ETHIOPIA Ebrahim's journey

Twenty-five years ago, during the infamous 1984 famine in Ethiopia, Ebrahim Jemal’s life was saved by emergency food distributed by CARE International. Today he has come full circle, working for CARE to strengthen the livelihoods of people in his community so that they can protect themselves from future emergencies.

This is his story:

‘I was born in 1976 in Grawa Woreda, in the highland region of East Hararghe, in eastern Ethiopia. I was the first child and a precious gift to my family, because I arrived after seven years of marriage, and after much praying and begging their God for a child.

‘When the drought came I was about 9 years old and a second grade student at primary school. Even though in normal years our household was better off than many, my family ran out of grain because we shared our reserves with relatives and neighbours in need. There were many households in the same position. I clearly remember that everything was dry, animal skeletons were scattered around, people were digging here and there in a vain search for water, and schools were closed. The number of beggars was terrifying and hopelessness reigned over the whole community.

‘The loss inflicted by that drought was enormous and remains in the memories of millions all over the world. Many lives were lost and millions of heads of cattle vanished all over the country. East Hararghe was one of the zones heavily hit, and as a result all the kebeles (group of villages) in the Woreda (administrative area) were targeted by CARE’s emergency programme. I was one of thousands of children whose lives were rescued by this organisation.

‘I remember when the distribution of the emergency rations started. I will never forget the wheat porridge with vegetable oil that my mom used to feed me. To date, I feel something inside whenever I see cans and containers marked “USA” as this reminds me of that bad time. But that food saved my life and the lives of many other children.

‘I went on to finish primary school, enrolled in high school and eventually graduated University with a degree in Agriculture, and recently a MSC in Rural Development and Agricultural Extension.

‘Now I am working as livelihoods specialist for CARE supporting the livelihoods of vulnerable people in East and West Hararghe. I am one of the handful of individuals who in turn got the opportunity to help the poor to protect themselves from another emergency.

Despite his own life being saved by emergency food, Ebrahim recognises the limitations of emergency response in tackling the underlying causes of food crisis in Ethiopia.

‘It seems to us that too often the money comes after a disaster is already here. By that time, we cannot say that we do not want the food, because it will save us. But it is better for us, and cheaper for the West, in the long run if more money comes for early warning programmes or better roads or schools, to prepare us before a crisis starts.

CARE is working to reduce people’s vulnerability to emergency through programmes like Ebrahim’s, for example: rehabilitating wells and supplying reliable clean water sources; distributing seeds and tools to help devastated farmers recover and plant for next harvest; and helping pastoralists cope with the effects of climate change by diversifying their herds and sources of income.

We are reaching more than 500,000 people with emergency aid in Oromiya, Afar and Amhara regions. This includes transferring food to 300,000 of the most vulnerable people, providing lifesaving emergency nutrition to 70,000 malnourished children and mothers, and responding to the acute watery diarrhea outbreak.

This work is alongside CARE’s long-term development activities tackling the underlying causes of people’s vulnerability and social injustice.