1 Dec 2010

Remembering Part 1

In the next few days it will be 4 years since we took our first steps in Ethiopia. At that time we had already been working 7 years as an NGO with experience in other countries, but in Ethiopia we were new.

In November 2006 we contacted a local NGO whose president we had met on an earlier, private trip. This man took us to see an empty orphanage in the city of Nazret with the intention that we would help. It was an orphanage with more dust than the Sahara desert and equally as uninhabited…although he insisted that the children were away for the weekend.

We had almost given up on him when he took us to a very small and humble school operating out of a container in the neighbourhood of Mekanissa, Addis Ababa. He told us that it was a school for Eritrean refugee children and Ethiopian children from a very poor area and that his NGO was supporting it. The school and the children touched us deeply and our first thought was to construct a decent school for these children. We visited the school various times bringing things for the children, each time noticing that the teachers seemed more distant. Until, on the last day, they wouldn’t even let us in, they were very angry with the president of the NGO. Since we were new to the country and the country had touched us deeply, we didn’t catch on at the time that this man was using this school as bait for his own interests.

So we were sent packing still holding the 500 sweets and 300 packs of biscuits that we had brought for the children. To have distributed these in the street could have provoked fighting so we decided to take them to some nuns that we knew. The nuns, who are very practical, were in need of much more basic things than sweets and biscuits. They didn’t say anything but it was easy to deduce. And so, feeling rather ridiculous, we left.

The president of the NGO told us, when we were back in Spain, that the teachers we angry because they hadn’t been paid for months. And we, as the novices we were, naively sent him from Spain money for all the salaries that he told us were outstanding, so that he could pay them. Some days after we sent the money we asked him, “Have you paid the teachers?” to which he replied “No, and I’m not going to, but if you want I can send you a false invoice.”

This was our baptism as an NGO in Ethiopia.

To be continued…

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