On Tuesday, January 15, our group of eleven embarked on a trip to the northwestern region of Benishangul-Gumuz Region in Ethiopia. A Chance In Life's partners in Ethiopia had suggested we visit the area because of the immense need they had witnessed there. The region has faced many challenges when it comes to providing education and jobs, in part because of the lack of transportation infrastructure. When we began our journey, we experienced this first hand ... it took a one-hour flight, a six-hour drive, and a 45-minute walk through the forest to bring us to the Gumuz village of Banush.
Some Gumuz living near the Sudanese borderland have converted to Islam, while others have converted to Orthodox Christianity. Many Gumuz, however, still maintain traditional religious practices, worshipping the "spirits" of certain rocks, trees, and animals for good health, good crops, good luck, and protection. A Gafia, a man or woman in the village that holds the magic-religious authority of a ‘witch doctor,’ is seen as the protector of the village's well-being. The Gafia is consulted often and his or her words are highly respected.
Unfortunately, there are two aspects of these traditional practices that have proven particularly harmful to Gumuz women and children. Because of the reliance on the Gafia, no other medical care is available within these villages. When we arrived in Banush, it was the first time in my life I had ever seen children with round, bloated stomachs. Part of this came from malnutrition, but our guide informed us that the main cause were parasites and worms from drinking unclean water.
Another strongly-held belief among the Gumuz is that a woman’s blood is cursed and, because of this, she must give birth alone in the forest. As you can imagine, this often leads to life-threatening complications for the mother or child. It is especially dangerous for first-time mothers, some of whom are as young as thirteen when they have their first baby.
One of the most proven methods to fight these harmful practices is education. Unfortunately, there is only an 'informal' school (held in the building in the photo to the right) in the Gumuz village of Banush. One of the girls who was given the opportunity to attend school in a nearby town is now their teacher and works to pass on what she was taught. She told us the children are eager to learn, but it can be difficult to keep their attention without any books or supplies.
A Chance In Life is not the only one to have noticed the needs of the Gumuz people. In the nearby village of Kutur Hulet, in the district of Mandura, there is a school called New Dawn, managed by Sister Nora, a Comboni Missionary from Costa Rica. A number of girls attend this school, some of whom are married and have children. (Left: Sister Nora and journalist Arturo Zampaglione)
H.E. Lesanu-Chirstos, Bishop of Bahir Dar-Dessie, also works to provide young people from the Gumuz area with schooling. He houses and offers an education to a dozen young men who left their villages in search of an education.
The building where these boys live is extremely sparse, with damaged walls and a leaky roof. The boys sleep on thin pallets on the floor with their school books beside them.
(Right: Journalist Federico Rampini, being greeted by a child from Banush.)
In the month of May, I will be visiting the Benishangul-Gumuz area again with a group of donors. I look forward to keeping you all posted on our work there.
We hope this trip will mark the beginning of a fruitful partnership between A Chance In Life and the Gumuz people. As ever and always, we are committed to ensuring every child has access to medical care, adequate food, and an education. Stay tuned for more stories from our trip and news of our progress!