This morning we flew from Lalibela to Axum in Northern Tigray. Summer has arrived, so the temperatures were a bit warmer than our time in Addis and Lalibela. The economy in this region is very agrarian and it was obvious flying in that the all the fields had been freshly cultivated. Some regions of Tigray have suffered mightily from a drought over the last two years, creating a significant food shortage for the farmers. The great news is that over the last 2-3 months this area has been blessed by some significant rains. So in the last weeks, farmers have been busy preparing their land and planting. With the recent rains, they are expecting their crop production to return to normal this year to ease the food shortage in the region.
Just like Lalibela, Axum is the home of significant archeological and religious sites. Before heading to the field to visit communities and water projects tomorrow, we take the afternoon to visit the most significant in the area.
The Altar area at St. Mary’s Church
Our first stop is the beautiful church built in 1965 by Haile Selassie in honor of Mary, mother of Jesus. The Church of St. Mary of Zion is one of the largest Ethiopian Orthodox churches, capable of worshiping 3,000 inside and many more surrounding the church on the outside. On entering, we must first remove our shoes. It is not like a typical church that we know. It has a few wooden benches and a large altar. Hundreds of vivid paintings decorate all the walls depicting historical Christian events.
The Book of St. Mary
In addition St. Mary’s of Zion is the home of the Book of St. Mary, known to be more than 500 years old with its art and manuscript written on lamb skin. The priests in attendance at the Church showed us several pages in the book, with most pages illustrated with beautiful hand paintings like the one shown above.
Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant
Adjacent to St. Mary’s is the Chapel of the Ark of the Covenant, which houses the Ark. Tradition has it that the son of Queen of Sheba and King Solomon, Menelik I, grew up in Ethiopia and traveled to Jerusalem and brought the Ark back to Ethiopia. The Ark plays an important role in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, so much so that every Church has a replica of the Ark in its Holy of Holies, the inner sanctuary of the Church. The Chapel is protected by the Guardian Monk, who is elected to serve for life. He is not allowed to leave the Chapel area and no one else is allowed to enter. We were fortunate to briefly see the Guardian on the edge of the Chapel property, as he was counseling a young mother through the border fence. Afterward we toured a small museum that has ancient artifacts including the crowns dating back to 400 A.D. They are made of gold and silver and most of them are huge!
Ruins of Queen of Sheba Palace
As mentioned before, the Queen of Sheba plays an important role in the traditions of the Ark. She ruled large amounts of East Africa, including Ethiopia and Yemen. Near the west side of Axum, they are what archeologists believe to be the ruins of her palace in Ethiopia.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to buy a new piece of luggage… a zipper was broken on the flight in. The photo above shows one of the typical shops along the streets in Axum that sells luggage… and skinny jeans for men! In the cities of Ethiopia, we see traditional attire as well as skinny jeans side by side.
Tomorrow it is off to visit water projects built by Water to Thrive in 2008!
- Joyce and Dick Moeller
Our Water to Thrive travel group boarded a plane early for the city of Lalibela, the destination of hundreds of thousands of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians during their holy holidays.
St. George’s Church
Here are 11 ancient monolithic rock-hewn granite churches, standing majestically awaiting arrival of tourists from many nations. Eighty percent of the tourists coming to Ethiopia visit Lalibela.
Painted Ceiling in Bet Medhane Church
The interiors are so dark that some photos don’t work well, but these are elaborately carved and were constructed in the 13th century. The exteriors are different shapes at ground level, and about 50 ft. in height…but entirely below ground level of mountains. They are protected United Nations ESCO World Heritage sites.
Priest with the Lalibela Cross (est. 800 years old)
Inside the churches are priests who care for the churches and lead worship services. They have been in continuous use as places of worship since then. The population of Lalibela, normally about 15,000, can swell to over 200,000 during the celebration of Christian Festivals.
Ben Abeba Restaurant, Lalibela
Between visits to churches, we enjoyed lunch at a very unique restaurant, Ben Abeba. It is perched high on a hill, overlooking a long valley below. Kind of reminds us of Star Wars. The food was good, and the views awesome!
To learn more about the Lalibela Churches, go to Wikipedia and search for Lalibela.
Our flight to Addis was smooth, uneventful and landed on time, a good way to start our trip to Celebrate the Wells of Love. We landed at 7:30 am and went immediately to our hotel to give everyone a chance to freshen up and rest a bit.
Nice lunch at a local Italian place and then off to tour the city and visit the National Natural History, home of world famous Lucy. Lucy is the name of 3.2 million year old skeleton remains of a young girl discovered in the Afar region that is linked to our current human race.
After returning to the hotel, the group enjoyed a nice dinner with Gashaw, our resident Ethiopian water expert, and his family, including wife Lydia (expecting baby #2), son Enoch (3 yrs old) and Lydia’s sister Ruth. Gashaw will be traveling with the group most of the way, educating us about all the facets of well construction, community engagement and project sustainability.
And they're off! Water to Thrive founder Dick Moeller is leading a special trip of supporters from Triumphant Love Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas until June 6th. After a layover in Washington, D.C., the group is now on their way to Ethiopia to love and serve the people there. The congregation of TLLC has been a longtime supporter of the mission of Water to Thrive, funding many wells over the eight years of our existence. This spring, TLLC held a special fundraising drive, Celebrating Wells of Love, that funded an additional six wells. Now, TLLC congregation members are traveling to Ethiopia to visit wells that were funded as early as 2008 and as recently as last year, seeing the impact on a community of easy access to clean, safe water.
We invite you to pray along with us for these men and women doing God's work and for the sweet people of Ethiopia. Internet connection permitting, we will have daily updates from Dick and others on the trip, with photos and new experiences so that you can follow along on this journey with them. Check back here frequently to stay in the know!
We thank you for your support and prayer, and are forever grateful for the love you have shown the people of East Africa through your donations, kind words, and prayers. We couldn't do any of this without you!
In the countries we serve, the burden of water literally falls on the shoulders of women and mothers. When a community lacks clean, safe water, the women of the village must trek for miles to find a water source, then carry home a heavy jerry can filled with dirty water. Too often, their children make the trek with them. Far too often, their children suffer waterborne diseases from the tainted water source. But when Water to Thrive is able to place a water project in a village, everything changes. The water source is just minutes away. The water itself runs clean and pure. Mothers are able to turn their attention to other needs of their family, finding ways to supplement the family income and delivering their children to school.
This Mother's Day, give your mother the gift of changing another mother's life. Join our Mother's Day campaign. Every $500 we raise will bring the blessing of clean, safe water to 50 mothers in rural Africa. Whether you give a little or a lot, your gift to the mothers in your life will make a tremendous difference in the lives of those other mothers. Donate here and download a special Mother's Day Card here.
At Water to Thrive, we get the privilege to partner with local NGOs to implement our water work. By working with partners who are familiar with the countries and the communities in which we implement work, we are able to better understand the water need, the best ways to address it, and we are able to work efficiently and effectively to construct sustainable water wells.
One of our on-the-ground partners is Mityana Charity. Mityana Charity is based in Uganda and its mission is to “support and positively contribute to the lives of vulnerable Ugandans to attain full recognition in the society, through provision of Education Support, Poverty Relief Initiatives, Health systems Strengthening, Human Rights Awareness and embracing Christian Values.”
Mityana has a wide-range of specialties, and water is at the top of the list. They bring in local partners who know the geological and hydrological ins and outs, the land and villages, and the people so that together we are able to #ChangeLives in the communities where we work.
Want to help us #ChangeLives ? Contribute to our eight-week #ChangeLives campaign here. Put #ChangeLives in the "In honor of" box.
Ever dreamt about going to the diverse, dynamic continent of Africa? Now is your chance.
Water to Thrive is going to Ethiopia June 9th-25th for its supporters to get a firsthand view into Ethiopia’s rich culture and Christian heritage and we want YOU to join.
You’ll be able to witness the transformation that clean, safe water brings to the communities we serve, build lasting relationships with the Ethiopians you meet, and see all the remarkable sights Ethiopia has to offer. It will be a life-changing experience for a life-saving mission!
If you are interested or have additional questions, contact Susanne Wilson at email@example.com or 512-206-4495.
As we work to build wells and #ChangeLives, Water to Thrive is fortunate to employ Gashaw Semeneh, our Ethiopia Project Manager. For the last two years, Gashaw has brought a wealth of experience and a compassionate heart to our in-country work, and has played an instrumental role in the progress we’ve seen in identifying and completing water projects.
Here Gashaw introduces himself in his own words:
I was born and raised in Addis Ababa. My father was a famous photographer and had a chance to serve both Emperor Haile Selassie I and later the socialist regime, taking wonderful shots for four decades. Being raised in this kind of family, taking photo shots and recording video using professional cameras were my hobbies while I was in secondary school and even in University.
After I studied Geology and joined a private water well drilling firm in 2002, a life-changing moment happened in my life. I started to realize the scarcity and unavailability of safe drinking water in rural Ethiopia. Furthermore, it was vivid that the burden was more on the women who travel in some places a half-day or more to fetch water from an unprotected water source, exposed to rape and abduction. In addition, schoolgirls miss class for fetching water and helping their mothers, and so are found to be poor in school performance.
From that time on, for more than 10 years, I have had chances to work for many private water construction companies and local and International NGOs. Then another life-changing moment happened in my life in Spring 2014, which was joining Water to Thrive.
I am now the W2T project manager based in Ethiopia, to oversee site selections and the design and construction qualities of spring development, hand-dug wells, shallow boreholes, and pipeline expansion projects built by W2T local implementing partners in East Africa. Furthermore, to ensure the sustainability of the projects, I give trainings to the local partner staffs, community members, and local leaders.
Currently, I am managing the huge project in Ambo, 126 kilometers west of Addis Ababa. When it is finished, it will have the capacity to provide nearly 500 hundred school children with safe water, with gender-sensitive and disability-inclusive pit latrines, and 1100-plus rural communities will have safe water with CLTS and operation and maintenance issue trainings.
“The difference between a facility that has clean water and one that does not is like night and day,” he said.
“It makes it much easier for me and my nurses to do our jobs. Even the diseases we see are completely different.”
On the wall of the Lundamatwe Dispensary where Dr. Mwaikuju is currently working is a list of the Top Ten Diseases. Water-related illnesses are prominent of the list.
“Unfortunately, because we treat people from such a wide area, not all of them have access to safe water,” he said. “But, if you were to visit a dispensary where there was no clean water, you would see water-related illnesses dominate the list.”
“There would also be higher numbers of people suffering from those diseases,” he added.
According to Dr. Mwaikuju, it is only at facilities that have clean water that a water-related condition such as diarrhea does not occupy the top spot. In Lundamatwe, that position is consistently taken by upper respiratory infections which are most often caused by cooking with charcoal inside unventilated huts.
In addition to the impact it has on illness in the areas surrounding the dispensary, the facility’s Water to Thrive-funded well also improves treatment in several ways.
Facilities without clean water are forced to purchase bottled cleaning supplies which is cost prohibitive and can even place treatment out of the reach of many patients.
“All of the cleaning supplies have to been purchased in bottles and brought in by vehicle,” Dr. Mwaikuju said. “In those situations, even the materials we use for basic cleaning have to be brought in. It’s expensive and if a shipment doesn’t arrive on time, the doctor is forced to ask the patient to bring their own cleaning supplies.”
In many cases, this is beyond the financial reach of the patient and they end up going untreated.
In recent months, Dr. Mwaikuju has noticed a slight surge in the number of people seeking treatment for water-related conditions. He attributes this increase to the rapid population growth of the nearby city of Iringa.
“The area serviced by this dispensary has had more than 8,000 people move into it during the past few years,” he said. “It makes things harder but at least we have clean water. I hate to think where we’d be if we didn’t have that.”
The dispensary is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Dr. Mwaikuju and his staff of three nurses average 250 consultations a month.
If you want to be apart of helping transform a community with the gift of water, consider donating now!
Yesterday was World Water Day, which this year observed the theme of water and work.
Here at Water to Thrive, we celebrated World Water Day by launching our #ChangeLives campaign. In the next eight weeks, we want to inspire 100 donors to give at least $50 each to support the foundation of our mission ... to support water and work.
As World Water Day made clear yesterday, water is work. In our case, water provides jobs for those who build our actual wells in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda. Having a well for clean, safe water in a village frees women from the burden of walking miles each day, giving them the time to develop enterprises to support their families, buy school supplies for their children, and to find dignity in their lives. To ensure the quality and sustainability of our work in Ethiopia, we employ an Ethiopian project manager, who strengthens our oversight and our partnerships there and who, by virtue of being Ethiopian, fully understands the importance of our work. Finally, we provide work here in Austin for a small team of committed, dedicated employees who are an essential part of our mission.
Usually we come to you asking for gifts that will allow us to build wells. We are proud of our "100 percent pledge" that all donations designated for water go to water. This campaign is only a little bit different. Every dollar we raise for operations allows us to invest seven dollars in water projects. Operations are the support structure, here in Austin and on the ground in Africa, that allows us to spread the word about our mission, engage our donors, work with our partners, identify our water projects, and then ultimately to build wells and change lives.
This is important enough to the life of the organization that we have a dedicated group of supporters, Water Angels, who give $1,000 a year specifically for operations. As part of the #ChangeLives campaign, we've set a goal of motivating one person each week to become a new Water Angel.
To give, please go to watertothrive.org/donate. Check the "in honor of" button and put "#ChangeLives" in the space provided, and your gift will make the work of providing clean water and changing lives a reality.
To become a Water Angel, whether as an individual or part of a group or business, please contact us directly through a message here or an e-mail to Executive Director Susanne Wilson at susanne at watertothrive dot org.
To help spread the word about our #ChangeLives campaign, follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Every Wednesday, we'll mark #WaterWednesdaywith a campaign update and more information about our work and our needs. And please, share our posts. Let your friends know about our mission, and this opportunity to strengthen our foundation.