Progress Report – May to September 2023
Byand Derebe Getaneh
Our April report described the end of the very bloody civil war when the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (‘TPLF’) invaded Amhara region where we work. During the fighting we had decided that our first priority should be food and medical supplies, which were desperately needed. Then, gradually trickles of supplies arrived from international NGO’s and they started to take over this role. We then returned to repairing the substantial damage which had been done to our health posts, schools and clean water projects.
Now however there is an Ethiopian government lockdown in Lalibela with an Ethiopian Army Commander controlling the town, with a “cabinet” which includes the civilian Head of the Woreda. This regime has been established because of fears that FANO, an Amhara militia movement, which opposes the Ethiopian government’s plan to bring together all regions for a unified Ethiopia, will disadvantage Amhara. The lockdown includes night-time curfews, limited access to the town, no internet, etc.
These restrictions have not caused fundamental problems for us, but the access and internet restrictions are slowing us down greatly. An added complication in the early stages of the lockdown was a fear of the militia behaviour, especially in the rural areas, our main work focus, but so far that seems reasonably well controlled by the Amhara Defence Force.
Health Post Refurbishment
Lalibela Trust has constructed 15 health posts over the years. Of these, 10 were seriously damaged by the TPLF in their 2021/22 invasion (now totally quelled). During the TPLF invasion the internal damage and loss was great, including much of the usual equipment of a simple small clinic, e.g., refrigerators, birthing couches, medical instruments and supplies, filing cabinets, desks, chairs etc. We have bought replacements from the nearest big town and collected them in Lalibela ready to hire a rugged vehicle for distribution. Sadly, the lockdown then occurred and that delayed the permit that we need from the Commander to rent a truck to deliver the furniture. However, our obvious and true arguments, about babies dying due to lack of necessary equipment and supplies, have now been heard and we should soon be able to deliver.
Sarsena Health Post trashed and damaged by TPLF
Medaghi Health Post. New windows and doors. Now awaiting equipment and furniture.
The necessary building repairs have all been completed, mainly by our partners Create Impact, and the schools are fully functional.
These were seriously depleted by theft and/or vandalism in the TPLF invasion and exercise books, pens, chalk etc are badly needed. We have been told, and we believe, that many children in the rural area are still suffering mentally from the TPLF invasion and now from the even greater poverty in the region generally.
Lalibela Trust is therefore providing 2800 exercise books and pens. This is far from sufficient, but the teachers have instructions to prioritise their use for the poorest students.
Children happy and back to school.Now they need exercise books and pens to replace those stolenby TPLF.
Clean Water Projects
Here progress has been slowed by the inability of the hydrologists to travel to assess all our projects (130) because their only vehicle was stolen by the TPLF. However, we now have estimates for this work and are negotiating with the Army Commander, and supporting the Water Department to get access to the sites. The Commander seems likely to accept and we will rent a vehicle. The hydrologists could then start work immediately.
In our last NEWS we reported that we had agreed to manage a campaign for cataract surgery in the rural area. This was centred on a small team of Polish ophthalmologists who provided their flights, equipment and services free of charge. Very quickly Festival Medical Services, a major Lalibela Trust donor, (www.festival-medical.org) agreed to support a large part of Lalibela Trust’s contribution to the programme. This included providing a vehicle with loudspeaker for village visits to announce the programme, and to undertake screening by Lalibela Hospital nurses of potential patients, who collected at their local health posts. Another major cost was food for the patients, many of whom were already hungry, and some had walked for up to 2 days to attend surgery in Lalibela Hospital. The Hospital provided basic medical materials and a large tent, because all patients had to stay one or more nights for follow-up checks.
The outcome of the screening was:
Total screened 453
Cataracts ripe for treatment 279
Patients treated 250
Time constraint – to treat later 29
The programme went extremely well. All the beneficiaries in this historic centre of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Ethiopia fell to their knees and prayed to God and his servant Derebe, our Project Manager!
We do not have the resources to have a full follow-up assessment of the programme, but the Health Extension Workers in the health posts were asked to ensure that any patient who had a problem in the following 4 weeks must attend their local health post to report it. On this crude basis, which probably understated the number of problems, the outcome was almost 100% success, after a few had received further treatment at the Zonal Hospital. Even allowing for some overstatement of the success rate, we regard this as a highly successful campaign.
For the future, we would be happy to repeat the programme. There will clearly be a demand from the “unripe” candidates in our screening and many more from areas we did not cover. We would not expect the Polish team to return but our enquiries have established that a programme could easily be based on well trained Ethiopian ophthalmologists from the main Amhara Regional Hospital to supply the skills and equipment.
When this can be confirmed we would seek further donations.
This project is sponsored by the Worshipful Company of Dyers to whom we are very grateful. It provides support for students of poor families living in rural areas, who have performed well in their elementary education and achieved a place in the High School in Lalibela, some miles away in the town. Most of these students cannot afford the money for renting and living in the town. They therefore live by working as servants or manual labour, even begging. To find such students, the Athena selection process is rigorous and now geared to produce 8 successful applicants per year. The programme fully funds their basic needs in their final year. Our Ethiopian Project Leader provides support, e.g. in budgeting, banking, personal issues etc.. Athena also provides a lump sum bonus for first year at university (where tuition , meals and accommodation are all free, but travel and more books are needed).
The programme has achieved a high university entrance success rate; 3 university and 1 Technical College passes and one retake, out of 5 in its first year. One amazing Athena student was top of 30,000 in the Zone in her year in final exams and is now attending Addis Ababa University.
Total Construction Projects Completed
15 completed 86,000 beneficiaries
43 completed. 2 shifts per day. All the Create Impact and Lalibela Trust classrooms have now been renovated after the TPLF invasion. 34,000 beneficiaries.
135 clean water projects completed. Since 2003: (122 spring development; 13 hand dug wells: Total 135 – but about 40 need repair).