Ethiopia – optimism

Living in one room with five other members of your family may not seem like exactly the lap of luxury, but when ten years ago you and your children were living at the side of the road under a plastic sheet, it’s actually something to get pretty excited about.

Hannah lives in Lideta with her husband, who is HIV positive, her three children, her niece and her grandson. With the support of World Vision, she purchased a washing machine to set up her own laundry business, and now takes in washing from her community. This is the family’s only source of income.

Despite having so little, Hannah is keen to share. She welcomes us into her home quite literally with open arms and enthuses about the support she has received from World Vision. “Take the kitten!” she exclaims, when we coo over her pets, “take me if you like! It is the least I can offer.”

She proudly shows off her store room, complete with supplies of injera that she has prepared over the last few days, and crouched in the narrow passageway that leads from the front door to the main room of the house proceeds to cook us a feast. Chairs are strung from the ceiling, pink lacy cloths cover her coffee table, and photos of her sponsors sit proudly alongside a photograph of her daughter graduating from school.

Her daughter Kalkidan is 19 now, but was once a World Vision sponsored child. Her younger brother Mesfin though is now receiving sponsorship. We ask Kalkidan what her plans are for the future. ‘She is training’, we are told. What does she want to be? ‘A doctor,’ she says.

Throughout our visit Hannah is full of smiles – a natural in front of the camera. We are in a foreign country, in the house of a stranger, yet I have never been made to feel more welcome.

"Hannah cooking for us"

"Hannah's home"

"Hannah and me"

"Injera for lunch"

"Hannah's son and his school friends"

Later in the day we meet Inish and I am blown away by her passion and determination. It is all I can do not to cry as she tells us about the changes in her life over the last ten years. The emotions I feel are partly sadness that it has taken so long for women in Addis Ababa to get to this point, but mainly an admiration for the incredible strength that women like Inish are showing in the face of adversity – a pride almost, even though we have only just met, of Inish and all the women like her who, with the help of organisations like World Vision, are taking their futures into their own hands.


"Inish and her son"

In the UK, some people talk about feminism as though it’s something from the past, something that we don’t need anymore, yet just ten years ago women like Inish had very different lives. Women didn’t leave their homes, she tells us. They cooked, cleaned, and then sat. You didn’t see many women out and about, socialising was kept to a minimum, and it was unusual for women to be engaged in work that had any long-term prospects.

And yet here is Inish.

Every day she cooks over 100 injera and sells them to hotels and to individuals. Every month she earns enough money to save a little, as an investment in her family’s future. ‘Where do you see yourself in another ten years?’ we ask. She tells us she plans to have a big shop, something that will benefit her children too.

These women were amazing to meet – truly inspiring – yet the sad fact is that these are the lucky ones. Hannah and Inish have both had support from World Vision, support that has empowered them to leave their homes, learn new skills and invest in their children’s futures, support that has allowed them to dream. Not everyone is so lucky though, and there is still an awful lot that could be done.

I ask Inish if she has seen the attitudes of her friends and neighbours change over the last few years. Are they more ambitious now? Her response is so passionate, you know exactly what she is saying even if you can’t understand the words.

If you have been inspired by this post and the stories of these women, please do consider sharing. If you are a blogger and would like to write something on the subject of optimism, or anything else come to that matter, please do leave a link in a comment and I will do my best to read and share them all.

You can also follow my journey on Twitter with the hashtag #foodfrontline.

All photos courtesy of Kayla Robertson – World Vision



  1. Lauren
    11 March, 2013 / 4:06 pm

    Brilliant stuff. Love that this is looking at the hopeful side of things. Really puts our worries and quibbles here into perspective, doesn’t it? Sounds like you’re meeting some amazing women over there. What a brilliant opportunity. Looking forward to reading about the rest of your travels x

    • admin
      11 March, 2013 / 4:46 pm

      It certainly does give you a powerful sense of perspective. I can’t believe I’ve only really been here a day, it has totally filled up my head!

  2. 11 March, 2013 / 6:56 pm

    Wow, what an amazing first day! The photos are beautiful and the optimism is humbling!

    Maggy x

    • admin
      11 March, 2013 / 7:17 pm

      Thanks Kathy, honestly the city and the people are so colourful and cheery looking it’s hard to take a bad photo!

    • admin
      12 March, 2013 / 12:40 pm

      Thanks for reading Maggy!

  3. The Secret Father
    11 March, 2013 / 7:59 pm

    Beautiful photos and warming stories. Even though Hannah and Inish (and millions like them all over the world) are living in difficult circumstances I am so pleased you have chosen to present a positive message of hope and optimism rather than the negative imagery we are so often presented of Africa. Looking forward to reading more of your posts from Ethiopia (which I unfortunately never made it to when I lived in that part of the world)

    • admin
      12 March, 2013 / 12:43 pm

      Thank you, I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts. I think you’re totally right about Ethiopia, in that we have a lot of misconceptions – when you think of Ethiopia you think famine, starving children and all that, but actually the country has made an incredible amount of progress over the last ten or twenty years and I think it’s important to recognise and celebrate that. The work of organisations like World Vision has been crucial in this. We were talking to one woman today who was telling us how much more ambitious and independent women are now in their attitudes, but it’s then people like World Vision who enable them to put all their new found determination to good use, kick-starting projects and providing training.

  4. 11 March, 2013 / 8:36 pm

    Great to see your trip evolving and some happy stories of hope

    • admin
      12 March, 2013 / 12:39 pm

      Thanks! Lots more coming too… :-)

  5. 11 March, 2013 / 10:30 pm

    I love the positive message that has come out from your first day alone and I am excited to see what else you will report back. How inspiring.

    • admin
      12 March, 2013 / 12:39 pm

      It really does feel very positive here. Yes there is a lot of poverty, but their is also a lot of growth, and the country has come a really long way, especially in the last ten years. There are buildings going up everywhere you look and things like child mortality rates have fallen massively.

  6. Nicky Richards
    12 March, 2013 / 10:19 am

    Great post and pictures. Very proud of you mate!! xxxx

    • admin
      12 March, 2013 / 12:37 pm

      Thank you :-) xx

  7. 13 March, 2013 / 8:00 am

    Stories like this are heartwarming and really make you think and appreciate what you have. These ladies are strong…. And it’s always those who have the least that are more generous.

    • admin
      15 March, 2013 / 5:39 pm

      Very true – I think there is a risk that you feel guilty about having so much but like you say, it’s more a question of valuing what you do have.

  8. 13 March, 2013 / 9:24 am

    What an amazing experience and a message that is so positive.

    • admin
      15 March, 2013 / 5:40 pm

      Thanks Alison, it has been at incredible trip.

  9. 14 March, 2013 / 4:02 pm

    The pictures are amazing and the strength and optimism of these families is incredible. They all have a goal whether its having a comfortable family home, a shop or becoming a doctor. I hope they all succeed … an inspiration to us all. It’s lovely to see something positive coming out of Ethiopia .. great blog, thanks :-)

    • admin
      15 March, 2013 / 5:44 pm

      That really struck me too Sue and I mentioned it in today’s post – everyone you ask has a plan. No one wants to settle for what they have now, they are all aiming high!

  10. Liz
    18 March, 2013 / 10:47 pm

    This is powerful stuff. I find it hard to read in all honesty. Well done Jo. Beautiful pictures too, so much colour and warmth!!

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