25 Feb 2012

Dignirepair teams in Ethiopia.

As you may know, during the months of January and February, 8 intrepid Med volunteers travelled out to the blind school in Sebeta. Our mission? To carry out essential repairs and maintenance to the school infrastructure and thereby improve the daily lives of all the children under the school’s care.

Once our flights were booked and vaccinations taken care of, we had to carefully work out how best to allocate our precious luggage allowance. We were able to carry out a large number of donated items, such as medical supplies, clothing & toys, as well as some vital tools which we’d need for our jobs on the ground.

Although the teams had some idea of the types of tasks required, on our first day the school’s director told us her top priority: the school’s water tank. For the previous two years it had been leaking badly, needing constant supervision, with the school running out of water most evenings.

Team One took on the challenge of replacing the leaking tank with a spare, but needed to first design and build a new base and find a crane to lift it all into place. It was exactly these sort of challenges that made the tasks so rewarding and the DigniFix project such a unique and fascinating way to see a culture and country. The enthusiasm and energy which the projects generated meant that we had lots of help from local people, especially during the day of gesticulation and camaraderie which saw the new tank lifted into place.

With the tank installed, we set about repairing leaks in the rest of the water system, so that Team Two would be able to move on with the toilets and bathrooms in the children’s dormitories. The state of the facilities that the children had been living with was truly shocking, with many toilets overflowing and most taps and showers not functioning. By the time the Dignifix Teams left Sebeta, 95% of all toilets, sinks & showers had been repaired or replaced and the majority of the water heaters were working.

We also carried out repairs to the school Medical Clinic & kitchens. The clinic lacked any running water, and the kitchen was so poorly ventilated that it filled with wood smoke every day. The electrical systems in both were terrifying, and totally unreliable. The Teams managed to restore hot & cold water to the clinic, install an extractor fan in the kitchen and repair & make safe the electrics.

For all of us volunteers Ethiopia was a giant culture shock, with many of us first timers in sub-Saharan Africa. The opportunities and personal involvement that the Dignifix project gave us, meant that we experienced the country in a unique and truly special way. We got the chance to meet some fantastic and very friendly people. To be working together attempting to solve difficult problems across cultural divides was a wonderful, if sometimes frustrating, experience.

The people we met, who we tried to help and who had much to teach us, were always open and welcoming, and ready with a smile. Ethiopia is a fascinating and optimistic country. Whatever the two teams achieved, there is so much more to do, the work is ongoing and the needs are many.

The DigniFix project has started well and means to go on…..

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