Sunday, August 03, 2008

Famine

I've seen news reports in the past few months about the famine predicted to hit Ethiopia.

Well, it's here. And, it seems it will get much worse. Food prices are HIGH. My friends bought some chickens for someone here (I carried them through the market, so please picture that spectacle). When they bought corn for the chickens to eat, the price was FOUR times higher than it is at home. Even people I know from last October have lost weight, and the stories I hear from the rural areas break my heart.

My friend Ruth Droppers decided she should do something when they ran out of F75 and F100 milk. This is a high protein milk you give to children on the brink of starvation. She got a letter from the NGO she is helping and went to Addis to the World Food Program and asked to speak to the nutrition specialists. They were on the fifth floor. She walked in, told them she was a doctor from the Woliata region, and that she needed food. They wanted to know how she got into the building.

After realizing that they were not at all interested in helping, she told them, "You know, there is a famine going on, and we should do something!" She wondered if they thought she was a hyserical bush doctor when one of them slid behind her computer.

Finally, they got rid of her by telling her to go to the blue roofed UNICEF building. A series of adventures there led to a kind doctor telling her there was a supply of almost expired milk at the Black Lion Hospital, and if she hurried, she might be able to get it before the Sister's of Mercy showed up, as he had also told them about it.

She raced over, and was told it was being inventoried and the door could not be unlocked. Another few hours of adventure and a helpful pediatrician and high up admin person later, Ruth found out there was food she could have and was able to get the door opened to it, but not until tomorrow.

She came back the next day and had a huge power struggle with the guy in charge of the inventory, who didn't want her to get the almost expired milk, but he was overruled by the high up admin person, and then he very slowly opened the door and left for a two hour lunch with the form she needed to get the food out legally.

With the help of someone at the hospital in Soddo, she was able to find a strong enough truck to get it back to Soddo, and when it arrived and she loaded 44 boxes of 44 packages into it and waited for the form. The surly warehouse manager finally returned and gave her the version of the form which required the most possible signatures, then tried to leave again without signing his own name on it. She stopped him and then spent the rest of the day getting the rest of the signatures, and then headed home the following day with a team of friends from the Netherlands.


She then gave the food to a group that runs a clinic for people with a form of Elephantitis called Mossy Foot, caused by walking barefoot, a sadly common occurance where people can't afford shoes. People that have this disease, which causes horrible swelling in the leg, are discriminated against and can't get work.

The clinic set up distribution and took two people from Ruth's Dutch team every day for a few weeks until they reached all their families in remote regions where they badly needed the milk to help their families. This picture is of a thankful mother and one of her children. She burst into tears when they handed her a few packets of milk and some used clothing they had brought.

If they want it, we plan to give most of the famine food we brought from my friend Chris to this same organization to send out to their people.

2 comments:

Allison DeFelice said...

Do you or Ruth have a sense as to WHY there is this passive-aggressive approach to doling out the food? I wonder if it's hoarding behavior, borne out of the scarcity of aid (i.e., the fear of running out of munitions too quickly), with ludicrous results of course. Or is it just governmental bureaucracy? Heart-breaking. The imbalance of resources is just inhumane.

Heidi Mehltretter said...

I think it is fairly complex, and part of it is the bureaucracy - the proper paperwork needed to get food can take months, and also it may have something to do with the current suspicion in the gov't towards NGOs. There are also cultural aspects, which I think an Ethiopian could explain much better than I could.

The ruling tribe in Ethiopia is from the North of the country, and some might say they would want to help their "own" first. The area Ruth works is in the South. There is also discrimination, similar to what we have in the USA in the East, about "those backward Southerners."