Mission Trips

Upcoming Rotary Trip

  It’s always so inspiring to follow the blog when we have a group over in Ethiopia. We loved following Susanne and her group back in June, and we’re gearing up for our final trip of 2017! We’re always excited for our travels to check on the progress of wells, but we’re particularly thrilled about this next trip. Susanne, Water To Thrive’s Executive Director, will be leading a group to Ethiopia to visit specific wells that are in progress as a result of the Rotary International Global Grant.

This grant was the result of a few people turning “I’m only one person, what could I do?” into “I’m one person, how much more can I do” and coming together to affect change. In June of 2015, long-time supporters of Water To Thrive, Homer and Mary Goering, traveled to Ethiopia to visit well projects. They came back so inspired, they began giving presentations about their experience. One such presentation was given at Homer’s Rotary Club of Northwest Austin, where Kent Miller heard their story.


Kent, having spent time in Ethiopia himself, began wondering what could be accomplished by his community, and started to pursue a Rotary Global Grant. These grants support large international activities with sustainable, measurable outcomes. They have to fall into one of the Rotary’s areas of focus, the 6th of which happens to be water and sanitation.


Susanne Wilson with members of the Central Mella Rotary Club in Addis Ababa


The grant was approved and the reception by Rotary Clubs all over was so positive that 12 wells were fully funded. A key aspect of the Rotary Global Grant is that it has to involve a host Rotary Club in the country where the work is to be conducted. Susanne’s group will depart the U.S., and then meet up with our host Rotarians, The Central Mella Club of Addis Ababa. Together, the groups will travel to the specific sites where the Rotary Grant is working to establish wells. Anyone is welcome to come along on this trip, but act fast - the due date for the first deposit is coming up on September 15th, and travel will take place November 1st-15th. There are still openings available, so please reach out to Susanne directly at susanne@watertothrive.org for more information, whether you’re a Rotarian or not. We hope to have you be part of this amazing experience! 


Susanne and fellow Rotarian from Addis Ababa celebrating with beneficiaries of the Rotary Pilot Project in November 2016


June 29 - Tanzania and Back Home

Thirteen seperate plane rides, 22 different hotel/lodge moves, three countries, 65 water projects visited, countless handshakes, 7 different languages, 0 mosquito bites, hundreds of miles on bumpy dirt roads, 40,000 more people with access to clean water.

Our travels have come to an end as we wrap up in Tanzania. Our two partners in the country are St. Paul Partners and KINNAPA. Our partners in all three countries where we work are invaluable to what we do. They know the culture, language and need. At each village, we are greeted with "Karibu Sana" and learn the Swahili words of "safi magi" (safe or clean water). Although the country is somewhat tropical feeling, it is also very dry in the regions where we work. Clean water access in the district of Kiteto is only 35% and in the more rural areas, as low as 18%.


We are shown one current source of water which is a brown, dirty lake. Another is a swampy pond. It's difficult to believe people drink the same water that is used to wash clothes and water the livestock.


The last project we visited was a well providing water to a settlement of Masai. They are traditional pastoralists and historically move with their animals. Although rich in livestock, their lands are extremely dry and lack even surface water resources.


We are tired, but also encouraged by the great work of our partners. There is more work to be done and as Water to Thrive prepares to celebrate its 10 year anniversary, we have a goal to complete 1,000 wells total which would mean a record number in one year. It would also mean clean water for 600,000 since 2008.

Asante sana!
("Thank you very much" in Swahili)


June 22 - Uganda

After departing from Ethiopia, we traveled to Uganda to visit water projects with our two partners, Mityana Uganda Charity and International Lifeline Fund. We may had set a record for the number of projects visited on a single day which was from 7 to 10 projects.

The question that came up several times this trip was how does Ethiopia compare to Uganda? The most obvious answer is the people. I can now recognize someone from Ethiopia almost immediately. They are slight in stature, have high foreheads, very round eyes and chiseled cheekbones. They are also much lighter skinned as a result of middle east/Arab influence. I observe the difference as soon as I land in the Entebbe airport. Ugandans are very dark and larger physically.

The landscape is the next thing I see and feel. In the northern part of Ethiopian, the landscape is mountainous and very brown, covered with rocks and the vegetation is mostly cacti and the flat topped acacia tree. The air is so dry, I'm certain mummies could survive in tact. It is hot and what you might think of as typical African weather. Uganda is very green. I think I could easily be in Jamaica. It is lush and humid, but also hot.

Something else that always interests me is the mode of transport and transportation. In Ethiopia, the donkey is truly the
beast of burden. Camels are also used to transport items, but mostly, people walk. They also use the three wheeled tuk tuks which are decorated with posters, fake grass, eyelashes on the headlights and any number of interesting attire. In Uganda, the bicycle and boda boda (motorcycles) rule. I've witnessed the following items on motorcycles, chickens, four people at once, a huge box of eggs, a mattress, sugarcane, jerry cans, a platform of goats and any number of household items and produce. I've also witnessed that the bike is used for transportation, but many times it is simply pushed as it is loaded down with goods.

There are other contrasts, but the thing that they both have in common is the need for clean, accessible, safe drinking water. The villagers always express their gratitude and thankfulness for the gift of water, but many times they remind us that their neighbors need a well. My response is, "Water to Thrive will continue working to provide villagers clean water as long as their is a need".





June 14-15 - Back to Addis

Upon returning to Addis, I met with members of the Central Mella Rotary Club. This club is the host club for a Rotary grant written by the Northwest Austin Rotary Club. The grant will provide 12 water wells serving over 7,000 people and will include sanitation, hygiene, maintenance and oversight of the water wells. After the meeting, the W2T group toured the operations of a social enterprise called Timret Lehiwot, or Alliance for Life. The organization was founded in 2004 and focuses on creating healthy, inspired and empowered women. The women who are served are the most marginalized of society; domestic workers, handsmaids and those in the sex trade industry. The women are provided vocational and business training so that they can become self-sufficient. The organization also serves as a business incubator for the women once they graduate from the program. One of the most interesting projects they support is the training of women who are disabled. The women run and maintain public toilets and receive the income paid to use the facilities. In addition, women who graduate can form cooperatives and even apply for micro-loans. Timret Lehiwot is next focusing on the husbands and male partners of the women to educate them in the hopes to provide for gender equality.



After the tour, it was time for some last minute shopping before Kathy and Brizi head back to the states. We hit the Shiro Meda which is an outdoor market. The experience can be a bit of sensory overload as the stalls are located beside a very busy road jammed with huge tour buses, taxis, cars, pedestrians, a van equipped with loud speakers asking for donations to cover a injured man's hospital bills, and vehicles parked at off angles ignoring any sense of order. Added to the noise and fumes are the hawkers asking you to visit their stalls and the homeless people asking for your change. Each of us managed to negotiate and make some good bargains. 




Every W2T vision trip culminates with dinner and entertainment at a traditional restaurant. The three of us decided to dress in the traditional style which was much appreciated by the hotel staff and the other diners. The entertainment for the night was several vocal acts interrupted by traditional dancers. The Ethiopian style of dancing is unlike anything I've witnessed. The movement is all shoulders and neck and truly defies human anatomy. The men and women dance separately and never touch in a way that seems to tease and invite. The men also use some high jumping antics and footwork that would be sure to impress even the America's Got Talent judges. 


Today/June 15th ...our group parted ways as Gashaw and I head to Uganda to visit more water projects while Brizi and Kathy take a late night flight back to the US. Kathy expressed her gratitude for an amazing experience and for having her eyes opened to the water issue. When asked about her favorite part, it wasn't sitting amongst the monkeys in the Simien Mountains or the amazing landscape or even the great bargains, but it was the joy and gratitude she felt from the people in the villages who now have clean water. 


June 9-12 - Reminders that Water is Life


After we left the Simien mountains, we traveled to meet up with our partner, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST). We visited many villages and we were often greeted with groups of villagers singing, clapping, popcorn being thrown about, dancing and the happy sound of the "lalalala" that the women use while celebrating.

The words of thanks were heartfelt and touched us all. More than once we found ourselves in tears moved by the change that the simple gift of clean water brings to rural villages.

The days have been long, hot and difficult as we traveled over dirt roads that provided what the drivers like to call the African massage.



However it is worth it when we see the faces of the children and the smiles of the people. They remind us that water is life. It touches everything. The women are relieved of the back-breaking work of walking 2, 3 and even 4 hours to collect one jug of dirty water. The children can spend their time going to school. It reduces illnesses and even death. It also provides peace, as usually neighbor fights neighbor over water.


Most of the celebrations include the tradtional coffee ceremony where women and men sit in separate groups. The women first roast the beans and pass the smoke among the group. Then the women pound the roasted coffee beans and the grounds are poured into a jug and cooked over a portable stove. The grounds provide three pours. The coffee is served in tiny cups. The coffee is dark black and very strong. Along with the coffee, we enjoy injera, bread, shiro, more popcorn and roasted barley. They have so little but want to share and for us to enjoy.


Today we encountered something that can best be described as Ethiopian fondue. A mound of barley dough was formed into balls that were stabbed by a stick and then dipped into the berbere. This delicate palate had one small bite and I'm pretty certain the spiciness burned off a few taste buds.

We are sad to leave each time as we depart from a village. The people line up, waving, smiling and now are happy to have clean water.




June 8 - Simien Mountains

We traveled to the Simien Mountains which are over 10, 000 feet altitude. In fact, we stayed in the Simien Lodge which is the highest Lodge in Africa. 


The mountains are home to the Walia ibex, the Simien Wolf, leopards and the Gelada monkeys. 


We hiked on a trail that revealed some of the most spectacular scenery we'd ever seen.  The bird watching presented us with species of birds unknown. The flora and fauna of the mountains are amazing and extremely fragrant. Thyme grows wild as does a type of tomato. 



The highlight of the hike was being able to sit almost unnoticed right in the midst of the Gelada Monkeys. They are the only grass eating primates and can devour a kilo a day. They have a unique social system and live in large groups with each alpha male having six or seven females. They have a complex vocal range that is very similar to humans. In fact,  it felt like we were in a crowd of people with all of the grunts, moans, squeals and growls. Probably most interesting is the fact that they sleep in cracks and crevices along the cliff face. The cliff hanging is their way of avoiding their predators, the hyena and the leopard. 


After our hike, we enjoyed our dinner around a roaring fireplace. It's difficult to comprehend that we were cold after the sweltering heat at the lower elevations. We were treated to hot water bottles to slide between the sheets which were very welcomed. Tomorrow we are geared to Axum to meet with Water to Thrive' s partner REST. 




June 7 - Robit



We are experiencing very cool mornings and evenings and we're thankful for the relief from the day time heat. Our attention today turned to the community of Robit which is a deep borehole project completed in 2012. The project consists of a reservoir tank holding 35,000 litres of water serving over 3,000 people who live along the Megech River. The project was not working due to downed power lines which occurred two weeks before our arrival. We learned the true meaning of our saying, "this is Africa" (TIA). The problem has been reported but nothing has been done.


Another seperate issue facing the community is the bridge that crosses the river and separates the town into two halves. Every July/August, the river floods and washes the bridge out. The community spends a month rebuilding the bridge. Brizi Medina, one of our travelers, is an engineer and works on water projects in the US. She recommends converting to solar and plans on working up a solution after returning to the US.

We reflect this evening on the importance of providing water to all in need and that it is part of our humanity to help our brothers and sisters in Africa. We are reminded that it is God's work, our hands.



June 6 - The EOC



After a couple of days of visiting cultural and historic sites, our small group was ready to get down to business. Water to Thrive has a new partner in Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development Inter Church Aid Commission (EOC-DICAC). The EOC has over 40 million followers. You can find a church in every district including remote and inaccessible locations throughout Ethiopia. The development arm of the Church was established in 1972. The DICAC supports rural water supply, road construction, education, irrigation, food security, aids prevention, care of refugees, and emergency food assistance.

Our projects with EOC DICAC are located around Gondar or Gonder - as we learned, spelling is arbitrary. We have five projects including 3 hand dug wells, one shallow borehole and one spring development.


The five water points serve almost 3,000 individuals. The photos show the new wells along with the water sources that served the communities before the wells were constructed. The people we meet share similar words of thanks to the donors and as expressed by one woman at the well, "Thank you and may God bless. You have saved us and we are overwhelmed with joy."

After a very long day, walking several miles to the wells, we were exhausted but also realizing the hardships of the people we serve. They walk the same distances hauling heavy jugs of water, firewood and small children with seeming ease. We are all full of love and understanding of the importance of our work.




June 5 - Gonder and the Four Sisters



After visiting Lalibella, we had a short flight to Gonder which is consdidered the Camelot of Africa because of the Medieval castle ruins of the Gonderian kings. The castle ruins are encircled by a wall in which there are 12 entrances. We used the royal entrance and the warrior gate as our exit. UNESCO and the Federal and Local Government are all working in collaboration in preserving the ruins. The ruins sit on over 6 acres of land and includes stables, a feasting room, musical performance hall, a spa for the king and his concubines and a cage for lions. The lion was the symbol of strength and courage of the kings. One of the wives of a ruling king, succeeded him upon death and served as a model of female leadership by promoting women vocational programs. 


After leaving the ruins, the group relaxed at a local coffee shop/retail store. Lost sunglasses were replaced, a much needed horsehair flyswatter was purchased along with a Jebena (traditional ceramic coffee pot). A pop up dance party ensued after the shop worker turned up some music and displayed the neck and shoulder movements of the traditional Ethiopian dance moves. 



We had dinner at Four Sisters restaurant which is actually three sisters and one daughter. The place is rather obscure as we drove through what appeared to be a desolate field and absolutely empty gravel parking lot. We were greeted by a bugle blast from the parking attendants who directed us to the lit entrance where a couple was performing a musical welcome. We chose to dine outside and because it was windy, each diner could choose to don a poncho-like garment for warmth. The restaurant was beautifully decorated with paintings by local artists and we were serenaded by the same man who greeted us at the door. We feasted on traditional Ethiopian injera, wot and tej. We were well fed and ready to get an early start the next day to visit water projects. 



June 3-4 - A few full days

It is the end of day one and we've managed to see sights, shop, and experience a coffee ceremony. The flight was as easy as a 13-hour flight can be. We arrived early Saturday morning, and after checking into the hotel and resting for a brief time, we toured the National Museum where centuries of Ethiopian history are displayed.

The most famous exhibit is the display of Lucy, the earliest Astralopithicine afarensis discovered at the time and named after the Beatles song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. We also toured the Trinity Church, which is an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian Church and the most dominant religion of the country.

After a short night of sleep, we were off to Lalibella, the home to the monolithic churches which serve as a second pilgrimage site for Christians who might otherwise travel to Jerusalem.  We were treated to an afternoon rain shower, which is unusual for this time of year since it is technically still the dry season.

Following the tour of the churches, it was time for shopping which involved lots of bargaining, refusals, smiles, and hugs. Our journey back to the hotel was highlighted by a ride in the local taxis, or tuk tuk, which are three-wheeled covered carts creatively and brightly decorated. Our tuk tuk held six in a space designed for four.

Back at the hotel, we were treated to the traditional coffee ceremony. The coffee is served in three courses; abol, tona, and bereka. Each course is progressively weaker and served in tiny cups without handles.

We are looking forward to more adventures and visiting water projects in the coming days.



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