead vehicle in a caravan while traveling down the dirt roads of Ethiopia. 

The area is characterized by six lakes that host a variety of wildlife. We were lucky to catch sight of a hippo in a marshy area just below the road.

This morning we visited the village of Chencha, which is home to the Dorze people. They are renowned cotton weavers but perhaps are best known for their distinct beehive like dwellings. Their homes are made of organic materials and can last a lifetime. Termites can be a problem, but if the base is infested, the house is simply moved and the base is rebuilt.

The home we visited houses five people and 12 animals. The animals provide warmth during cold weather, and the house provides safety for the animals. There is a separate kitchen structure and when a meal is being prepared, it appears that the entire kitchen is smoking. The smoke serves to drive out insects and vermin but also causes respiratory and eyesight issues, especially for the women.

The staple food for both animal and human consumption is the false banana (Enset). It is called the false banana because it bears no fruit. The stalk is cut and the pulp is scraped away from the fibrous outer covering.

The pulp is wrapped in the leaves of the tree and placed in the ground to ferment for three months. The result is a lumpy, light yellow, pungent-smelling, cheese-like product. 

The pulp is then kneaded, cut, and flattened into a flat round pancake cooked between two large leaves of the tree.

The bread is served with local honey or a hot sauce. The tree can be harvested when it is just one year old, which makes it a highly sustainable and replenishable food source that is also drought-resistant. 

As we made our way back  to the vehicles, we had our experience with chicka, which is the Amharic word for the red clay earth used in construction and sticks better than Gorilla Glue. As mentioned previously, it has rained heavily the last two nights. My boots collected at least a wall of a house. Within a few moments, young boys appeared with buckets of water and rags to clean our shoes. 


June 12 & 13 - Exploring the Southern Omo Valley


June 12 was a long day of travel, as we flew from Mekele to Addis Ababa, with a layover just long enough to enjoy a quick Kaldi Coffee (the Ethiopian version of Starbucks) before we flew on to Arba Minch, south of Hawassa. Then we had a five-hour drive to Jinka, in the heart of the Southern Omo Valley and just about 120 miles from the Ethiopia/Kenya border.

The Omo Valley is home to 17 ethnic tribes that have been able to maintain their traditional lifestyles. The largest is the Ari tribe, with more than 300,000 members,  and the smallest is the Kara tribe, with only about 1,400 members. The tribes can be distinguished by their dress, facial markings, and hair style. They are largely pastoral, but a few are becoming more settled and practice farming. 

On June 13, we headed out to visit the Mursi tribe.  Overnight, we had a torrential downpour that lasted about two or three hours. Electricity was lost a little after midnight.  As you can see above, because of the heavy rains, many of creeks and rivers were swollen above low-water crossings, creating a couple of interesting and challenging crossings for us.

The Mursi tribe number about 7,400, with 12 different clans. They are pastoralist, with cattle as their most prized possessions and their measure of wealth. Marriage is marked with the exchange of cattle ... the dowry for the bride is usually 30 to 40 head of cattle, given by the groom’s family to the father of the bride.


The Mursi women are famed for wearing large, clay plates, inserted in their lips and ear lobes, like the one shown above. This process usually is begun when a girl is around the age 11 or 12, starting with a slit in the lower lip whose size is gradually increased over time.

Moving about often, they live in simple one room huts, the one shown above. It is mainly used for sleeping, with cooking, chores, and eating all done outside.

After visiting with the Mursi tribe members, we drove to Weyto. Since it was Saturday, it was their market day.  This market day is frequented by Hamar, Tsemay, and Arbore tribes.

The market is quite a social gathering, with large groups of tribe members gathered under different trees, drinking the local homemade beer. All kinds of subjects are discussed, including politics, marriages, funerals, community priorities, family business, and of course the weather.


Everything needed for daily life can be found at the market, sold or bartered ... livestock, chickens, produce, grain, all types of clothes and shoes, housewares, etc.  There is complete separate section  for just the livestock and, of course...'s a great place to meet new friends!

After the overload of our senses from the market, we headed back to Arba Minch for our overnight stay at the Paradise Lodge. 


June 11 - Gheralta Lodge and more water projects


After a long day yesterday and late evening arrival at Gheralta Lodge, the group gets a little rest and later start on drive to Mekele. Gheralta Lodge is much appreciated oasis about half between Axum and Mekele. Italian owned, it provides excellent food and produce, all grown on their property…..we enjoyed both our dinner and breakfast.

At the back of the Lodge property, there is a beautiful overlook into the valley. We have made a habit of having our morning devotion at this location each time we return. Sticking with our devotion theme of “Women who Serve,” we build a rock altar made up of stones that each of us has chosen to represent a woman in our lives who has had a significant impact on our life’s direction and development.

In the picture above, you can see the haze covering the valley. It has been very dense the last three days, dust suspended in the air coming from the dry fields and maybe even some mixed in blowing in from the Sahara. Hopefully that will improve as we move to the south tomorrow.

On our drive to Mekele, we stop at one of our rehabilitation projects, Sewhi Adidaero. This particular project was built by the government five years ago and yield became so low after three years that the community could not use it. REST has a program to completely rehabilitate the well, in this case doubling its depth to reach a sustainable acquirer.


When we arrive, we are greeted by a long queue of jerry cans as villagers wait their turn to fetch clean water. Notice the large number of small children waiting along with their mothers. There are now more than 300 beneficiaries drawing health and hope from this clean water!

Surprises along the way!

As mentioned before, we always encounter a few surprises along the way…..this one is one of the funniest!

As we were driving back to our hotel after visiting projects, one of the local mini buses (stops every few miles) zipped alongside us on our left and pulled in between our vehicles. Check out the picture above... on top of the mini bus are about 20 live goats tied to the luggage rack on top of the bus. We can see legs flailing, head popping up, screaming bahhhahhhhh, going 60 mph down the highway. It was a great laugh and stress reliever after a long day. I just wonder if they had to pay the extra baggage fee?!




June 10 - Giving and receiving



Today has possibly been the most taxing so far, in so many ways. I witnessed the emotions of gift giver and receiver in one fell swoop. Mary and Homer ,who have funded a well, originally decided not to visit Ethiopia as their gift was God's work and it would be arrogant to take credit. But they are here with us, and their presence has demonstrated both the importance and impact of giving.

Last night, Mary, in her sweetest British Mary Poppins accent, inquired about how long it takes from funding until a well is operational. We discussed the importance of seeing the people who are impacted by a donation and witnessing the impact first hand. All the while, Mary had no idea that the first event of the day today would be the inauguration of her well. After driving for hours and walking in the hot sun, a joyous celebration could be heard vibrating from the people awaiting our arrival. As a drum beat kept the cadence, villagers clapped, danced and made the lalalala sound of ululation indicating their joy and happiness. Flags heralded Mary and Homer's entrance into the fold of celebrators. 

The celebration continued after visiting their well. A shade was secured and a feast was shared of bread and local honey (honey burgers), coffee, roasted chickpeas, and popcorn. Homer and Mary both spoke of the small role they had played and the great pleasure they had received. Mary's comments included, "This day was one of the highlights of my marriage." Their well will serve 250 people whose lives have been changed because of the gift of water. I was moved to tears both by the gratitude shared by the villagers and by the gift made possible by Homer and Mary. 

Our next stop was a hand-dug well located deep in a gorge. The walk, better decribed as a slide and stumble, took approximately 25 minutes. Again, revelers were awaiting our arrival. The hand-dug well was in progress at 7 meters depth, with 7 more to be completed. The technicians use pickaxes to chip away at the walls of the well. A bucket and pulley haul up the debris and the process continues. Once the correct depth is reached, the well is capped, a pump is installed, and tests are completed to certify the well. 

My experiences have made me very grateful  and yet I feel guilty for my little complaints. I hear others mention a lack of hot water, or the roughness of towels, or the slowness of service. I realize that perhaps we are spoiled Americans, and yet our standards are a part of our culture as is the sharing of bread and participation in the coffee ceremony is part of the Ethiopian culture. 

Tonight, after riding for hours and experiencing numerous hairpin turns or bends (depending on your country of origin), unmarked road constructions, and the occasional errant donkey, goat, or cow, we arrived at the Gheralta Lodge. As I trekked to my hut, I asked about the strange noises I was hearing and whether they were from hyenas and the reply was that, probably, or maybe wild dogs. Expecting the worst, instead I was presented with an amazing true lodge-style hotel. The lodge offers a free first drink for new guests, and I chose a South African red wine. The menu offers both traditional Ethiopian fare and Italian food as the owner is from Italy. The vegetables and salad are all organic and from the restaurant's own garden. 

After dinner, I washed the day's dust off my weary body with an extra hot shower and relaxed to the serenade of the hyenas or wild dogs as I drifted off to sleep. 


June 9: Visiting Completed projects with Relief Society of Tigray (REST)

Today, we our headed to the field to visit some completed projects near Axum with our implementing partner REST.  REST has been working in partnership with W2T since our beginning, and continues to be, They are the largest water NGO in Ethiopia, with a capacity to do about 1,400 projects in 2015. In 2015, W2T will represent about 6% of their total projects.



Pictured above is Weredekal Atsbeha (Wereda). He is the Director of Planning & Project Management for REST and oversees all partner relationships for tracking projects, budgets, completion reports, etc. He will be serving as our host for the next three days as we travel around Tigray. We get to know a bit about Wereda’s family…..he is married with two children, but his father is turning 100 next month.  He has 19 children and an extended family of over 150 children, grand, great, and great-great grand children.  Their family reunion must be a sight to behold!


With Wereda, we visit 4 completed projects today, including Ketema, May-Silam, Mai Liam and Hida Debena. These were all part of a group of 40 projects with REST, started in 2014 and finished in early 2015.



At each of the project sites, we get the first hand stories from the community beneficiaries about the impact that clean water is having on their daily lives. Good health, improved economic opportunities, improved education opportunities all are recounted by the communities we meet. One female water committee member in particular mentioned how much safer it was for the women and young girls to fetch water because they could do it in daylight. And their water committees are doing an excellent job of engaging the community, all with substantial money in the bank for the maintenance fund.



Near Hida Debena well, we get to meet a local farmer, Abraham, pictured above. Abraham should be nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year! Over the last three years, he has completely paid back an $800 microfinance loan, with which he bought a irrigation pump to pump water into his nearby fields of tomato, onion, cabbage. He is also growing mango and guava nearby.



Shown above, he demonstrated for us how the water flows from the open irrigation well to all of his crop areas using the irrigation pump.  Abraham has 9 children, with two oldest recently graduating from the university and two more already enrolled. He attributes his family’s ability to pay for the education largely due to his improved cash crop success using the irrigation water. Now he is serving as a role model to surrounding farmers…..teaching them these same new techniques…..a great example of playing it forward!




June 8 - Axum



Today we arrived at another World Heritage Site. Axum, in northern Ethiopia near the Adwa mountain range, is the holiest of all Ethiopian cities. The ancient kingdom of Axum is characterized by giant obelisks erected as tombs for the kings and their families. The area also claims to house the Ark of the Covenant, and the city is a pilgrimage destination for Christians. There are two St. Mary of Zion Churches (old and new) revered as holy sites. Entrance to the old church is prohibited to women as the legend blames the burning of the original on a woman. The Ark is claimed to be housed in a chapel known as The Chapel of the Tablet and is guarded by a monk who resides there.

The afternoon was spent shopping in the local artisans' shops. Good bargains were found for silver, crosses, church icons, traditional dresses, and geodes. Bargaining is acceptable and the local children are excellent salesmen, many times running alongside our vehicle and magically appearing wherever our van stopped. 

Over the next few days we will be visiting water projects with our partners here, REST. 


June 7 - Lalibela



Today, the Water to Thrive team traveled to Lalibela, Ethiopia. Lalibela is a World Heritage Site that some consider the eighth wonder of the world because of the ancient stone churches carved completely out of a single piece of volcanic rock. The 11 churches were built over 23 years during the 12th century at the command of King Lalibela. The king wanted to give Christians an alternative to traveling to Jerusalem, and he recognized it would put him in favor with the Church.

The churches are still worshipped in today and to visit, you simply follow a guide through narrow tunnels down rock-hewn steps. The monolithic churches were carved from the top down using simple hand tools. After the outside of the church was completed, work began on the inside, working from the bottom to the top.

Our team visited St. George Church, the most famous of the 11 churches. St. George is unique, the only one carved in the shape of a cross. It was the last church carved and considered the most elegant because the craftsmen had gained experience and skill.

The town of Lalibela is located in northwest Ethiopia. Most of the populace is subsistence farmers who raise teff (a grain), sorghum, and maize. Teff, the mainstay crop, is used for making injera, a spongey bread used with the right hand to scoop up individual portions of a meal. Teff is gaining attention worldwide, as it is extremely rich in protein and is gaining recognition as a super food.

To close out the day, the team was treated to a special coffee ceremony. The legend about the discovery of coffee follows a goat herder. The herder observed his goats acting energetically after eating the berries of a plant, which led him to roast the berries and create coffee. The official coffee ceremony includes burning of frankincense and roasting the berries over an open flame. The first pour off the beans is called the abol and is the most concentrated. The second pour is the tona and the last is the bereka. Often snacks such as popcorn or roasted barley are served with the coffee.

Tomorrow we will be in Axum preparing to visit our projects around the area. 


June 6 - Arriving in Addis


After a journey of more than 13 hours from Washington Dulles, our group arrived this morning around 7:15, in good spirits.


Over dinner this evening, stories were shared about the friends that were made on the trip over. As our intern Thomas said, “Amazing the contacts you can make on a 13-hour flight, just waiting to get into the toilette…..and even spread the word about Water to Thrive.”

Our group went directly to the hotel to refresh and catch a quick nap. After lunch, the group spent the afternoon with Yohannes, our guide, seeing some of the sites in Addis Ababa, including the national Museum of Natural History. We finished the afternoon with a briefing from Ato Getachew, Director of the Ministry of Finance and Development for the Ethiopian government, which is responsible for overseeing the five-year development plan established by the Ethiopian Government in 2010.  Over the last five years, the GDP has averaged a brisk 10+% increase each year. This has helped the country accelerate its economic growth as well as make considerable progress in achieving a number of the Millennium Development Goals established by the UN. It was a very interesting presentation that gave us a great perspective on the changes occurring in Ethiopia. The group is in the final stages of preparing the next five-year development plan, to be released shortly.

Just a side note on Ethiopia... its citizens recently concluded their national elections, which occur every five years. The election covers both national and local elected positions across the country. About 43 million people are eligible to vote and more than 36 million cast a ballot in the election. Wow! What a turnout. Interesting how when in the US we are happy with a 25 percent turnout!  

Tomorrow we are leaving early to fly to Lalibella to visit the rock hewn churches. 


June 3 & 4 - Matamba and Nhungu


On Wednesday morning early, we headed south to visit a new project area started by our implementing partner, St. Paul Partners (SPP) for the villages of Matamba and Nhungu. It is about a 5½-hour drive, with the last two hours up a very steep mountain road.

The road we traveled. 

The picture above was taken from the road at the top of the mountain looking back down toward the valley floor. This spot is 800 meters (2,625 feet) above the valley floor. The mountain road is about 18 miles long from the main road and it took us about two hours to reach Matamba. The two villages, with over 6,000 people, are located on the plateau of mountain at the very top. 

SPP is just underway with the 10 new projects, six in Matamba and four in Nhungu. It will take about 90-120 days to complete the 10 wells, because the logistics of getting equipment, tools, sand, mud, gravel casings, pumps, and cement to these remote locations is very challenging. These projects are being funded by the South Carolina Synod of the ELCA, through a special grant from Wheat Ridge Ministries, to assist the people of the SW Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania (ELCT). This will provide a sustainable water supply for all the families in the two villages.


 Meeting with committee and community members in Matamba.

SPP had conducted the initial community and WASH training in November and December of 2014. It was a joy to see the progress that the water committees and village leadership had achieved. The picture above shows the SPP and W2T team meeting with the water committee members and village leadership in Matamba, with a similar meeting In Nhungu. Both communities had already created all their governance structure, and each community had already saved more than $1200 in the bank for the maintenance fund. These are awesome achievements that show real commitment on the part of the communities to the sustainability of the projects.

Water project work 

There are two separate crews working on the these projects, and the two pictures above show the status of the first two projects. The first site (top) is still in the drilling phase, with a mud rotary drilling machine. It had reached the aquifer and was about to finish the drilling process. At the second site (bottom), the drilling has been completed, and the pump testing is underway.

The team discusses of core samples from the well drilling. 

Gashaw Semeneh, W2T’s Program Manager in Addis Ababa, has been accompanying the team on the trip. He is in the middle of the left side of the photo above, in the plaid shirt, having a discussion about the core samples taken during the drilling process. WIth him are Haneal, from SPPP (foreground) and the community's drilling foreman (on the right). Gashaw is a degreed geologist and a certified hydrologist, so his advice and counsel have been extremely valuable for all the teams on the trip.

These new projects are off to a great start and the communities are very grateful for this blessing of clean water. They have been having to collect water from a nearby unprotected river or having to buy water from local vendors at very high prices. They believe the new access to clean, sustainable water will bring many positive benefits to the villages.


A Tanzanian yellow baboon
On the way down the mountain road, we met a new friend ... a large male yellow baboon, one of the two baboon species native to Tanzania. He was happily eating on some sugar cane that someone had tossed to him.


Expect the unexpected.

As we have said before, every day brings a surprise or two. Today, a flat tire on the way back to Iringa, adding to our five-hour trip!

Tomorrow is a travel day, a seven-hour drive from Iringa to Dar es Salaam, then a flight to Addis. On Saturday morning, we will meet the seven other travelers joining us for two weeks in Ethiopia. Watch for our next post this weekend. 


June 2 – Kiponzero and Intengulinyi, continued


Indeed, yesterday was busy and long, but fruitful. One of the reasons that we are visiting so many projects is to deploy a pilot project for new signage in Iringa.  Our work is often a bit of trial and error to find the best solution, and finding different sign solutions at the well sites that are permanent and don’t fade have been a challenge for all our implementing partners.


We are putting new signs on all 18 projects near Iringa to pilot-test stainless steel like the one shown above.  Stainless steel, of course, does not rust, and the lettering on these signs are chemically etched into it, so it will not fade. In addition, the sign is attached to the well head with a special metal to metal bonding adhesive from 3M that should be as strong as welding.


One of our board members, Lynne Dobson, commented yesterday on Facebook about the buckets being used to carry water. In this area, a bucket is the carrier of choice over jerry cans. The women and young girls generally carry the water on their heads, not their backs, and the bucket is easier to balance than a jerry can.




As we approached one of the projects, the woman above had just completed filling her bucket, which holds probably about 60 pounds of water. She could not have weighed more than 110 pounds herself, but in one swift motion, she picked up the bucket and had it securely on her head, and was headed down the road to her home!




Like most of the areas of our work, this area is populated by small farms, with corn as the crop of choice. You can see the corn field in the background of the picture above. This picture was taken right next to one of the projects and in the foreground you can see the trench that takes the runoff from the project to the two mounds of sweet potato plants for irrigation, using all the water for the benefit of the community.



At Gendawuye, we met Swantu Benadecta, pictured above with one of her grandchildren. She is 65, and has lived in this area all her life. Her family consists of nine children, 24 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. She said her family had been collecting from the unprotected river source about an hour's walk away, and that she had been lucky not to have lost any children to waterborne diseases. Sadly, though, she said their neighbor family had lost two children. She was very thankful that the community now had clean water to ensure better health.







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