POST FROM AMALIA FERNAND
Friday January 28, 2011
The desperation in the eyes of a child as he holds out his hand to beg reflects upon all of us. Ripped and dirty clothing lay tattered across his shoulders, bare feet stand amidst rocks and burrs, flies gather at the corners of his eyes and below his nostrils where snot and sleep have accumulated, but there is no water to clean it off.
“You, you, you!” he cries, pointing at my sunglasses, belt, water bottle. “One birr!” (1/16th of a dollar) he yells while pushing his hand close to my face. And I never give him anything more than a smile and a “Salam” (a greeting meaning peace) because if I did, it would cause mobs and misunderstandings and serve merely to perpetuate the situation . We are giving in a bigger way, but for people whose lives are based on moment-to-moment survival, that is hard to understand.
Extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as those living on $1.25 or less a day. 21% of this world, or about 1.4 billion people live in extreme poverty. When coming from the perspective of a country that holds 80% of the world’s wealth, we rarely stop to think about how lucky we truly are. Even the poorest person in the United States is better off than the average Ethiopian. There are no welfare or unemployment programs, it is every man, child and woman for themselves. Since 1990 Ethiopia’s population has risen to 80 million from 52 million and the per capita annual income is $180, one of the lowest in the world. Rates of deforestation in coffee growing areas are estimated at 25,000 acres per year.
In Ethiopia, the birthplace of wild coffee, farmers get as little as $110 off an entire crop. Well-paid workers at coffee plantations receive 66 cents per day, the average is 55 cents per day, which is not enough to provide a decent standard of living for a family, even in Ethiopia. Starbucks sells Ethiopia Sidamo whole bean coffee for $10.45 a pound, yet maybe a penny or two of that goes to the actual farmer. Brochures state that Starbucks protects topical forests and enhances the lives of farmers by building schools and clinics. In some places in Latin America, Starbucks does do these things, but not in Africa. Starbucks opens an average of 25 new stores a week in the United States alone, where we have 5% of the world’s people, that drink 20% of the world’s coffee. We have a responsibility to make sure that the farmers that grow our coffee are not starving. You can not look into the desperate eyes of those begging children and ever be the same again. For more information about Starbucks and coffee growing in Ethiopia, please read the article: ”Starbucks calls its coffee worker-friendly, but in Ethiopia, a day’s pay is a dollar” by Tom Knudson in the Sacramento Bee at:
After Chris Treter of Higher Grounds in Traverse City had spent years visiting poor coffee growing regions around the world, he came up with the concept of “Beyond fair trade” and started the non-profit On The Ground that works to improve standards of living in coffee growing regions. He works directly with the Oromia Coffee Farmers Cooperative Union that has about 100,000 Ethiopian farmers as members, receiving fair trade prices for their coffee. But, yet, is it really fair? They receive pennies and the middlemen get rich. There is so much more that needs to be done and so much more help to give. As the Run Across Ethiopia finished it’s final day, joined by coffee buyers from around the world, we arrived in a village in the coffee growing region of Yergacheffe. We were once again greeted by thousands of smiling faces and an outpouring of generosity, love and thanks. Each runner was given a gift of traditional clothing and dressed for the crowd. The people spoke of what the money from the Run would do for them and what they still needed.
This is only the beginning, a jumpstart into the aid that is needed in Southern Ethiopia. Do we build 3 schools, or 2 schools complete with bathrooms and furniture? Which will help more? Can we continue to get donations and do it all? Will this work ever really be done? Can we give the people the tools and the responsibility they need to improve their own quality of life? That is the goal: involve the community, provide hope, structure, stability, and education. Without education, the problem is systemic, a wheel of poverty and suffering, rolling through the generations, never understanding that there can be a different way. There is nothing we can do that is more important than to educate that begging child, to teach him how he can make a better life for himself, without relying on hand-outs. Soon, we will have a community of educated children, working to improve their own quality of living. Why the Run? You might ask, what could possibly be the point? Raising $175,000 to build 2 schools in a matter of months with few corporate sponsors is an incredibly difficult task. Involve 10 separate runners, working towards the smaller goal of $15,000 each and suddenly it becomes possible. To excite and involve the community, both in the States and in Ethiopia, to involve the media, raise awareness, give people hope, bring understanding to the world, and bring a team of people that have seen that desperation first hand and whom will never forget.
In a cultural exchange of questions between children from two northern Michigan schools, (the Pathfinder School and the Children’s House) and children from the village, the dichotomy of our two worlds became shockingly evident. The Ethiopian children watched the American children on a computer screen, then they asked their own questions. Young girls asked things like: “What age do your parents force you to marry?” and “What age do you have to quit school to take care of your family?” while young boys asked about what crops U.S. children care for, what jobs they have to do after school, and how far they have to walk to get water. This touching video should be able to be viewed in the documentary that Traverse City filmmakers, James and Jamaica Weston are creating about the entire RAE experience, hopefully to be released in May. James and Jamaica have only a few days left on their kickstarter for the documentary. Buy an advance DVD today and help them to create this much needed film! http://kck.st/eu9TUc
My last few days in Ethiopia provided me with an experience that helped me to feel closer to the people. After days of being so sick that food or water was impossible to keep down, my body was going into dehydration and starvation mode, my vision was swirling and flashing colors, and in this state, I entered the emergency room of a hospital in Addis Ababa. Scared of the prospect of an African hospital, but more scared of whatever parasite was lurking inside of me, I laid on the thin hospital bed to gaze through blurred vision at the simplicity around me. Accustomed to the long waits of bustling ER’s in the States, I was surprised to be greeted quickly and immediately assessed to need an IV and glucose. I asked them to open the packages of the needles in front of me and with tears streaming down my face, I gripped my interpreter and friend Betty’s hand. The nurse put the IV in and then stood at the end of my bed to stare at me and pick his nose while the Doctor told me that he suspected either Malaria or Typhoid. The nurse donned gloves and drew blood for testing. Waiting for those test results felt like the scariest half hour of my life. Negative, the Dr. said, and I cried in relief. More tests revealed that I had “an amoeba,” or amoebic dysentery. Little amoeba’s were waging war in my intestine, eating away at the wall and expelling anything else that entered as my stomach reeled in pain.
After some anti-nausea and anti-stomach cramping meds through my IV the Dr. thought about keeping me overnight but decided I could go as he wrote me a prescription for 3 days of medication to get rid of the amoeba. The hospital bill totaled about $35, nothing compared to what we would expect in the U.S., but months worth of income for an Ethiopian. I was lucky, I could receive care, but what about those who can’t? What about the millions of people whom do not even live close to a clinic, much less a hospital? Amoeba’s are common for Ethiopians. For a brief time, I felt their suffering, I saw the world through their eyes. I was sad and afraid and helpless. Imagine a lifetime of feeling like that and please remember that no matter how little extra you think you have, it can mean the world of difference to an Ethiopian.
You can still donate to the Run Across Ethiopia cause at the On The Ground website http://onthegroundglobal.org/On_The_Ground/DONATE.html
This is an ongoing project, our work is not done, and we need your support now more than ever.
Follow Amalia’s travels on her own blog here,
The Traveling Educator at http://site.natureexplorersinternational.com/