Monday, March 23, 2015

Girl Power

Not so long ago, I wrote about the impact PowerUp Ethiopia will have on the women and girls that walk miles and miles every day to carry water to their families in the village of Ganda Boya in eastern Ethiopia. The older women want to go to work, and the girls want to be able to go to school. They can't because they're too busy carrying the water (when they're not getting sick from it.) It's not an easy life.

Sydney's promotional material at
The Works' fundraiser on March 16.
But instead of re-telling the readers of this blog about the difficulty of life in Ganda Boya, today I want to share an incredible story from the other end of the international socioeconomic spectrum that testifies to the kind of things strong young women are truly capable of.

Sydney of Loveland, Ohio was one of eighty-three fourth graders that I spoke to a few months ago when asked to present PowerUp Ethiopia in a social studies class. Her school and its community have already been very generous in supporting PowerUp Ethiopia, but Sydney wanted to do even more.

Two months later, Sydney was ushering in guests to The Works, her father's pizza restaurant, for a fundraiser she had coordinated with a few of her friends. 10% of that night's revenue helped fund the project, and guests were offered the opportunity to "buy" a glass of water, just $1 each. Ten-year-old Sydney's efforts brought together enough money to buy an entire solar panel that will power the project's water pump.

Sydney is an outstanding example of the kind of potential that lives in young girls all over the world. Ganda Boya, Ethiopia is no exception. But while Sydney's potential was turned kinetic not least by having her basic needs met, over 1,000 women and girls in Ganda Boya lack basic access to clean water that will free their time to go to work and school.

Let's show the world what 1,000 more economically empowered women can do. A donation of even $15 buys one Ganda Boya resident his or her share of the water system we plan to build.

And just imagine what the women could do then.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Blog feature: Africans in the Diaspora

Just a quick post here: we've been featured on Africans in the Diaspora's blog! Africans in the Diaspora is a great organization based in Washington, DC that brings the development issues of the African continent to Africans spread all over the world. Our contact at AiD requested that this post be written by an Ethiopian, so we sent one of our volunteers in Addis Ababa out to the project site to interview people in their native tongue and write the post.

Read the post here:

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Whole Month to Be Thankful For

We’ve come a long way in the past few months.

The lineup for the fundraiser at
Washington DC's Keren Ethiopian Restaurant.
At the time of my last blog post, I admit that I was a bit worried about the pace of our fundraising. $1,000 per month? That would stretch the project out to 2016. People would be waiting for water that entire time.

I was wrong to assume that things would progress in a linear fashion. Already, this November is a month where we’ve raised nearly $1,000 from a donut sale at St. John the Evangelist parish in West Chester, Ohio, and nearly another $1,000 through the generosity of my former coworkers at the International Labour Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Nearly $400 came from an Ethiopian charity buffet night at Keren Restaurant in Washington, DC planned, and some of the connections we made have promising potential for future events.

The donut table, just before the appetites of
St. John churchgoers in West Chester, Ohio struck.
On top of all that, we’re starting a campaign to help local businesses in Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Washington, DC show their support for our cause by putting a “This Business Supports Clean Water in Ethiopia” sticker in their front window with a link to our webpage.

We’re crossed the halfway point of our $25,000 goal faster than I’d ever expected. For that, I’m thankful today. And for certain, the people of Ganda Boya will be thankful once we reach our goal and bring clean running water to a village that’s never had it.

For everyone's deep and continued generosity, creativity, and genuine concern for their fellow human beings, I am thankful. Happy Thanksgiving to all of our donors, supporters, volunteers, and leaders. You continue to provide proof of the power of good in the world.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stories from Ganda Boya, Part Four: My Story

Over the course of my visits to Ganda Boya, I always heard the same difficult chorus: “Our lives are very difficult.” I heard it from men, women, children, and translators who had the same longing look in their eyes as the people whose words they were speaking. When I filmed of the villagers for the interviews, some of them looked directly into the camera and cobbled together a plea in the best English they could muster for the people of “America” (anyone, really) to bring them water.

But I still did not understand exactly what it meant to not have water security. I wanted to know.

With only the aid of direction from a Haramaya University employee, I walked 30 minutes downhill to a pond in the flood plain of Lake Haramaya with a plastic yellow 20-liter (5 gallon) jerrycan and dunked it in the water. It was quite hot out, and I could already feel myself getting sunburned. The pool of standing water was rife with mosquitoes and algae, and I realized yet another unfair advantage I had in having had already taken a malaria prophylaxis. Once I had the water, I allowed myself to drink from the water bottle in my backpack, not wanting to get sick from the pond water. Ganda Boya villagers also usually do not drink the pond water, but current access to the single village sink tap of relatively clean university water that’s turned on a few hours per day is extremely competitive, sometimes to the point of violence.

Collecting water at the pond to carry back to Ganda Boya.
I tried to balance the 20kg (45 pound) jerry can first on my shoulder, then on my other shoulder. I also hadn’t had breakfast, as most people in the village fetch water before eating. Then I let the jerrycan swing on my left, then on my right. I was walking uphill with enough water to sustain one person for one day. Before even exiting the floodplain, I was parked under a tree, gasping, sweating, and dizzy from the heat. I continued on, determined to even once make the trek that Ganda Boyans make every single day.

When I finally reached a house in the village, I dropped the jerrycan off with some kids, made sure they knew the water wasn’t for drinking, and hobbled my aching body home. I was now badly sunburnt, shaky, and dehydrated, and subsequently slept for over two hours in the middle of the afternoon before taking a shower that even that evening felt as damning as it was cleansing of the mud and sweat I’d accumulated over the course of the trek. All told, I’d walked over three miles in the midday sun just north of the equator, and for
half of which I carried the filled jerrycan.

Granted, I’m not used to this sort of thing, but I also wasn’t doing much that Ganda Boyans do not. With even just a morsel of just how “very difficult” these lives are, I began to unravel the ugly truth of what stops them from having much of any opportunity in life. Every morning, I turn on the water for any number of different reasons, and waste no time doing so such that I can proceed with everything else I do during the day. They, on the other hand, waste an incredible amount of time just satisfying a basic necessity.

With that in mind, I again ask you to financially support my organization of dedicated volunteers to forever change the lives of everyone in Ganda Boya by providing them with clean, safe drinking water. Their lives are plagued by a lack of access to safe water, and their community can flourish if this need is met.

Already this summer, individuals have contributed in amounts ranging from $5, which buys a meter of pipe for the well, to $500, which buys nearly two solar panels to power the pump we’ll use to get the water to the village. Others have held fundraisers (even a lemonade stand) that have often yielded over $1000 each, and still others have contributed their professional talents for the sole purpose of righting this wrong. You can do it. We can do it.

We will do it.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Stories from Ganda Boya, Part Three: Menuit's Story

Menuit is lucky, relatively. Unlike most of the people in Ganda Boya and the surrounding communities, she has managed to get a job at Haramaya University’s ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) Center. Even with such a privileged position, she still struggles with the lack of access to water in Ganda Boya: she told me that she gets water from the university’s single house tap located at the wall separating the village from the university once every three days or so.

On other days, she goes to the lake to collect water just like everyone else. Her support network allows her to both collect water sometimes and work most days of the week, but her situation is extremely rare.

Menuit also complained that the tap water they drink from the university has made her and baby sick twice already – two times too many. Such illnesses were no minor matter for the two; they both were hospitalized in the university clinic.

Menuit at the only water tap in Ganda Boya,
waiting for it to turn on.
Menuit’s story represents a rare break in the refrain of hardship that I heard from the other villagers, but she still clearly faces the same challenges as everyone else. First, even with a support network, the time it takes to get water may at some point impact her job if her family is unable to pitch in. Second, no amount of work in Ganda Boya makes the existing water resources clean, and her family’s medical record shows it. Water insecurity is water insecurity whether you work or not, no matter how you cut it.

Worse still, the tap where I met Menuit was the one where she had been waiting for over an hour to capture just a part of the trickle from the university tap. When I left her, the tap, is if on cue, came on, and I watched around 150 people scramble and shove their way to getting a jerrycan under the drips of life-sustaining resource.

We’re here to change all of this. Even Menuit is unfortunate in her relative fortune, and Concordia Humana’s solar-powered well will give round-the-clock access to clean drinking water right in the heart of Ganda Boya, where villagers can spend almost no time accessing its plenty. Together, we can make it happen.

Menuit’s Story is the third part of a four part series on stories directly from Concordia Humana’s PowerUp Ethiopia pilot village, Ganda Boya. For more updates, visit this blog at, follow us on Twitter (@PowerUpEthiopia), and Like us on Facebook (

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stories from Ganda Boya, Part Two: Hindia's Story

Hindia is a young woman in her late twenties that lives in a village nearby Ganda Boya called Tinike. When I stopped her in the middle of Ganda Boya for an interview, she was carrying empty yellow jerrycans to Lake Haramaya to fill them with water and return home. She had been walking for about 15 minutes, and had another two hours to go until she was back home with water for her household.

Hindia, a resident of a village near Ganda Boya.
She does this two hour chore multiple times per day for the amount of water most Americans use in a ten-minute shower. When Concordia Humana finishes the well, each trip will yield the same amount of water, but will be reduced to a much shorter errand of 15-20 minutes roundtrip.

I asked her what she will do with the extra time our well will afford her. Hindia replied that she will have time for a job at Haramaya University, which is located a short walk away. And she isn’t the only one. Abdusalem, the elected representative of Ganda Boya and our contact point for the village, said his village is full of people like Hindia, who come from many other places to live at the edge of the university in the hopes of finding a job and earning a better life.

She looked hopeful, and I asked her if she had ever gotten sick from the water that she drinks now. Her face fell, and she didn’t mention an illness of her own, but rather alluded to a miscarriage from the strain of carrying the water. Out of respect, I didn’t press any further. 

My final question for her was this: how does it make you feel to that people in the United States and around the world will hear your story?

“If the American people decide to help us, it will be as though I am reborn.”

Every five dollars you decide to donate puts one meter of pipe in the ground that brings water a meter closer to Hindia, and to all of Ganda Boya. Will you donate $5 or more today?

This blog post is part of a four-part series bringing stories from the Ethiopian village of Ganda Boya to support Concordia Humana's PowerUp Ethiopia project, a solar-powered well building project. Check back soon for Part Three: Menuit's Story.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Stories from Ganda Boya, Introduction and Part One: Fayo's Story

On my first day in Ganda Boya, I had the opportunity to meet the people who will benefit from our work and your donations. Personally, I didn’t expect to hear anything that our blog posts haven’t already said before: the villagers are getting sick from the water, the villagers are missing school and don’t have jobs because they have to get water, the work is very hard for the villagers.

Until I met the people and shook their hands, I did not realize the power of the first person over that of the third person.
Three young Ganda Boya villagers pointing to where they have to walk to
fetch water – just before the hills in the background.

Consider how different these words sound, coming from someone with whom you have shaken hands:

“I am getting sick from the water I drink.”

“I miss school in the morning because I need to get water.”

“I am unable to work because my family will not have anything to drink if I do not fetch them water.”

“This work is very, very hard for me.”

In four parts, I will post the stories of three individuals, Fayo, Hindia, and Menuit, who carry five-gallon (20-liter) jerrycans of pond water uphill a mile and a half (2km) every day, and one of myself when I decided to evaluate just how difficult this chore was by trying it myself. (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t a walk in the park.)

So without further ado, Part One: Fayo’s Story.


Fayo is what you might expect of any young girl in any country: a little bashful, firm in the things she understands of the world and spooked by those she does not, and with a strong heart to care for her baby brother. When I arrived at the village, everyone ran out of their houses to see the newcomer, and Fayo was the first person I picked out of the crowd of excited children to tell me more about what it’s like for a kid to grow up in a village with no electricity and no running water.

Fayo with her baby brother.
When I moved closer to her and squatted down, I saw that Fayo was carrying an infant wrapped in a white linen blanket on her back. The infant was her baby brother, who she takes care of while her mother, Hawa, does other chores during the day. Each morning at five o’clock (well before sunrise), Hawa and Fayo start walking to a pool of standing water to carry yellow plastic jerrycans, five liters for Fayo and twenty for her mother. I asked Fayo how old she was, but she seemed to think such a question was silly, and guessed that she was eight.

She couldn't say exactly how long the chore of getting water every morning took, but one leader from the village estimated that the walk to the pool took about half an hour, and carrying the full containers uphill back to the village took a full hour.

The economic impact of this activity on her is clear: such work cuts into her Grade 2 school day, and she reported that there were several days per week when she missed some of her classes in the morning to get water. The lasting effect of this will be that she will likely end up like many Ganda Boya villagers, with a perforated education through her elementary years and a return to subsistence agriculture in her teenage years. Not only that, but she told me that this chore often prevents her from having anything to eat until lunchtime at school.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my short chat with Fayo was that she didn’t seem to see anything extraordinary in the fact that she carries water uphill twice per day every day, or that she had never in her life had access to running water. She became even shyer when I told her that people in America and all over the world would hear her story. Are things somehow different there?

Together, we can prevent Fayo and all of her fellow villagers from spending such valuable schooling and work hours collecting unsafe water for their households. The world is becoming a smaller and smaller place: it only takes one person like Fayo to speak and one to post on the web for a story to come alive and to make an impact for a village of 2,000 people.

You can bring safe running water to Ganda Boya. We’re all in this together.

Check back soon for Part Two: Hindia’s Story.