Saturday, July 16, 2011


I have 8 months off to travel the world and I have already been to Ethiopia, Argentina, Chile, Mongolia and Indonesia. The two months in Ethiopia allowed me to see one of the most magical and beautiful countries on the planet. And now they are suffering.

Of course Ethiopia is no stranger to drought and devastation, the famous drought of the 1980's resulted in millions dead and starving but these massive casualties were mostly the result of intentional mismanagement by the government. In 1984 an Amharic president was in power, Mengistu, who was also a dictator and a tyrant with a complete and sheer hatred for the two other major tribes making up Ethiopia - the Tigrinyans and Oromo. A long-standing separatist movement by both the Tigrinya in the North and Oromo in the South fuelled his tribe-centered views. When a massive drought hit the Tigrinya regions the government had already spent 46% of its GDP on military spending and government officers turned a blind eye to the suffering of their 'enemies' and countrymen.

The result? 1 million dead. Bob Geldof hitting the scene with LiveAid. Ethiopians becoming synonymous with bug-eyed, loose limbed children.
(Image courtesy of AFP)

And now it is happening again. In a country where I just ate injera every day with shiro or tibs or beiyanatu and enjoyed every single mouthfull. I didn't enjoy the food because it represented freedom from famine or the first meal I had had in weeks, I just really liked it. I spent thousands of dollars in a country where $300 is a yearly income. And now the worst meterological drought in 60 years threatens these beautiful people again.

Perhaps the political situation in Ethiopia proper will prevent the major disaster seen in the 1980s but the worst hit region is Somalia - a country in anarchy and 'run' by our 'enemy' - Fundamental Islamists.

Humans deserve food, water, shelter and access to medical care. Humans include fundamental islamists, Africans and those that live differently than 'us'....just in case you needed a reminder. But politics run the world and starving humans are chess pieces to governments and NGOs alike. We need money and food and water to get through the corrupt officials and the game-players to those that need it. An almost impossible task.

I wish my travels to the region gave me some insight on how to help or what to do to ease my traveler's guilt. But I have no ideas....short of jumping on a plane and getting back to a country I love so much and buying all the rice I can find and walking it to the camps and feeding children by hand. One small step? Maybe, but I feel as helpless as everyone else, maybe moreso because of my affection for the region. Should we all give a day's wage to the multitude of red-tape filled aid agencies with a religious or political motive?

Helping is one of the simplest things to want to do. And yet it's the most complicated to actually complete. I have no answers. Does anyone?

(Market in Lalibela, Northern Ethiopia, January 2011)

1 comment:

  1. You might be interested in the Change for Children NGO; it's Edmonton-based, has very low overhead, and seems to be successful. Aid is a very complicated thing, but there is some good that is done.