"It's really incredible the change that I've seen from the famine, and I'm really very grateful," says Abebe. Photo by Alexander Whittle, World Vision
When the 1984-5 Ethiopian famine hit, Abebe watched as it dried out his land, starved his daughter and killed his crops. Today Abebe is a model farmer producing famous crops that bring buyers far and wide and is an example of how World Vision’s development work has transformed Antsokia Valley from barren wasteland to breadbasket in less than 30 years.
“In 1984 you would never see anything like this farm. Even trying to grow seedlings, it wouldn’t have been possible. Everything was very, very dusty – totally unlike this.
During that time I was married with a two-year-old daughter, Yeshi, who was very affected by the famine. She was very thin and I could count her bones. We were so fearful – we didn’t know where we could turn to for help.
Every farmer who owned livestock had begun slaughtering their cows to eat, as there wasn’t any food. I slaughtered one of my oxen and my neighbour, who was roughly the same age, asked me for some of the meat. Without having any meat of his own, he ended up dying – like many others I knew during that time.
I heard that World Vision was giving support to those who went to the feeding centres, but as we left for it we never expected to return home again.
A lot of people were so malnourished they couldn’t even walk to the centre, so they were being carried there on stretchers to receive help. As we waited there, I saw a lot of people dying around us.
My wife and daughter were taken to one of the ‘green’ emergency feeding centres for wet feeding treatment and I went to receive injections and food until I too got better. That was actually the last time I ever saw my wife – we never met again.
Once at the feeding centre, a great change occurred in my daughter and she began to significantly get better.
My experiences during the famine were terrible – horrifying. We didn’t have any hope and we didn’t expect to ever survive. We never expected rain to come. So this (he lifts his arms to his farm) is an entirely different story.
After some time, I was able to go back to my home and begin working on my farm. When World Vision moved into the development phase of their work, I became one of the five model farmers around here. They gave us farm tools and seedlings and we started growing tomato and cabbage and other foods as they trained us. We began to learn how to grow mangoes and bananas and other foods, and that is how this garden is possible today. It’s really incredible the change that I’ve seen from the famine and I’m really very grateful.
I’ve learnt how to grow these fruit trees and how to manage the land and protect it. When I look around at all of this, like the trees, I’m joyful – it inspires me. I’m very happy and proud. I nurse these plants like they’re my family.
When Yeshi was young there was no such thing as fruit and vegetables like this to feed her, it was only traditional maize and soy gum. The only vegetable we had to give her was green cabbage. Now that I have plenty of different fruit and vegetables my children feed on many different types of things. They’re healthy – I can see that.
Today I counsel my children on the famine. I tell them that when I was younger I had a terrible time and I teach them on how they should live their lives. I say that previously there were many difficulties here, but we’ve passed that now. Things have changed. But we tell them one day their time may come, so I counsel them on how to manage when times are tough.
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