International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Ethiopia
Somehow, we’re already halfway through February and I’m not quite sure where the first few weeks of this year have gone. I celebrated the beginning of 2012 in snowy Scotland, singing Auld Lang Syne and drinking Stag’s Breath liqueur with family, friends and 500 other merry Scots on Newtonmore Golf Course. On 23rd January I was standing in a small corrugated iron hut in Nairobi, tentatively sticking my hand through metal bars to pay for a tube of Colgate. Today I’m sitting on my sunny porch in Addis Ababa, listening to the sounds of Orthodox Christian chanting in the wind and drinking Ethiopian ‘bunna’ (coffee).
What on earth am I doing here?
Good question. I always ask myself that when I arrive somewhere new. But the fear only lasts a day or two, and then I build up the courage to venture outside into the local neighbourhood and realise it’s not so bad after all. In fact, it’s comforting to be reminded that people are really not all that different from one another, irrespective of where they are in the world.
While I enjoy seeing these similarities, I’m also here to learn more about Ethiopian culture and what makes it so unique. I’ve come to the country’s capital to try and understand what makes people here tick. I’m here to try Injera and Kitfo – national dishes, ride local blue & white minibuses, listen to Teddy Afro – popular singer & political activist, attempt to shoulder shimmy, and meet a few of the 3 million Oromo, Amhara, Tigrayan, Sidama, Afar, Harari, Gurage and Somali people who live here.
I’m also in Addis to visit close family friends and do some work for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). ILRI works with some of the poorest farmers and communities across the developing world to help improve livelihoods through livestock. I’m interning with the ILRI communications team for 2 months and living on campus. My main focus is on social media – which includes a little bit of writing and documentation, research into social media monitoring and a lot of learning from the rest of the team. So far so good!
On Thursday, I went to Alemachen for the first time. Alemachen is a convalescent home in Addis for young children undergoing various different types of plastic surgery. Some need treatment for club foot, others cleft lip, rickets, severe burns or even limb amputations. The children are brought to hospital from the countryside and city slums and stay at Alemachen throughout their treatment. Some children are there for a few months, others for a year or more.
Founded in the 1970s by a Dutch NGO then managed by a Catholic priest until 2009, Alemachen is now run by a dedicated nurse from the Netherlands, who I met on the ILRI campus. There are 15 other staff at the home, including nurses, a teaching assistant and a driver. The charity provides temporary shelter, food, clothing, medical and educational support for up to 40 children at a time. Alemachen is a colourful and positive place to be. As I walked into the courtyard, the children all came rushing to greet me and give me high fives. There’s a large classroom in the centre of the home where school lessons take place and the children each have a teddybear on their bed (pink bedding for the girls and blue for the boys). There is plenty of space to play and a small clinic too for changing bandages and daily doses of Calpol.
While parents, family and friends can visit, most children come from far away and don’t see their relatives during their stay. So, I’m hoping to spend a few hours each weekend keeping the children company – teaching some basic English and playing games with them. More details and no doubt good stories to follow soon!
Photo Credits: K.Brown. All Rights Reserved.