As reported in the July 2019 AGM, our project with the people of Baregota Village was winding up. With several good growing seasons behind them, with the flourishing vegetable gardens they had established, and with all the other positive changes that had happened in the village over nearly 10 years, our job was done. We had advised the villagers that 2019 would be the final year that we would fund projects for them, so they were well prepared for this to happen, and were well equipped to move sustainably into the future.
Amlaku was now preparing to move on with his own life. His dream was to establish his own Tour Company. Tourism was on a huge growth curve in Ethiopia, with a 48% increase in 2019 alone. He already had a licence as a Tour Guide, but he wanted to set up his own Company, and for this he needed two things – a website, which, funded from here, he had been working on for a while in Addis, and a suitable vehicle. These were legal requirements. If he wanted to establish his own Company, he had to have both. 18 months or so back, he had met a father and son in Addis who had a supermarket, normally very much smaller than what we see in New Zealand, and a number of 4 wheel drive vehicles which they rented out to Aid Agencies and the like. The son was keen to get into the tourism industry, but lacked the licence, whereas Amlaku had the licence, but not the vehicle. They met up in late 2018, decided they were compatible, and so Amlaku carried on with the village project, especially the bridge building, with the intention of coming back to them when he was ready to move on. Unfortunately, when that time came, around July 2019, his potential partners had moved on, and the arrangement was dead in the water.
So, very reluctantly, Amlaku came to us in July to ask if we could possibly help fund him into a new Toyota Hiace 16 seater minibus. He could get a 50% loan from his local bank, but needed a 50% deposit, and that he simply didn’t have, nor did he have any way of raising that amount of money. We gulped, and then worked with him on a business plan. It worked out that with the rather inflated price of vehicles in Ethiopia he would need something like $60,000.00 from us in order to access his bank loan and get his business up and running.
After a lot of prayer and thought, Ric and Amlaku put together a business plan, and then submitted this to a small number of donors who we thought might have the resources to help meet this need. Bear in mind that the most we had ever raised in the past for seed and fertiliser was about $37,000.00, and also that this money was not for the village project but for Amlaku to start up his own business. Quite a challenge. But miraculously, within 15 days we had $76,000.00 in the bank! All gifts, bar $25,000.00 of it in 2 interest free loans. Talk about standing in awe in the presence of God!
Getting the money across to him in $US was quite a challenge because of the current issues around money laundering and fraud. However, thanks to the involvement of someone with wide experience in moving money around, we got it off to the dealer in Addis, and the vehicle was ordered – from Dubai – in November. It took quite a few weeks to arrive, with several delays on the way, but Amlaku finally took possession of his new vehicle in early February 2020. He was very happy! And of course, hugely grateful to those friends here who had helped him get his business get started.
So, at the beginning of March, he was all set to hire an office in Addis, while the website, now being worked on here in Palmerston North, was almost ready to go live. Baregota Tour and Travel was about to become a reality.
But March 2020 saw the world change radically, as Covid-19 reared its ugly head. Tourism across the world literally just died. Thankfully, Amlaku had not rented an office, and was able to hire the minibus out to another Company for a month, which covered his first 3 monthly repayments to his bank. The minibus is now in secure storage in Addis, while he is back in Lalibela and Baregota for the foreseeable future. At the time of writing (April 15), there are still fewer than 100 cases of Covid-19 in Ethiopia, all related to people coming into the country, with no community transmission reported as yet. All borders are shut, and every effort is being made to contain the disease.
What the future holds for him is unclear at this moment. Like the rest of us, his world has changed dramatically. However, once the crisis is over and things start to get going again, he has a valuable asset which he will be able to put to good use, even if that is only using the minibus as a taxi on the Addis to Lalibela run, normally a two day journey, but doable in one long day with a good vehicle – which he has. Local business people will pay well for such a service. We know that the Lord has provided him with this vehicle, and that will have been for a good reason, and so we have confidence that things will get going for him again over the coming months. Tourism will return to Ethiopia, but it may not do so for a year or two, or maybe even more.
Talking with a friend the other day, a most interesting point came up, one that I think has relevance to the journey we have been on with Amlaku. While it is invaluable to put someone like him through university, or in some other way to equip him or her with the skills they need to make their way in life, this can often be wasted if they do not have the capital resources to launch themselves into a business or somesuch once their studies are completed. I had never really thought about this until that conversation, but I think my friend is right. And what we have done in resourcing Amlaku into this business will set him up for life. Sure, his education was very important, and we have seen the fruit of that in the village project, but for him to be able to strike out on his own would have been very much more difficult without the minibus journey we have been on for the past 7 - 8 months.
Our journey with him runs very deep, not just for those of us on the Bricks for Life Committee, but for many of the donors who have become friends over the past almost 11 years. We await future developments in his life with great interest, with all of us who have been involved with him through that period, bringing our different gifts and resources to bear on his journey, wishing him well, and assuring him of our ongoing love and respect for him.
April 15 2020.
PS. His tourism website is not yet quite finished. We will post the link on this site as soon as it is completed.