Love, Ethiopia

Since mid-August, I have been living and working in Ethiopia. The INGO I work for, CRS, is leading a Development Food Security Activity (DFSA), funded by USAID Office of Food for Peace. Our partners are Mercy Corps and the Ethiopian Catholic Church Social & Development Commissions of Harar and Meki. The DFSA supports the Government of Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) which aims to improve and sustain food, nutrition and livelihoods security of vulnerable households and communities.

Lucky for me, I spent some time visiting project participants, to document how DFSA interventions were making a difference in their lives. Below are brief accounts from those visits.



Among the core objectives of the CRS-led DFSA is to:

  1. Support the construction and rehabilitation of structures that strengthen community watersheds, and
  2. Promote water and soil conservation practices which farmers can utilize on their own land to increase productivity

Umer Mohamed, age 45, is a resident of Kurtu Kebele in the Dire Dawa Administrative Council. He lives with his wife and five children. Umer’s community previously suffered from heavy flooding, loss of fertile land and lack of water. Over the years, the community contributed to constructing check dams, hillside terraces, soil bunds and other conservation structures to address these issues. In April 2017, residents of Kurtu Kebele began the construction of the sediment storage dam in the Gara Lekole sub-watershed. The dam slowed the flow of runoff, increased silt deposits upstream, improved infiltration of water into the ground, raised the water table and increased groundwater discharge.

The sediment storage dam allowed for springs to develop and increased groundwater discharge even when the river runs dry.

“Getting water in this sandy river bed was very difficult, especially during the dry season. After constructing the dam there is now more water and I am using it for irrigation. I am also growing different crops such as tomatoes, sugarcane, coffee, papaya and orange to conserve soil quality. Because of the dam I now have enough water to irrigate all my crops.”

-Umer Mohamed, age 45, Kurtu Kebele, Dire Dawa

Papaya grown with irrigated water

Umer Mohamed shows me how he is intercropping papaya trees among his staple crops to sustain the soil quality and improve his income. Umer’s farm is fed by water captured from the sediment storage dam.


Shunkaa Calii ALP 3

Shunkaa demonstrates her literacy skills by writing down a neighbor’s phone number.

Shunkaa Calii, age 50 from Arsi Negele Woreda (Gubeta Arjo Kebele), is the primary caretaker of her family, including five children and her husband. Shunkaa, an uneducated farmer, struggles from drought, degraded land and limited access to agricultural inputs, tools and trainings for improved production and income.

One of the DFSA’s objectives is to organize farmers into livelihood groups and train them to run their own savings-and-lending program where members contribute money into a fund from which they can borrow. With access to funds, farmers can invest in things like improved seeds, technologies and livestock to raise their income.

Shunkaa is a livelihood group member, but felt she lacked the skills to take part in discussions. At the start of the program, she could not read room numbers at the clinic, signs on the road, write down phone numbers, her own name, or record her weekly savings in livelihood group meetings. To ensure that people like Shunkaa get the support they need, DFSA provides financial, material and capacity building support to government-run adult literacy classes.

Shunkaa successfully completed the six-month adult literacy class in June 2018. It has served as a confident booster and encouraged active participation, including in savings-and-lending activities. Shunkaa explained that before the adult literacy class, there were at least two barriers for her in the livelihood group. One was that she was illiterate, and the second, a woman. Taking part in the class made her realize how important it was for women to know basic reading and writing.

“Before, I would go to meetings to present myself and never talk, because as an illiterate person I did not have the confidence. I felt I had nothing to contribute. Now, I even state my opinion in front of male members. Illiterate women always struggle for their rights and are excluded in decision-making. Education is important for all community members, but for women, it is like an eye.”

-Shunkaa Calii, age 50, Gubeta Arjo Kebele

Amina Shankur, age 26, Wahil Kebele

Amina Shankur (age 26), leads the class in reciting the alphabet.

The literacy class is taught by facilitators from the same or neighboring community, and are familiar with the people, language and culture. Bedri Kedir, age 22, is a facilitator from Dire Dawa, Wahil Kebele, and is helping her elders learn basic math, reading and writing.

Bedri has observed significant improvements. In a six-month period, she saw her students go from having no knowledge on how to count, tell time, add and subtract, to now being able to count their family’s earnings, note contributions to savings-and-lending groups and record savings. Their ability to budget not only improved participation in groups and increased confidence, but their husbands now entrust them with money and record-keeping.

According to Bedri, for a community like Wahil Kebele, that is a big deal. All her students can now write their names, the alphabet, read short messages and make purchases independently. For example, when purchasing shoes for their children, her students would measure the size using a string and take it to the shopkeeper who would then use it to determine the size. They had no understanding of shoe size numbers. Now, they can be told a number, understand what it means, and read the number on a shoe themselves. Something as simple as that has been life-changing for her students.

Graduation Day Wahil Kebele

Bedri with her students on graduation day.

“These community members raised me. Now, I must help them improve their skills in basic math, reading and writing, so that they can do simple tasks independently. I can see that they are happy. They are even more respected now in the community and in the home.”

-Bedri Kedir, age 22, Adult Literacy Class Facilitator, Wahil Kebele


Kelil Safina TFH 1

Safina explains the lack of trust in discussing finances prior to the training and improvements since completing the Faithful House Program.

Safina Worja and Kelil Mohamed were married seven years ago when they were just 15 and 18 years old, respectively. From Arsi Negele Woreda (district), Boku Wolda Kebele, they have two children and are participants of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace funded Development Food Security Activity (DFSA) led by Catholic Relief Services/Ethiopia (CRS) – a program that seeks to improve and sustain food, nutrition and livelihoods security.

The DFSA uses CRS’ Faithful House Program (also known as Islamic Family House) to provide a safe environment for couples to discuss their relationship and enhance joint decision making. Since January 2018, 889 couples and 154 religious and opinion leaders have participated in the program, and through improved communication, women have increased their ability to make meaningful decisions for the household.

When asked to introduce themselves, Kelil began first, not by introducing himself, but his wife. He mentioned her shoe size and waist size, that she likes potatoes and cabbage with injera, and loves meat and milk.

Before participating in the training, their relationship was stressed and Kelil spent very little time at home. However, as he observed the rise of divorce in his community and its negative impacts, he was hesitant but willing to participate in the training. Previously, village elders and friends intervened when there were problems. Now, he and Safina use the communication tools learned to resolve issues among themselves.

Initially, elders were slow to approve, as it is a big cultural change. For instance, one can see in the body language that couples are more affectionate- sitting close while talking, and at times, comforting and embracing one another. According to the Kebele Manager, however, religious leaders have communicated their interest and observed that trainings are in line with Islamic teaching.

“By talking to my wife, I realized how much work she had at home. I started to share more of the responsibilities with her, bringing water, cleaning the home. I even began to leave the mosque early and my friends teased me. I told them I needed to support my wife at home.”

– Kelil Mohamed, 25, Boku Wolda Kebele

Husna Shebrahim, age 27, and Gamedi Dhabi, age 35, are an example of a couple whose marriage was saved by Faithful House. Before the training, they were on the verge of divorce and Gamedi was planning to take a second wife. Married for 12 years and with six children, a divorce would have been devastating for their family.

“We were fighting all the time, yelling at each other, sometimes even using our fists. Our eldest son would cry, would have trouble sleeping. I did not know what to do. After the training I see that my wife loves me very much. We discuss our problems peacefully now, and I like to spend more time at home taking care of the children, even cooking. I do not want a divorce, and I definitely do not want a second wife.”

-Gamedi Dhabi, age 35, Boku Wolda Kebele

With more couples improving their communication through the Faithful House Program, DFSA hopes that they can work together in joint decision making to improve their food and livelihoods security.

Husna Gamadi TFH 1

The Faithful House Program has saved marriages, including the marriage of Gamedi Dhabi and Husna Shebrahim, now very happy and committed to the well-being of the family.

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