A Visit To Baregota 2017

 At the end of July 2017, I was  fortunate enough to be able to spend a week with Amlaku in Lalibela and his village of Baregota. I was accompanied by Alan Stuart, a Wairarapa farmer well experienced in crop rotation, soil types and trees. We spent 3 nights in the village. The welcome we received was huge. Overwhelming actually!

 The farmers had planted their improved seed on newly fertilised (for the very first time ever) soil six weeks before our visit. They just could not believe the growth they were seeing, aided by good rains thus far this year. Because of cost restraints we had supplied each farmer with the same quantity of seed and fertiliser, irrespective of how much land they had – it varies from 2 ha to about 14 ha. Therefore those with more land could only plant a portion of their land with improved seed and fertiliser. The difference was dramatic – as you can see in the pictures here - both fields were planted at the same time.  More pictures are  in the accompanying Powerpoint slideshows.  

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 When we arrived to a huge welcome in the village, the speeches from both men and women were truly humbling, as they gave thanks to God and to us for the improved seed and fertiliser, and for the grain mill, which can do in about 15 minutes what it used to take a woman an entire 10 hour day to accomplish using the old method of grinding the grain between a small rock and a big rock! The whole village was buzzing, as they start to see the real hope of lifting their standard of living becoming a reality.

 Alan and I stayed in the newly constructed guest house in the village. On my first visit, I could bunk in with his father, but two of us presented a problem. Courtesy of a generous gift from a supporter here, they were able to build a guest house for us, and for any future visitors. Already, as a result of Amlaku’s time here, there are people talking about visiting the village. The facilities are basic, but quite workable.

 They are now growing vegetables around their houses very successfully, thanks to the canals Amlaku put in a few years ago. There is a ready market for these in the hotels in Lalibela. They also have fruit trees which are now close to bearing fruit. Avacados are looking particularly hopeful. Some of the families have started to build larger more permanent houses from the proceeds of the sale of vegetables.

 While Amlaku was in New Zealand earlier this year, we were gifted the funds for five laptops for the village school. These he took back with him, along with the money to buy a printer and a large solar panel to power all of this equipment. They were about to install these when we were there. The School Director was so excited about the possibilities these would open up both for his staff and for the students, now numbering over 400. The new school year started at the beginning of September, so, hopefully, they were all up and running by the time school opened.

 We are already committed to funding fertiliser for the next 2 years, but they have also asked for a solar panel for each house. When we installed one in Amlaku’s Dad’s home in 2014, it cost $NZ1700.00. Now, Chinese systems are available for under $NZ200.00 each, so we are hoping that we will be able to do that. Among other benefits, this will really help the kids with their homework.

 The other big project we are looking at is the building of 2 pedestrian bridges – one across the river that cuts through the middle of the village and the other a little way along the path to Lalibela. Both of these rivers do major flash floods, which can last for some days, and create huge problems for people, both from the village and from further into the hinterland, trying to get up to Lalibela, and even to get from one side of the village to the other. We are in conversation with a Nairobi-based organisation called  who do this work. Click Bridging the Gap Africa to see how they operate.

 My hope is that once we have been able to do these things, we will be starting on the path of withdrawing from the village, with our job done – maybe in about 3 years. They do not want to be dependent on us for ever, nor do we want to be in that place, so I had some conversation with the village elders about this while we were there.

 Amlaku with 4WD.jpgAmlaku is also looking to his own future. Because he now mostly lives in Lalibela, while still spending a lot of time in the village working with the farmers there, he needs to find himself a steady living. Last year, he put himself through Night School doing a Tourism Diploma. His dream is to establish his own Tour Company. This should provide him with regular work, while still enabling him to be involved with the village. In order to start a Tour Company, there are two requirements – a 4WD vehicle, and a website on which to promote his services to Western tourists planning to visit Ethiopia. I didn’t see us as being able to fund such a vehicle from here, so the project faced some serious challenges.

 3 weeks ago, through a contact in Addis, he met a father and son who want to get into the tourism business. The father has a supermarket (probably not on the scale of a typical New Zealand supermarket) along with several 4WD vehicles which he rents out to Aid Agencies and Embassies! The son wants to get into the tourism business, but they don't have a Tourism Licence, a legal requirement. Amlaku spent some days with them at the end of August, and they have come to an agreement that should work. Amlaku, who will have the Tourism Licence,  will get the clients, and they will provide the vehicle and driver. It has the potential to be a win/win situation, and is, as I see it, yet another act of God in Amlaku’s life. In the meantime, his website development is now fully funded, and should be up and running by the end of September. Check it out – www.baregota.com.

In summary, the atmosphere in the village is incredibly upbeat. The people have grabbed Amlaku's vision and made it their own. They can see the difference that the innovations he has brought to them, resourced by us here, have made, and they are determined to continue on the journey that started way back in 2009 when Amlaku, this shy, hesitant, but determined youth, plucked up all of his courage, and said to me, a perfect stranger, 'Please, Sir, I want to go to university.'

On September 7, Amlaku wrote: The crop is growing  incredibly well. It could be a dream crop for any farmers, even for the developed country farmers! Yesterday, I spent my whole day at the village and explored their land that is covered by the crop, particularly the land where they have used fertilizers, and the condition of the crop is unbelievable! Imagine what it would be like if they were able to cover their entire portion of land with the same method. It could be just a massive progress. It's still that now! But, at the same time, we have still about  half  of the land that are not sowing by fertilizers. Anyway, you must be proud with what you have done with the fund for letting happened this!!!

Ric's 2017 visit to Baregota seeing the developments and improvements

Ric's 2017 visit to Baregota seeing the developments and improvements