Visit to Ethiopia – Study Trip

“This section reports on those facilities shown to the group by FGAE staff whilst travelling through parts of Southern Ethiopia.  The trip involved visiting several different villages and facilities.  These can largely be grouped as Medical Facilities, Youth facilities and one Community Emergency Fund Programme.  Also during these trips some interviews were conducted with girls in rural and remote villages who had started menstruating, to establish the issues / challenges they encountered.  Finally we were taken to Konso.  Whilst this was not an area in which FGAE currently worked it is one they are considering.  They have worked previously with an organisation called the Konso Development Association who cover more development issues than FGAE, similar to Jatan.  This enabled us to have interesting conversations with one of their development workers as well as to see a part of the South that is more ‘traditional’ and tribal than parts already visited.” 

Community Emergency Fund Programme 

We were taken to a remote village called Dilla Gonbe where about 80 families in the village had become members of the Village Community Emergency Fund.  This was an initiative of FGAE and the membership is voluntary.  The purpose is to provide a savings scheme for emergency use.  The primary emergency to be funded from the savings is maternal care at the time of delivery.

Currently FGAE send outreach workers to Dila Gombe every 28 days for a meeting and to help with outreach maternal care.  There are 5000 households in Dilla Gonbe.  Only 40% of women give birth somewhere other than at home.  The primary reasons for this are the lack of transport (the roads are only passable in a 4 wheel drive), lack of money and the cultures / traditions.  The emergency funds were suggested to the villagers to help them save for such events as needing medical assistance with childbirth.  The savings also act as a loan facility as per other micro-credit systems.  Initially the monthly savings amount was 6BIR, which increased to 10BIR and now sits at 20BIR per month.  As with micro credit groups in India, when one family cannot make their saving payment, then someone else will lend them the money to do so (Swan, 2012).  Within the village there is now 72,000BIR saved (approximately £225).  A proportion of this is kept in the village but the majority is in the nearest bank.

As well as using the fund for medical / maternal emergencies, the fund can be accessed for business start up loans.  As one woman told us – “Talk does not cook the rice, we realized that to escape poverty we have to save.”  For a member to be able to borrow funds they must have been saving for at least one year or to deposit the equivalent of one year’s savings.

Dilla Gonbe educates primary school (years 1 – 8) children in the village and their nearest high school is 3km away (up to year 10).  The perception within the community is that 75% of the community is literate.  The village itself is entirely traditionally made (wood, mud and grass huts) and beautifully laid out.  There is an evident pride in the way the houses are kept (well tended yards and fencing etc.).

Medical Facilities

Several different Model Sexual Reproductive Health clinics were visited including a ‘higher’ clinic in Hawassa, a medium clinic in Yirgalem, Shashemene clinic, and an outreach site at Lowo.

The sexual and reproductive health (SRH) clinics in Hawassa, Yirgalem and Shashemene all have a similar structure.  Each center provides examination rooms, laboratories (for basic blood and swab testing), counselling rooms, offices and pharmacy, and at Hawassa there are also ultrasound facilities.  Each center operates a large number of outreach sites (e.g. 23 from Yirgalem).  The services also cover school visits, university visits from Hawassa, and prison services from Yirgalem.

One of their main achievements is to create the demand for reproductive health services and consequently increase the number of contraceptive users.  This and other interventions improve maternal and child health.  Their services are monitored and evaluated by a voluntary advisory board every quarter and in youth centers this includes the youth themselves meeting monthly to review activities.

In Halaba, even though it was a youth centre we were invited to talk to some ‘marginalised’ people who worked with FGAE on living with HIV / AIDS.  The first was a female aged 35 years old.  She worked as a case manager in the community (working with several NGOs) responsible for people living with HIV.  She has worked in partnership with FGAE for 12 years.  She is the chairperson of an organisation called WARKA.  When people find out they are HIV positive she refers them to FGAE to share information and obtain drugs.  Her husband died 15 years ago (from AIDS).  She has two daughters from him, one works in tourism and the other is in grade 8.  Both are HIV negative.  She has a new husband who is also HIV positive.  She feels there is a high prevalence of HIV, but the stigma is now much less than it used to be.  She was the first person in her village that was exposed to HIV and she wanted to prevent others getting it.  She finds her advocacy role a pleasure.  She works to prevent the marginalization of people living with HIV and to help them lead a positive life.  She wants to work towards an increase in access to anti-retroviral treatments (ART).  Previously there were only two places from which you could access ART in the Southern District.  Now it is available all over the district.  Her dream is to see HIV eradicated in the world.

The second person we spoke to about living with HIV was male, aged 49 and he is a government worker.  He works specifically with government workers living with HIV.  He has partnered with FGAE in this regard for 5 years.  He is one of the founding members (and currently chairman) of this organisation for government workers living with HIV.  The work involves helping people (training them) to live positive lives.  He wishes to increase the awareness of HIV and work towards prevention of HIV.  His organisation also works with other community organisations with the same goals.  The organisation meets every quarter and evaluates their current work before designing their next programme of work.  Items they work on include public education, how to prevent needle-stick injuries, and family planning for HIV positive individuals.

He has five children, all of whom are HIV negative.  One son is married with children, one daughter is enrolled at Hawassa University studying nursing and two children are at school.  His wife is also HIV positive.

Both the people agree that their organisations work with different population groups and there is no feeling of competition and the organisations collaborate where they can.

The final representative of the ‘marginalised’ populations that FGAE work with was a gentleman with very good English, but totally blind.  He worked voluntarily for the Visually Challenged Association, which was established four years ago.  By profession he is a teacher (teaching English).  He said that he and two other teachers had founded the association.  They had tried to get support from the government for setting up the association but to no avail.  They had approached FGAE who had supported them.  FGAE gave them a room from where they can work.  He gave as an example of why the association was needed “People using this facility, most don’t know what a condom looks like or how to apply”.  This work clearly links well with the FGAE ideals of working with the hard to reach members of a community and that family planning should be available to all.  He would like to prepare brochures on other issues for the blind but there is no financial capacity, so for the time being they focus on joint issues with FGAE.  He said that there are no government schemes for eye testing, provision of glasses or aids for blind people (such as walking canes).  Being blind means that you are marginalized in the community, you are excluded from social schemes and children are not enrolled in school.  He tells how he had smallpox as a child.  His immediate family decided that he should not be educated, but his relatives took him to a catholic missionary at Shashemene.  The missionaries educated him to a high standard.  When asked what he would most like for the blind in Ethiopia he said “bring us into the economy and live a normal life and that we are not marginalized”.  On leaving he asked that if there was any possibility that we had access to aids (such as walking canes) for the blind that they could be sent to Ethiopia.

Youth Centres

Several Youth Centres were visited – at Yirgalam, Halaba, Sodo and Hawassa.  Each youth centre supports many community outreach sites (urban and rural).

At each youth centre we were greeted by the youth dancing.  They performed their cultural dances and wore their traditional ethnic clothes.  The youth in Halaba were from the smallest ethnic group in Ethiopia (approximately 200,000 people, compared to the largest tribal grouping of 30 million – the Oromo).

The youth center in Hawassa was also the ‘Hawassa Sex Workers Friendly Clinic’.  This was established in 2012, previously being based in Yirgalam.

Each of the youth centres focuses on awareness raising of sexual and reproductive health issues as well as provision of services.  The staff numbers are low, but there are many more volunteers at each centre.  (For example, Halaba youth centre has 5 staff – 2 medical and 3 administrative and 30 volunteer workers).  One of the key processes of attracting the youth to their services is through Edutainment.  They entertain through music, dance, drama, poems and literature.  They also provide library and internet services.  Youth who are members of the centre can use the internet services for free.  Other youth can access it, if not in use by a member, for 10BIR.  However their main focus remains delivering their awareness raising and services for the youth.  They also work with the youth in universities and colleges.  The counselling services are provided by the youth (trained) for the youth.  Some of the problems they encounter in providing these services are the absence of recent curriculum textbooks and other reference books for the libraries and a lack of indoor and outdoor games.  Successes have been through the peer education sessions and through strong networking and partnership models of activities.

Menstruation Issues

During the visits to various FGAE sites some focus group interviews were conducted with young female teenagers to discuss various menstrual issues.  In total over 20 young ladies between the ages of 15 and 22 years old were involved in three different groups.  The main areas covered were to discover the type of pad that was used (if any) and the way it was disposed of.  Some of the social issues (availability of information, acceptability and ‘old wives tales’) were discussed that affected them and their mothers.

The more rural (remote) a village was, the less likely the girls were to use a disposable pad and the less likely their mothers were to use any form of pad.  Information about periods in general was not passed on from mother to daughter very often, and hygiene factors (e.g. ability to wash cloths with soap, and obtain appropriate material) were problematic.  If disposable pads were used, disposing of them was not done with consideration to the environment, although it was more socially considerately than in India (i.e. wrapped in plastic and put in pit latrines rather than thrown on the road).

Detailed findings from these group interviews have been recorded and permission was given to use the data to publish findings.


Konso is an area in Southern Ethiopia with a town and 42 outlying villages that are traditional in design and the inhabitants follow a traditional livelihood.  The population in the area is approximately 300,000 with about 4,000 per village.  Each village has its own language (based on the Cushitic tribal language), but the townsfolk speak Amharic.  The area is predominantly an agricultural one, although tourism is a growth industry because of the interest in the traditional nature of the lives lived in the area.  The land is terraced and farmers undertake permaculture to try to offset the continual crop failures in the area.  The main crops are sorghum, maize, cassava, barley, wheat and cotton.  There are no irrigation systems other than rain.  The food they eat is particular to this tribal area (Kokoofa), which is made from sorghum, maize and the leaf of the Maringa tree – which is supposed to have medicinal properties preventing hypertension, diarrhea and to help promote good eyesight.  Unlike the rest of Ethiopia where injura is the staple food for all meals, in these clans injura is only eaten on holidays.

The villages are designed in circles.  There is a stone wall around each village that is intended as a defense from tribes from the highlands and fire.  Inside the outer wall are inner circular walls.  The number of circles determines the growth / age of the village.  The average age of these villages is thought to be 500 years.  Each family will have a walled off area with huts for themselves and their livestock.  There is an open meeting area that is always beside the inner wall (for fire safety).  In this area there will be placed the ‘generation poles’.  Every 18 years a new pole is added to the middle of a group of poles (indicating a new generation).  The older poles gradually move outwards and become shorter as they rot.  The newest pole must be the tallest and older ones will be cut to ensure this.  Once a group of the new generation has been included in the generation pole ceremony, then they can be included in village decision-making.

We visited Gamolla village.  As with all these villages there is no electricity at all.  The population of approximately 4000 is always made up of 9 clans per village, each with their own ritual chief.  When a chief dies he is mummified and the process has to take 9 months, 9 days, 9 hours and 9 minutes.  The position of chief is hereditary.

A person cannot marry anyone in their own clan, but can marry from the other 8 clans or another village.  Sex before marriage is forbidden and the clan have to approve a marriage.  Upon marriage a woman is kept inside and not allowed to work, but has regular sex and is fed milk, honey and meat.  After 3 months the village gathers and the women must be fat (and preferably pregnant) to show how ‘good’ the husband is.  Before the community will approve a man for marriage he must be able to lift the ‘maturity stone’ onto his shoulder and throw it backwards.  The maturity stone is kept in the village meeting area (and none of our group visiting could lift it higher than approximately waist height!).

Once boys get to 14 years old they sleep in the community house.  Men whose wives have given birth will also sleep in the community house for two years before returning home to sleep at night.  They can visit the family home in the daytime.  There are several community houses within the village complex.

The meeting area also houses the ‘swearing stone’, which is where people who are in conflict will swear their version of events, in front of the community, and justice will be meted out.  We were told that no one lies on the swearing stone because God is a witness and if they lie, an accident will happen to them.  The meeting area is also used for village celebrations and dancing.

Each house is made up of several single room circular huts that are shared with the livestock.  Animals will have the lower huts and people the higher huts (about one or two foot difference in levels).  The hut for sleeping in will have animal skins to sleep on.  A sign of prosperity is to have ostrich eggs decorating the top of the house exterior.  Each house averages two adults and five children.

Gamolla village is evenly split between farmers who produce the food and merchants who sell it. Excess produce is sold to Addis.  The tourist fees collected in town to pay for the guide to take groups (or individuals) to the villages are split 75% to the community and 25% for the guide.  The 75% is placed in a community bank account.

Most of these traditional villages have government run primary schooling available (grades 1 – 6) but then children have to walk to town for further education.  There is no cultural education so children tend to be loosing their cultural identity and those that go to high school are taught Amharic and loose their local language.

One of the Ethiopians from FGAE in our party had never visited Konso before and was totally shocked at how under developed this area was.  He was quite disturbed about it.  There was a view that the extent of the deprivation, and especially the hardship for the women, was more extreme than he had realised.

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