Addis Ababa, September 2010
Seeing is Believing
Although I have been member of the board of the NGO Kinderhaus ADDIS e.V. for 10 years, I hadnt been to Addis to see the local project we support. The main reason for this was that Id always been uncertain as to whether I really wanted to make the trip. In a way I was convinced that it wouldnt help anyone to go there and watch people who live in poverty.
I started to change my mind in 2008 when I met the founder of our Ethiopian partner NGO IHA-UDP, Dr Jember. When I told her about my concerns she said, seeing is believing, Viola, if you really want to help these people you have to see them with your own eyes.
I think what this meant was that if you dont know anything about the real circumstances that these people face it is very difficult to fully understand their situation and help in the most productive way. So I finally flew to Addis in September 2010 for 2 weeks, to visit the project and meet the children we help to support.
In Europe we are used to the pictures of poverty shown on television and perhaps feel that we can imagine the associated slum conditions. However news reports are snapshots of a moment in time which for the viewer passes very quickly. When you are there the difference is huge and it is quite a shock.
I was overwhelmed by the number of rapid and changing impressions I had, from the massive number of people living on the streets fighting for survival to the realization that this actually is their everyday-life.
This is the thing; living in extreme poverty is a relentless grind, whether it is the struggle to feed your family or to maintain your own dignity. While for me it was merely a temporary trip into an unknown and hardly bearable world, these people were born in poverty, have lived all their lives in it and will continue to live this way. To live in these conditions means that you are forced to adjust to povertys stark and brutal truths and accept them as your reality. However, this does not mean that these people have no recognition of any other type of life. There is wealth and luxury in Addis and tourists show them that another life is possible.
The employees of IHA-UDP are unified by the deep believe that one of the building blocks of fighting poverty is personal dignity. That poverty, quite apart from the physical need, produces a self defeating attitude that needs to be countered; that begging and starvation make someone fatalistic, greedy and selfish. IHA-UDP believes that to change this mentality and turn it into something positive is a learning process that takes many years and requires work with the people on every level.
The money that IHA-UDP gets from donations from all over the world helps to foster a radical change which requires that every person can in some way determine their own fate. The project attempts to convince people that living in poverty is not a circle of fate and that their lives can be changed by learning to send the children to school and to take responsibility for their own lives. To help people make the step from pure survival to a self empowered way of living is a major aim of the project.
Talking to children and teenagers at the project made us realize how difficult it must be to go to school regularly when your everyday live is so full of problems. The difference between teenagers in Addis and those in Europe is that these kids really like school and the daily routine it provides. Recognizing that education can make a difference to their lives is a big part of the work of IHA-UDP; they support and motivate the families of those children to counter the things that may go wrong in their lives.
Seeing the degree of poverty in Addis makes it hard to believe that anything can be changed at all; it makes you think that any help from outside can only be a drop in the ocean.
It is therefore even more impressive that the people working for IHA-UDP have not lost their hope. Although they told us a lot about their daily struggles and frustrations their belief in the projects worth and usefulness gives them sustenance and strength.
Of course the project cant help all the poor people in Addis but it is their belief that those who are part of their project will have the opportunity to permanently break the cycle of poverty. Those children going to school and getting a degree have already been allowed to get to know a different kind of life and they will pass that on to their children. This way you only help a few – but their lives are changed enduringly.
The one situation that touched me most during our visit of the project was when the employees of IHA-UDP asked us how we, living in Germany, get the motivation to raise donations for them and why we havent given up.
I tried to tell them that their holistic approach to physical and social slum development and unquenchable belief and engagement motivate us and that without IHA-UDP our small organization would probably not exist anymore. Their answer was that they see the same things in us.
The thought that poverty-stricken people in Addis will finally be given the chance to make the best of their lives is extremely positive and motivating. This is the motivation that I personally have taken with me from my visit to Addis and I hope to be able to communicate this to other people in the future.
Mitglied des Vorstandes
Kinderhaus ADDIS e.V. – The german-ethiopian Initiative