That is why we climb, breathing heavily, through a steep gorge. It is the only way from the capital Kachisi to the lower-lying area that we know as Washa Catchment – our destination. Painstakingly slow we grope our way forward. The tree trunks that serve as climbing aids are slippery and with each step one fears to slide and fall. We are particularly careful since we were told that serious accidents happen here again and again. A steep and burdensome climb already separates us from the hospital in Kachisi.
On the steep path to the hospital
That is where farmer Tilahun and his family are going when they cross our path. We address the girl who carries her little brother on her back. “We live down in the lowland and are going to the town of Kachisi, which is up on the plateau. We are taking my little brother Haile Jesus to hospital,” she responds when asked about their destination. And then we learn about the sad history behind our chance encounter.
Two-year-old Haile Jesus is severely malnourished and much too small for his age. His upper arms are extremely thin – in children this is a warning sign for malnutrition. In order to sell a little of their meagre harvest Tilahun Bayisa, the father of Haile Jesus, and his daughter Almaz set out for the market in Kachisi. It is the only way for him to afford the hospital treatment for his young son. His is visibly distressed.
Farmer Tilahun only has a very small harvest; often it is not enough for his family. “I also sometimes work as daily labourer, when possible, to be able to buy food for my family and not depend on food aid,” he says. When we mention the work of Menschen für Menschen and ask him whether he has ever heard of the organisation, he says no: “Not yet.”
We also tell him that we are going to start agricultural courses shortly in which he could learn to increase his yield through better cultivation and irrigation methods. Tilahun listens attentively and says he will find out when and where these courses are going to take place. It is embarrassing for him to accept food aid, but he likes the idea of attending a course to learn how he can improve his harvest himself.
An agricultural training course transmits new knowledge
He proves to be a man of action. Tilahun Bayisa is one of the first farmers of his region to take part in an agricultural training by Menschen für Menschen. First it’s off to school for a great deal of theory. But practical experience is not neglected. Together course participants terrace a field, learn about new types of fruit, grain and vegetable, and receive all kinds of useful tips on how to cultivate, harvest and store them correctly.
Tilahun learns how to optimally use the water available for irrigation and how he himself can easily produce good fertiliser for his fields with composting.
Reunion with rich harvest
A year later we meet Tilahun again and he hugs us in delight. He proudly presents his achievements. His newly planted mango and pawpaw trees still have to grow until they will bear fruit in a few months or years. But anticipation is great. His vegetable field next to the house already brims with lush green.
“I enjoy the sweet potatoes most,“ says Tilahun. “Even though they are known in the region, the other farmers and I hardly ever used them, since traditional cultivation produces too little. But now I know how to have a good harvest, “ he laughs. “This way I have enough sweet potatoes for my family, can sell cuttings to my neighbours and give them tips. We all profit.”
Tomatoes, lettuce, carrots and sweet potatoes grow here and he lets us partake in his achievements: We are greeted with injera with a lot of freshly prepared vegetables. Even little Haile Jesus tucks in. It is obvious that his parents do not need to worry about his nutrition anymore.
Tilahun’s wife Zeritu Beyene radiates enthusiasm when serving the ”new harvest“. We are moved by the family’s pride and happiness. Here the warmth and hospitality shown almost everywhere in Ethiopia seems to be particularly strong.
By now this first visit has turned into a tradition. Whenever one of us is in the project region of Ginde Beret stopping by at Tilahun’s is a must. And we are always amazed and delighted by the energy and inventiveness of this farmer who does not even think about leaving the possibilities he has discovered unexploited.
Within one year Tilahun could triple his income with the sale of fruits and vegetables. With the additional income he bought two oxen to plough his fields; before he had to borrow oxen for this. But since the farmer who provides his oxen for this purpose has to first till his own fields, Tilahun was always late with his. Those days are gone.
Swiss chard and potatoes are among the vegetables Menschen für Menschen introduces in the region and Tilahun now cultivates. “My mum bakes injera very well, but she never knew what to do with the chard. She, too, then attended a course and learned how to prepare all the new plants we now harvest. It’s delicious,” daughter Almaz is pleased to note.
I wish I was a chicken…
But that is not the only thing Tilahun’s wife Zeritu has learned. Thanks to participation in the course and the construction of their own henhouse the family had the opportunity to receive more productive chickens at a supported price.
Chickens from Menschen für Menschen are bred in Ethiopia and brought to the project regions. They are suitable for the altitude in Ginde Beret and lay almost five times as many eggs as the smaller, local poultry breed. The family can sell the offspring of these more productive chickens to other farmers. With this they support the development of the entire region.
Vivid market life
At one of our following visits we accompany Tilahun and his daughter Almaz to the market. The way through the steep gorge awakes old memories. How circumstances have changed since the first time we met here! Tilahun and Almaz are again on their way to Kachisi to sell some of their harvest but this time not in the distress of poverty.
Tilahun walks this way two to three times a week to reach the market. It takes him four hours. Soon this too will be easier and, most importantly, less dangerous. In 2011 Menschen für Menschen employees together with the local population, have already started to build stairs through the gorge; they are known as Gara Gatama Stairs. These helping stairs are almost finished.
Vivid market life dominates the capital. While we sit together and wait for customers, Tilahun talks about his plans for the future: One day he wants to use his good additional income to buy or rent a house in town, so that his children can attend secondary school there. But he does not want to move to town himself. After all, his small farm is his home and his land now yields enough to feed his family and have a good income.
Back on his farm he seems lost in thought. “I am so proud of being able to really support my family. Finally, all of us have enough to eat and our little Haile Jesus is doing well. It is good to get the chance to make it on your own,” Tilahun says seriously. Then he smiles and invites us for a meal.
Would you like to give a gift to families in Ethiopia that will bear rich fruit and facilitates sustainable access to sufficient food supplies? Jump start a better future with vegetable seed and fruit tree seedlings! No handouts that last a day but the chance to support one’s family out their own efforts.