Exeter's links helping improve quality of life in Ethiopia
Published: 4 October 2019
A charity that supports equality and provides people living in Ethiopia with a better quality of life has won the backing of lead councillors in Exeter.
Cllr Amal Ghusain, Lead Councillor for Equalities, Diversity and Communities, and Cllr Trish Oliver, Member Champion for Equality & Diversity, were able to pop along to Exeter-Ethiopia Link recently to see the good work the charity is carrying out.
Exeter-Ethiopia Link was set up in 1987 when harrowing pictures of famines flashed across television screens and Band Aid was becoming a world-wide phenomenon.
The charity forged firm links with Nekemte, the provincial capital of Wellega. Equipment was provided for two schools there, although there were early communication issues.
In fact, the charity was in danger of being wound up in 1995 but they were encouraged not to give up. Four years later a five-strong group of people went from Exeter to visit schools in Hareto and Nekemte, the clinic at Hareto and the former Swedish Mission Hospital in Nekemte.
Almost £3,000 was raised by the group to renovate the plumbing on two hospital wards. The renovation work was completed with a £5,000 grant from the British Embassy in 2001.
The link has grown in strength ever since - in 2006 the charity was awarded £150,000 by a UK charitable trust to set up an eye clinic in Nekemte.
That was followed in 2014 by a grant of more than £78,000 for a three-year inclusive education project.
The charity has funded other water, environment and health projects including helping pupils with eye and hearing conditions.
Just four years ago it was awarded just over £108,000 from Comic Relief to extend the charity's libraries and reading centres project in Nekemte.
The project has made measurable difference to literacy levels and has proved vital to improving general educational standards.
The 'Year of the Librarian' has just finished and has been about raising money to pay for librarians at the centres. A librarian’s salary in Ethiopia is just £200 a year.
Cllr Trish Oliver said: “The work of the group has been nothing short of remarkable over the years and we were keen to celebrate their success and the things that they have achieved in Ethiopia."
Cllrs Ghusain and Oliver dropped into the charity's recent afternoon tea-in-the-park event at Belmont Park.
Committee member Gillian Dale said the events were to raise awareness of the charity, to let people know what they do and attract more members.
She said the aim was to pay for librarians in 52 schools. "We want the work to continue. It is okay starting something but then you have to sustain it," she said.
"We are constantly talking to the government. Hopefully the government will pay for librarians in the future like they have with the teachers.
"We have evidence that it works. In Ethiopia to own a book is a very special and precious thing. There has been an increase in literacy because of this scheme. We have worked with other organisations. We want to keep it going."
She added: "We are optimistic of some other funding coming in to keep the project going for another two years."
The charity has raised about £6,000 so far. Gillian said: "All the funding goes into the project. There is no office. We are all volunteers - we do everything ourselves."
She visited Ethiopia last autumn to see for herself what it was like. She said: "I visited 12 of the libraries. It was challenging. It was fantastic. There were a few highs and a few lows.
“You have to keep reminding yourself every bit helps. It is a drop in the ocean, but it all helps."
Membership secretary Gentian Dyer and Gillian have spent the past 12 months during the Year of the Librarian organising the series of fund-raising and awareness-raising events.
Gentian said: "We have organised talks and all kinds of events. We have been going since the 1980s, but we are keen to let people know what we are doing.
"We will run another programme next year. It could be about capping a spring or growing seed, or promoting our work with visual and hearing aid projects."
The group has around 100 members who will attend events and receive news-letters. Then there are the 'active' committee members and trustees.
Gentian has been a member for about two years. She said: "I like the direct link with Exeter and there is no doubt where the money goes.
“It all goes back into the charity," says Gentian who hopes to visit Ethiopia next year.
To find out more about the group go to the Exeter-Ethiopia website