Good News from Ethiopia

Photojournalist David Snyder is currently traveling throughout southern Africa on behalf of CRS. He writes from Addis Ababa:

This trip has, throughout, been something of a reunion for me – seeing familiar faces in familiar countries around Africa. It has been a homecoming of sorts to a continent I know well after so much time living and working here. But one other thing my time here in the past has allowed me is a perspective – the chance to see progress, change and occasionally regression that has taken place since my last visit. Ethiopia has been no less an experience for me.

Ethiopia Bunding

Hillsides terraced with stone walls slow erosion and trap water that percolates into the underground water table. Photo by David Snyder for CRS.

I first came here in early 1997 – my first trip with CRS, with whom I had then been working for only 6 months. It was all new and different to me then, especially being so new to Africa. And Ethiopia in particular has its own unique history in the region, one of the only countries in Africa to have never been colonized, save for a few years of Italian occupation during World War II.

Once I moved to Kenya in 1999, I traveled several times to Ethiopia – most often to cover some sort of food crisis relating to droughts, which have become increasingly common in Ethiopia over the past few decades, as weather patterns change and environmental damage like deforestation and soil erosion take their toll.

Those problems still exist. During my trip over the past few days down to Dire Dawa, in southern Ethiopia, evidence of deforestation is everywhere, the hillsides of the southern regions cracked and broken by erosion. Trees are denuded of every green-sprouting branch, hacked down to provide a few mouthfuls of browse for ravenous flocks of sheep and goats. These are critical problems that have helped to make Ethiopia one of the poorest countries in Africa.

And yet, I see change on this trip back to Ethiopia – see it, really, as much as feel it. Hard to describe, but it feels different. More energetic, more hopeful. CRS partners in Dire Dawa are working to address food insecurity and environmental issues, helping locals to learn to terrace the steep and denuded hillsides with rock walls that slow erosion and trap water in the underground water table. Valleys that used to flood each year with the heavy seasonal rains, which ran immediately off of the surrounding hills, are now fertile, covered with crops planted by farmers who have benefited from CRS-supported irrigation projects.

Finally, I met a family who have graduated from CRS programming – beneficiaries who used CRS assistance to lift themselves out of poverty, and now live on the proceeds from a small business they have established – freeing up money and support for CRS to direct towards others, repeating the process.

Ethiopia still has problems. But with all of the dreary news coming out of Africa, all too often, it was a nice stop on a busy schedule – a chance to see a change for good.

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