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ETHIOPIA: Doing it for themselves

SOMETIMES it seems as though we are constantly being asked for money, particularly for developing countries, and especially for Africa. No wonder many people have charity fatigue. Even those of us who do care deeply feel a little jaded now and again, fearing the problem is just too huge.

Falling into the latter camp, I was not sure how much I would learn on a recent trip to Ethiopia to see World Vision at work there. I thought I knew the issues and didn't have to see the poverty first-hand to feel any more powerless, cynical or depressed about the situation in that part of the world. I was wrong. About many things.

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Another way World Vision helps is by educating communities about HIV and AIDS - and by trying to halt the traditional practice of female circumcision.

Agernesh Tilahun is 32. She lives in the small village of Gonj with her four-year-old son, Yegifnew, and her story is one of the most horrific I have heard. "I was married at eight years old and divorced at 12," she told me. "We didn't have sex until 12 and then my husband realised I was not circumcised so he divorced me."

Women who are not circumcised, she explained, are able to enjoy sex so are thought to sleep around. "I was married to my second husband within a week of my divorce. My first husband told him that I was not circumcised so he came with his friends and tied me down and had me circumcised in front of everyone. It was very painful. I was screaming and crying."

Agernesh was married to that man for only a year; in total, she has been married ten times - something that is not uncommon. Now diagnosed with HIV, she and her son have been ostracised, but initiatives in partnership with World Vision are offering education and support to her and to her wider community.

Jerusalem Haile also has HIV. She was the first to speak up in her community; now, she runs the local People Living With HIV and AIDS association, which holds meetings every fortnight, and whose World Vision-backed mobile testing unit tours the area, helping to educate about the spread of HIV.

Having seen many World Vision initiatives on my trip, I was still anxious about one thing: aid going to the wrong place. But the charity comes up trumps there too. It first identifies an area, then a family and a child really in need. Take Bazezew Getachew, aged five, who is sponsored by a family in Edinburgh. His mother ran away, leaving him and his brother and sister with an uncle. Bazezew now has access to schooling and free medical care, his family has had farm training and his village has access to clean water, courtesy of a capped spring, installed nearby.

And there was me thinking charities like this cannot make a difference. Since returning home I have sponsored a child in Ethiopia through World Vision.

SOURCE: The Scotsman.com

AUTHOR: MORAG FLEMING

Posted on: 9/16/2006

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