Lessons from the Land of 13 Months of Sunshine

Today, which marks our last day in the country of 13 months of sunshine, has been filled with goodbyes to new ጛደኛ (ggaa-da-nyaa, or friends), last sips of Fanta (the orange delicacy that is enjoying a second coming outside of America) and much delight in thinking about all that we have seen, heard and experienced over the past two weeks. This diverse University of Notre Dame team, whose countries of origin include Africa itself (Liberia), Columbia, Mexico, Canada and the United States has experienced in Ethiopia a culture that is prouder than any we’ve known and had our hearts warmed by the magnanimous hospitality that drove our host organizations ((Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (HCS)) to make us feel not like the outsiders we are, but rather family.

We quickly learned as our inaugural days working with CRS and HCS hosts stretched beyond the planned 8am to 6pm office time to include friendly late night noshings on injera, pizza and spaghetti (Italy briefly occupied Ethiopia in the 1930s and its culinary influence remains strong) that this was more than a service/business consulting engagement.  Rather, this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to truly understand what serving your country, community and fellow men and women is truly about. To understand what drives NGO workers to accept jobs that pay less and sometimes prove thankless to give back through their work, and what it means to make lifelong friends and empower a people out of poverty in the process.

Community members that benefit from a water security project hard at work digging a well.

Our visits to development and food aid project sites (see pics above), conversations via more than 70 interviews with NGO workers, the Ethiopian government and community partners, and the review of 50 plus business documents kept us busy, while hugs with camels and close encounters with hyenas kept us smiling. We’ve loved and spat with our Notre Dame team mates in the process, and will take home countless memories.

To conclude this trip diary, we’ve included below our most memorable moments, as well as a few notable pics. Thanks for following us in this adventure… we hope you’ve enjoyed reading as much as we’ve enjoyed sharing.

Notable Moments:

  • Ashley Bernard (MBA Student): The realization that no matter what country you call home or what religion you’re called to honor, the drive to serve weaves a common thread that binds… and that I’m moderate to high in neuroticism and appreciate an occasional sense of urgency.
  • Emily Block (Faculty Advisor): When one of our fearless HCS hosts noticed a booger in the nose of our Notre Dame teammate Mary Claire and ferociously picked it out for her so she would avoid embarrassment.
  • Mary Claire Sullivan (MBA Student): Our experiences in the field, in the communities that housed HCS’ and CRS’ work. The extent of collaboration between HCS, the Ethiopian government and community members was beyond impressive. These collaborations, combined with the passion of the HCS staff and its communities’ desire to improve impacted me deeply.
  • Ezekiel Freeman (Masters in International Peace Studies Student): Lime has a health value beyond that previously known…
  • Adlo Leal (MBA Student): Visiting the Notre Dame K-12th grade school and meeting the children that attended it. We visited twice and it reminded me of my school in Columbia. I learned from speaking with the children that, although we come from different countries, we have much in common. We laugh, share jokes and dream just the same.
  • Jose Luis (MBA Student): I loved how people at HCS were so motivated about their work. We have the opportunity to see their results on the field and they were impressive. On one of the field visits, we experienced how they created an oasis in the middle of the dessert to cultivate potatoes, onions and even papayas. They are really helping people find their own route out of poverty!

 Friends we made along the way…







Overcoming Barriers… Road blocks and otherwise

We spent the first four days of the week interviewing individuals both in CRS and HCS diving into the Human Relations, Relationship Management, and Reporting sections of both organizations.  Friday and Saturday were all about getting out and seeing the work on the ground and having conversations with the workers and beneficiaries.

You haven’t seen bad roads until you have seen some of the “roads” we traveled during our Friday trek.  A couple hours outside of Dire Dawa and a few bruises later we spent time in a handful of communities all engaging in one or more of the following projects:

–       Domestic water use/access – tapping springs and creating pipelines and water sources for communities.  One woman said that she had to walk a total 4 hours in order to get water prior to the water source in her community. Talk about easing access to water.

–       Terracing – Creating numerous terraces/plateaus that cascade down the side of a hill or mountain.  This allows communities to 1.) plant and harvest on a hillside and 2.) prevent soil erosion and destruction of crops if flooding occurs.

–       Sanitation/hygiene – Creating movable pit/latrines that eventually become the site for a new tree to be planted.

The benefits behind these endeavors include not only the outcomes such as access to water sources and increased crop yields, but community involvement in the development, construction and continued sustainability of the projects.  Community organizations/management systems are created for implementation and maintenance.  For example, there is a whole payment system and management committee developed within the communities that allows the water source in a community to have continued functionality.

Saturday was spent in different communities that were engaged in more integrated programs- a terracing project, a water project and livelihood programs (savings and credit groups, access to livestock, revolving seed bank) were all taking place in some of the communities we visited.

We were fortunate to close out our adventures on Saturday with a visit to a Coptic Christian Church in Dire Dawa. We enjoyed the chance to reflect on our day and take in the beauty and community that defined the church, as well as the people of Ethiopia as a whole.


A Whirlwind of Learning

If one term defines the past two days “whirlwind” would be it. We’ve begun to delve into the vast programs supported by HCS and CRS, as well as visited food distribution and agriculture co-ops that are the product of the more than $80 million in food aid these organizations provide in Ethiopia in response to emergency drought conditions.

Our inaugural day in Dire Dawa was initiated by Ato Bekele (“Ato” referring to Mr.) HCS’ Executive director, who quickly became our good friend, as well as by visits to two sites that left an indelible impression on us. The first site was Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, a clinic and residence that is dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor. At the Mission Sr. Marie Tomas introduced us to mothers and their infants stricken with HIV/AIDS and walked us through the ward for handicapped children, many of whom will spend their entire lives solely among the Sisters because their families have abandoned them and society shuns them.  Although the Mission’s capacity is 600 individuals, its inhabitants often swell to 1800 plus. The second site was a CRS-led, multi-NGO Food Distribution Center that is the largest of its kind in Ethiopia and is situated within a stones throw from the Ethiopian Federal Prison.

More learning is to come as we trek to a university and NGO partner in Harer, a field office, and continue our internal interviews in order to dig into how HCS’ organizational structure works. All work and no play makes the Irish a dull group, so we’ll of course conclude the day as we have the past few with food (pizza for those of us seeking the familiar and injera for the adventurers in the group), drinks and chats about what we’ve tackled and what’s to come.

Trekking to Harer

Each day in Ethiopia has been an adventure, and today was no exception. A serendipitous pit stop en route to meetings in the town of Harer (not to be confused with the Hararghe region) brought us upon Neyemz Ahmed, the leader of one of many agricultural co-ops cultivated by HCS and CRS. Neyemz (pictured below with her little boy) greeted us with a big smile and although we didn’t speak of the market value of her crop, her empowered spirit and proud demeanor indicated her work as something to be noted.Some 50 miles from Neyemz’s co-op down the windy cliff-heavy road we arrived in infamous Harer to interview Marmaya University and CISP staff (both organizations help HCS implement development and aid projects). Harer is surrounded by a gate that our HCS partner said was built some 500 years ago as protection from domestic enemies and is host to hyena’s that eat food out of your mouth (we plan to test out this rumor on Sunday), diverse trade, and, as per most of Ethiopia, a great deal of poverty and drug abuse (chat being the poison of choice). As visuals tell a story better than any words in this case, we’ll let the pics below speak for themselves.



Injera and Incense and Insight, Oh My!

The aroma of incense and fresh baked injera (a delicious Ethiopian bread that serves as a staple and silverware substitute in most meals) permeates the air, while the sound of Christian and Muslim calls to prayer broadcast town-wide via loud speakers. Locals take us to back-alley restaurants omit of forks or napkins and provide insight into how business functions in this Horn of Africa country, which houses not a single franchise or chain. These experiences, combined with a day’s worth of insightful discussions in the capital of Addis Ababa with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and its NGO partners define the first day of active work for this Notre Dame Business on the Front Lines team.

CRS, one of the largest international aid organizations in the world which serves those in need regardless of creed, has invited us here to learn about its operation and that of its partner, Hararghe Catholic Secretariat (HCS). We’re gaining insight into how an NGO manages relationships with partners and donors, as well as how financial reporting, program quality, and human resources function. We’re deriving through interviews and brain-picking sessions the opportunities that exist in development and emergency relief in increasingly global yet underdeveloped countries. Further, we’re beginning to fully grasp the vast opportunity that professionals in business, law and beyond have to use their knowledge and time to empower others. We’re learning why it’s important to re-examine the business as usual mindset and move towards one that is more focused on creating shared value for both companies and communities.

As we trek to Dire Dawa to explore water and agriculture development project sites and the inner workings of HCS, we prepare to gain new take-aways and develop more insight to share with our NGO friends. We prepare to ditch assumptions about what we’ll discover and where it will take us, and we hope you’ll continue to join us on our continued path of learning.

Peace to all!

Ethiopia, the Beginning.

??? (Selam), friends. Today we (some pictured below), a team of four University of Notre Dame MBA students, one Masters of International Peace Studies student, one Law student and one management professor as part of the course Business on the Front Lines embark on an exciting two week journey of learning in Ethiopia. We are trading the comforts of our community in South Bend, Indiana (and happily a hectic and sleepless week of finals, for some!) for the opportunity to combine the knowledge fostered during our studies to better understand the work of Catholic Relief Services and Hararghe Catholic Secretariat in Ethiopia. Through our visits to Addis Ababa, Dire Dawa and beyond, we hope to broaden our world views and discover what defines Ethiopia’s NGO context and populous, which includes more than 84 ethnic groups, some 50 percent of whom are under the age of twenty years old.

As we trek to Ethiopia via Istanbul, we read about news of Ethiopian Prime Minister Zenawi embarking in peace talks with Somali leaders, as well as of continued negotiations to free international journalists recently jailed in Ethiopia.  Clearly, this country (see the map below for geographical context), which is thought to be the birthplace of humankind, has much to teach us about both peace and conflict.

Tune into this blog and our Twitter page for regular updates on our journey. We’ll paint a picture of our insights, adventures, struggles, and hopefully a few noteworthy epiphanies. We’ll chat about the people we meet, the things we eat (lots of delicious injera bread, we’re told!) and the lessons and excitement that result.

Thanks for joining us on this adventure… stay tuned!

Team Ethiopia,

Ashley Bernard (MBA,), Aldo Leal (MBA), Ezekiel Freeman (Masters of International Peace Studies), Emily Block (Management Professor), Jose Luis Lopez Amador (MBA), LaDawn Burnett (Law) and Mary Claire Sullivan (MBA)