Despite a lifetime of
travelling, nothing had quite prepared me for my visit. I met children
at Gende Tesfa School who started their day on an empty stomach because
their parents couldn’t afford to feed them or they had been orphaned.
Some children were given sugared water before school to give them enough
energy to get through the school day.
The head teacher Wendu
Fekade also told me that siblings sometimes had to share school
uniforms, and there was nowhere at the school for the kids to play and
do sport – simply to just be kids. I
felt an overwhelming sense of sadness and helplessness – not just
because the children weren’t having a good nutritious diet but because
it was having a huge impact on their education and their futures.
I asked if I could meet
some of the parents because I wanted to have a better understanding of
what life was like for them. Amongst others I met an extraordinary woman
called Fatuma, who was caring for her step-grandchildren in the absence
of their parents. Fatuma had been treated for leprosy, and despite
debilitating injuries was gathering firewood for 12 hours a day for
the equivalent of £1 in Birr. It was a daily fight survival but Fatuma
had an infectious, indomitable spirit.
After that visit to
Ethiopia in 2015, I returned to Cookham. I remember my head spinning
with the images of the people I had met and I was haunted by the abject
poverty I had seen. I remember driving up to Odds Farm the next day with
my husband and the children trying to digest everything and share all
the anecdotes with my family – Gende Tesfa one day, Cookham the next.
My eldest son Joshua was
so moved by what I told him that he suggested organising a fundraising
event for the children of Gende Tesfa School. It felt like a drop an
ocean at the time.