Canadian Consulting Engineer

Another World

To celebrate its 40th anniversary last year, EBA Consultants began supporting a non-governmental organization known as Partners in the Horn of Africa and has been sending not just donations, but also ...

March 1, 2007   Canadian Consulting Engineer

To celebrate its 40th anniversary last year, EBA Consultants began supporting a non-governmental organization known as Partners in the Horn of Africa and has been sending not just donations, but also engineers, to Ethiopia. Lillian Zaremba, P.Eng., a hydrotechnical engineer from EBA’s Vancouver office, returned in January from a two-week tour spent inspecting schools and water projects.

Q. What were your overall impressions?

Visiting Ethiopia was like entering another world and stepping back in time. In their calendar it is 1999 and they are gearing up for their Millennium New Year’s Eve in September. Telling time is different too. The day begins with sunrise at 6 a.m., so that 7 a.m. is called 1 o’clock in the morning. This makes so much sense when you’re near the Equator.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Christian religion is the focus of the culture and dates back to the 4th century when the country adopted Christianity as its official state religion. In Lalibela, I visited 13th century monolithic rock-hewn churches, chiselled out of the rock in one piece, and still in use. The Orthodox Christians co-exist peacefully with the 40% of the population who are Muslim — I was woken by loudspeaker muezzins on several mornings.

The base of every meal is injera, a large spongy pancake, upon which various spicy stews, meat or vegetable, are piled. Injera is made from tef, a tiny cereal grain grown in the highlands. I saw farmers plowing using oxen, threshing under animal hooves, and separating the grain from the chaff by throwing it in the air — these are the original organic farmers.

Of course coffee, which originated from Ethiopia long ago, is an integral part of hospitality. At every school and home we visited, the coffee ceremony was performed.

The people make do with so little, and are so cheerful and joyous despite hardships we can’t even fathom. It made me think about what we really need to be happy.

Q. What would you most like to change?

I despaired over the water and sanitation limitations. These are such basic human needs that are not being met. Women and children spend hours every day fetching water, walking kilometers to a source that might be a muddy spring in the ground, to fill their jerry cans.

Without running water, the only option — for homes, restaurants, schools — is a pit latrine. Many school latrines were full to overflowing and no longer in use, so the children just go all over the fields. Even the functional latrines usually offered no privacy. The girls were embarrassed and avoided going, which must make learning uncomfortable.

Most schools have little more than mud rooms with no desks, only benches, and no library or books. We can easily improve the school facilities, and education is a great first step to improving the overall quality of life.


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