Category Archives: Ethiopia

Have 5 Minutes? Be Inspired by Life Changing Work

Last May, I traveled with friends to Ethiopia to do a project for Healing Hands of Joy, a maternal healthcare/microfinance organization.

Weeks later, two incredible high school students (oh yes, this was made by two amazing 16 year olds!) visited HHOJ in Ethiopia and made this incredible 5 minutes film, raising thousands of dollars for HHOJ in the process.

Have 5 minutes?  Be inspired:  http://www.irisfistulaproject.org/#!media-gallery/vstc5=videos 

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Filed under Africa, Ethiopia, Nonprofit Spotlight

Nonprofit Spotlight: Healing Hands of Joy

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5 months ago, thanks to the Pangea Advisors initiative through Columbia Business School, I travelled with 2 friends throughout Ethiopia to conduct impact assessment on Healing Hands of Joy (HHOJ) and organization which addresses one of the most urgent, critical issues of women in developing countries:  obstetric fistula.

What is Obstetric Fistula?  I’ll let journalist Nick Kristof tell you:

“obstetric fistulas [is] a condition almost unknown in the West but indescribably hideous for millions of sufferers in the poorest countries in the world.

It typically occurs when a teenage girl cannot deliver a baby because it is too big for her pelvis. After several days of labor without access to a doctor, the baby dies and the girl is left with a hole between her bladder, vagina and sometimes rectum. The result is that urine and sometimes feces drip constantly down her legs. In some cases, she is also left lame from nerve damage….

They are often abandoned by their husbands and driven out by other villagers.

Take Mahabouba Mohammed, whom I met here in Addis Ababa…After a long labor, she delivered the dead baby herself but suffered crippling internal injuries, including a fistula.

Ms. Mohammed crawled back to the village, but the baby’s father was horrified by her smell. He confined her in a faraway hut and removed the door — so that hyenas, attracted by the odor, would tear her apart at night.

This girl fought off the hyenas and crawled for a day to reach an American missionary, who eventually brought her to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital that Dr. Hamlin heads. Dr. Hamlin was able to repair her fistula, and now Ms. Mohammed is a confident young nurse’s aide at the hospital here.”

HHOJ works with the Hamlin Fistula Hospital and “gives former fistula patients a second chance by giving them a purpose, training, counseling and the opportunity to improve their villages and save lives by training them as Safe Motherhood Ambassadors. We also empower these women economically with income-generating skills training and start-up small business funds.”

Alongside HHOJ’s incredible founder Allison Shigo and her dedicated staff, we met with many of the Safe Motherhood Ambassadors who have gone through the HHOJ program including:

  • Ametetsion (pictured above): her husband left her and before she went through the HHOJ program, she had no money to pay for day-to-day life – now she is running a successful home brewery and pub

In addition to meeting many of the women who graduated from the HHOJ program, we also met the current group of women who were living at the HHOJ center in Mekelle and going through the program.

We absolutely fell in love with the women at the center and with HHOJ and encourage anyone interested to:

  • Visit HHOJ’s website to learn more about the organization: http://www.healinghandsofjoy.com
  • Watch Founder Allison Shigo’s Emmy Award winning documentary on these women: A Walk to Beautiful

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Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

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What was supposed to happen

Fly 5 hours from Lalibela to Gondar, transfer, then fly from Gondar to Addis Ababa, transfer, and then fly from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar.  Arrive.  Try to find hotel (we weren’t able to make advanced reservations).
What actually happened:
When we checked in at the Lalibela airport — long story short — it turns out that 3 guys had chartered a special flight that day from Lalibela to Bahir Dar — a 25 minute (as opposed to 5 hour) flight.  It was going to arrive in 5 minutes and depart 5 minutes later.  And for whatever reason, they were going to let us mooch a ride.    Once we arrived in Bahir Dar, the one nice resort (nice is an understatement) in town offered to let us stay for 50% of the price.  Well worth it – check out pictures of sunrise over the Lake (above).

Suffice it to say, the rest of our visit in Bahir Dar was a continuation of this unbelievable luck.

Highlights include:

  • the Saturday market, where people from anywhere within a 24 hour walk come each week to trade livestock, materials, food, and anything else you can think of
  • Lake Tana — while it’s known for its monasteries, the highlight for me was seeing the elusive Hippos and the boats make of papyrus!  Lake Tana is also the source of the Blue Nile River, which is the Nile River’s main tributary
  • Blue Nile Falls (Tis Isat) — even though 75% of the once magnificent falls are now diverted for hydro-electric power, it was still great to make the trip to see the Falls
  • Daniel —  the first (of two total) Ethiopians we met who spoke fluent English.  Long story short, he is now a tour operator/comedian for Ethiopian Airlines.  He live sin B.D and took us out to the most fun places in the city.

Travel to Bahir Dar

Where to stay: Kuriftu Resort & Spa – what a splurge!  This eco-lodge is covered in beautiful flowers and is right on the shores of Lake Tana

Where to eat: Wude Coffee (across from the Kuriftu), St. Gabriel’s “bar” for the only truly cold Dashen beers in town, Chewata Bar for a great place to go out at night
Travel Tips:

  • Don’t make advanced hotel reservations – at the airport are staff from all the hotels and the prices become negotiable
  • Make all sightseeing arrangements through the Ghion Hotel next to the Kuriftu
  • Go on a Saturday to see the market
  • Get Daniel’s e-mail from me – best guide in the area
  • “Bahir Dar is great aside from the Malaria.”  For a visit here, be sure to have anti-malarials and bug-repellent

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Lalibela, Ethiopia

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What am I doing in Ethiopia? Great question, one I’ll save for a later post. Let’s just jump right into it –

After 30.5 hours of traveling, from New York, through Istanbul, and an overnight stint in the Addis Ababa airport, we in Lalibela, Ethiopia. Sadly, my luggage did not. Thank goodness for the airplane kit with the socks & the toothbrush, which downgraded the situation from desperate for a shower to minor inconvenience.

What we’ve seen is too magnificent for my usual brevity, so I’ve written a bit more below:

The Second Jerusalem
In the 12th Century, King Lalibela of Ethiopia was poisoned by his step-brother, in a power struggle. The King fell into a deep coma, during which angels instructed him to build a second Jerusalem (in response to Christian-ruled Jerusalem falling from Crusaders to Muslim rule in 1178). From his childhood and/or exile memories of time spent in the Holy Land, King Lalibela spent the next 23 years carving 13 magnificent rock churches into the stone ground. The churches are divided into 2 clusters – one which represents physical Jerusalem & the other heavenly Jerusalem.

The Churches
The churches are hewn down into the volcanic rock. That is to say, they are not carved into the sides, rather the roofs are parallel with the ground; one must walk down a set of rock stairs, surrounded by high rock walls, and there before you appear freestanding, monolithic churches. Each is entirely different, but the sites are inspired by the original Jerusalem – there is a Golgotha, tomb of Adam, and even a man-made Jordan river between the Northern & Southern clusters. The churches house treasures of 12th C paintings, icons, and wooden tabernacles. Sadly, ever since the 15 lb. gold cross was returned in 1999 (having been stolen in 1997), it’s no longer on display for tourists.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity
Ethiopia is the only country in Africa never to have been colonized. The Christianity here is not that prosthelytized by Europeans in the 19th Century or brought over by modern missionaries ala “Book of Mormon.” Christianity here traces back to the very origin of Christianity. There is a strong Judeo-influence on the traditions, which makes sense given that what is being practiced is 1st Century Christianity and with Ethiopia and the land of Israel deeply connected through history and myth (King Solomon & Queen Sheba). In fact, until 1974, the Ethiopian flag bore the Lion of Judah as its symbol.

Travel to Lalibela

Where to stay: Tukul Village – great find & value, very clean, unbelievable views, great food, and free wifi & breakfast. President Clinton has even stayed here.
Where to eat: Tukul Village for breakfast, Ben Abeba for the views, and Seven Olives for the best food in town
Travel Tips:
– use a guide for the Churches; I highly recommend Tilahun, whom we used (message me for contact information)
– fly to Lalibela — it’s a 1 hr. flight from Addis Ababa (as opposed to the 2 day bus ride)

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Filed under Africa, Ethiopia

May 2012 Schedule

May 8-  Depart for Ethiopia

May 10-11- Lalibela, Ethiopia

May 12-13 – Bahar Dar, Ethiopia

May 15-18 – Mekelle, Ethiopia

May 19 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

May 20 – Layover in Istanbul, Turkey & back to NYC!

 

Leaving tonight for Ethiopia as part of a consulting project through Columbia Business School (Pangea Advisors & Microlumbia).  Excited to share the travel adventure &  information about Healing Hands of Joy, the amazing organization through which we have this opportunity.  More to come.

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Filed under Africa, Ethiopia, Travel (General)