Field Update: Be Encouraged!
Discovering Light sees hope and opportunity where others often only see poverty and despair. Last week, a team from San Diego experienced this in living color during a tour of our programs in West Arsi. This trip was originally planned for October 2016 but was postponed due to the political unrest that gripped Ethiopia last year. The region is settled for the time being which allowed our team to visit the rural area where our programs are focused.
Four days of field visits yielded some wonderful stories of lives in the midst of positive transformation as well as some delightful surprises. We’re excited to share these with you in the coming months with an overview this month. During our first afternoon, we spent a few hours touring Selam Awassa Technical and Vocational College learning about new products they are producing and saying hello to our current sponsored student Birhanu. He is finishing his second year and in the role of training first year students in basic machinery. Unfortunately, our other student Adane was not feeling well and was spending the day in his dorm. Our first unexpected event was running into Mustefa, one of the first students Discovering Light sponsored in 2011. After graduation in 2014, he worked for several metal fabrication companies nearby in Awassa and eventually made his way to a job in the capital in Addis Ababa. But he has returned and now works in the production department for Selam Awassa Business Group, sister company to the college. In true Ethiopian fashion, Mustefa sheepishly looked our way but didn’t stop his work until we recognized him and called him over. His return as an employee and closer to his home in Arsi Negele is a welcome development.
Day two was spent with Savings (Self Help) Groups in the countryside of the Shashamene District. This program that has produced 385 groups with 6,000 members never ceases to amaze. Yet, this visit might have been the most impactful. During one of our stops, we interviewed three groups from the same village. They sat in a big circle and we took time to ask questions and learn their history of saving and improving family life. As usual, members were eager to share the benefits experienced as part of the group. While the overall story of better health, financial security, and income generating activities was consistent with those we’ve heard in the past, there is always something unique that demonstrates the power of the savings group movement. In this case, it was the group of children, ages 10 to 16, who had formed a group and had been meeting for close to two years. These young men and carried out the same functions as adult groups. An outspoken 16 year old leader shared the history of the group and a 10 year old told us his own experience purchasing chickens with a loan from the group. Examples like these young people demonstrate the capacity for community-wide transformation offered through the savings group concept. We left the meeting greatly encouraged about the future of this movement.
The following day we spent time with two Discovery Bible Studies (DBS) in Shashamene and Arsi Negele. Both groups we visited had men and women from different faiths discussing the Bible together. The inviting atmosphere and participatory (versus leader-centric) format allows men and women from different cultural backgrounds to discuss the Bible together freely. Our partners, Horn of Africa Evangelical Mission Engagers are helping start these groups throughout the region, allowing people to respond the God of the Bible with a sincere faith. Observing studies in the growing Shashamene town and the remote countryside of Arsi Negele in one day proved their efficacy in all types of communities.
Discovering Light’s small business development efforts have had its share of successes and setbacks. In particular, the mobile thresher businesses we’ve helped launch have faced considerable roadblocks (literally in some cases) in the past 18 months. Drought and political unrest have prevented the ownership groups from putting their machines to work. With such a delay, we feared these businesses might fail to launch altogether. But fortunately for our friends in Ethiopia, the partners took possession of the machines from storage and began providing their service the week before our trip. We had the privilege of watching two of the machines in action, seeing the benefits of the service on display. Considering the distance and difficulty we faced getting about 15 kilometers from town to the farms where the threshers were in action, their value was apparent. We watched as a farmer cut down rows of teff while in the next square his family ran the grain through the machine and collected the seed on a mat that could be easily folded and transferred to a grinder nearby. We spoke with a farmer who told us the machine saved days of work for his family. The contrasting scenes of harvesting by hand and the machine with owners and family members working together to produce an essential food source was powerful for our team. We pray for no further hindrances to the threshing service. Literally hundreds of squares of land had piles of teff waiting to be threshed along our bumpy drive from the village to town.
Not every vision trip is as successful as this one. We observed every major initiative and met many wonderful Ethiopians with stories of hope and purpose. Over the coming months we are excited to share more of them with you. Our four day tour of the region was an encouraging look at how abundant life is making its way into families and communities of the Arsi Oromo tribe and Southeast Ethiopia.