Participation is the source of success


Karlheinz Böhm’s Ethiopia Aid will be winding up its activities in three project regions at the end of 2013. Does mean the local population has overcome poverty and deprivation? At the same time the Foundation’s development experts will be starting their work in three new poverty-stricken regions. An interview with Almaz Böhm, the Foundation’s President, about goals achieved and new beginnings.

Almaz, NAGAYA MAGAZINE has repeatedly reported on the work in Illubabor, Midda and Babile. You will be leaving these regions at the end of 2013 – why?
Our aim has always been to smooth the way for people to escape poverty and enable them to take their lives into their own hands. Here we have achieved this goal.

How do the local people find this?
Of course, they would like us to stay. But we explain to them that other parts of the country should have the same opportunities as them. They understand that.

How long were you on site?
We will be withdrawing from the Babile district after a total of eleven years and from the Midda district after thirteen years. We were engaged in the Illubabor region for a longer period – in all 28 years – because the area is very large and composed of many individual districts.

Nevertheless, the question arises: Why does your help need to extend over so many years?
In particular, because the projects are very complex and we carry out the activities in close cooperation with the local population. We want to enable them to manage without us in future. These learning processes take time.

How can you know that they will be able to continue “under their own steam”?
What impresses me most are my encounters with individual people: a man in his mid-thirties, who enthusiastically attends classes together with his son at a school built by us in order to gain a qualification; an old woman who is overjoyed that there is a well with clean drinking water not far from the village; a farmer who can on work his fields again because we saved his eyesight with a minor operation.

But basically the people are still poor?
Poverty is a relative term. Of course, we can’t compare Ethiopia with Europe. What matters is that the people can now support themselves independently of outside aid and that they have an opportunity to further improve their situation.

Can you give us an example?
I am thinking of a farmer’s wife I visited at yearly intervals. On the first visit she only had an open fire in her hut. On the second visit she had already installed a wood-saving cooker under the guidance of our social workers as well as benches and shelves made of clay. When we met for the third time she showed me a bed, table and wooden armchair she had bought with surplus income from her fields – she had profited from our irrigation projects. “Now it looks just like the homes of people in town,” she said. This woman no longer felt poor.

Is it possible that this farmer and whole areas will sink back into poverty as soon as the helpers are gone?
During our presence we have observed how the local inhabitants actively use the knowledge and skills they have acquired and pass them on among themselves. We hand over the responsibility for infrastructure such as schools, health facilities and water supplies to the local authorities during the term of the project. And should it turn out, contrary to expectations, that they are unable to solve a problem by themselves, they know they can contact our head office in Addis Ababa.

The ATTC vocational college is located in the town of Harar, not far from Babile. The Abdii Borii children’s home is located in Illubabor: What will happen to these facilities?
We will be continuing both establishments as single projects. Particularly the ATTC is essential for an economic upswing of the country. Its economic development depends on the engineers and specialists who are trained there.

The three new project areas are called Wogdi, Dano and Dale Wabera. What problems do the people have to contend with there?
There are food shortages everywhere. The fields simply do not yield enough to ensure that the population of 380,000 in the three areas has enough to eat. And everywhere there is a shortage of clean drinking water, schools and health facilities. The first task will be to build access roads with our bulldozers.

Are there no roads?
In Dano, for example, over half of the communities are cut off from the outside world during the rainy season because of the lack of all-weather roads. That can have disastrous consequences, for instance when someone becomes seriously ill.

Does Ethiopia Aid get to the most remote and poorest regions?
Dire need plays a critical role, of course. But two further criteria were examined in previous studies: soil, climate and landscape must offer potential for expanding farming. And we must be able to build on the pre-existing initiative of the local population. Before we decide on a project area we must be convinced that the local people are willing to participate. Nothing is to be achieved without their commitment.

Quite honestly: is the fight against poverty not a never-ending task?
The question of motivation has never arisen with me or my husband, because there are two sources from which we draw energy. One is the sense of achievement and gratitude of the people in Ethiopia. The other source is the great trust placed in us by our donors, and for which I as an Ethiopian am especially thankful.

What has been achieved?

A selection of key infrastructural projects:

108'068 beneficiaries
Projectregion since 2002
Schools 35
Health units 10
Hand dug wells, shallow wells and spring developments 142

1’363’150 beneficiaries
Projectregion since 1985
Schools 99
Health units 29
Hand dug wells, shallow wells and spring developments 568

101’233 beneficiaries
Projectregion since 2000
Schools 29
Health units 9
Hand dug wells, shallow wells and spring developments 178


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Account Number 18180018
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Stiftung Menschen für Menschen Karlheinz Böhms Äthiopienhilfe, 8002 Zürich

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Interview with Almaz Böhm