Discussions with the farming community

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Last Monday I was in Libo-Kemkem District, South Gonder Zone of Amhara State. The purpose of my travel was to attend a launching workshop on integrated community development projects (ICD). In attendance was the farming community embracing chairs as well as managers of rural Kebeles, heads of sector offices, representatives of women and youth associations, school principals, health extension workers and elderly people. Concerned bodies drawn from a donor organization and the region expounded attendees on the various development projects to be executed in their respective areas… Accordingly, rural kebeles will get phase by phase the chance to have primary schools, health posts, water schemes, refundable loans and livelihood servicesto help grow crops and vegetables using irrigation… They were also briefed about what are expected of the beneficiaries to the well completion and sustainability of the soon to be launched projects… These include fencing of water schemes, establishing water users’ committees, contributing users’ fees, keeping clean water points, digging dry pit latrines in their respective compounds, contributing 10% of project costs… The people who attended the meeting were generally expected to raise awareness among the beneficiary communities so that these things are accomplished in a desired manner and therebythe facilities give sustainable services.
A big man who was said to come from the regional capital, Bahir-Dar, took the podium and said that if the people in the project intervention Kebelesfail to live up to the expectation of thisICD Project, the opportunity of having the facilities will be given to another district. “I want to remind you that three districts were proposed for these projects. Due to various reasons, Liob-Kemkemwas selected. Failing to do what are expected of you means losing the chance of getting modern and standardized health posts. Choose between dilapidated school buildings and the modern stone-walled classroom blocks…I don’t think you desire to send your kids to deteriorated schools…”
A thin old farmer wearing a soiled kind of Gabi (home woven thick cloth) shot up his hand. When he was allowed to speak, he rose to his feet, cleared his voice and said, “it seems God has now turned his face towards us. We have long been suffering from lack of clean water in our rural villages. We lost many women due to delivery cases… We were forced to send our children to schools situated in faraway towns. Now we should thank God for turning his gracious face to His destitute people. We should also give our heartfelt gratitude to the donors who have come here to support us… Yes, we need the health posts.We really need the school and the loan services…But my dear sirs…What I am not clear about is the money you are demanding from us. you know the misery the farming community is swallowing in. We lead lives from hand to mouth. Don’t you think this 10% money contribution is tough for us? …”
The people in the hall started grumbling.A gentleman on the platform took the microphone and said, “what our brother has just raised is a good question…The purpose of the 10% contribution has nothing to do with stealing or squandering your money.Rather, it has an intention of instilling sense of ownership of the facilities which will be given to you. If a farmer contributes a single birr for the construction of a health post, he is believed to have the thinking of owning that particular health post. He will regard it like his own property… There are many development facilities accomplished by various organizations and the government in many parts of the country. Many of them do not give service for a long time. Among the major reasons for this is that the people do not take care of them. If the facilities are regarded by the people as their own properties, they will be taken take care of… No one wants his or her house to be demolished by others. If it is demolished, the inhabitants will be left outside in the field without shelter. Therefore, all of us take care of our houses. Besides, we paid, in terms of labor and cash,for the construction of those houses. So, we don’t need anyone to harm them. We will guard them against any harms… the same must be true to the new project facilities. You should be involved in their construction. You should contribute your share in cash and kind to get them. If you do that, it means you possess them… On the other way around, if you want to get funereal services for your kinfolks from yourIdir (local association) in your locality, you will have to contribute certain amount of money… If we do notintervenein this locality, it will be your responsibility to build a school of mud blocks for your kids. For your information, even the government won’t allow any free service or donation from outside. It is the desire of the government that the beneficiary community should pay in kind or in cash for the implementation of a development project….”
The other lady from the stage said that the 10% contribution expected from project beneficiaries is small incomparison to some requests proposed by the other organizations.…How much does a single bottle of Arekie coast? … birr 50? … If you take two bottles of Arekie per week, you will spend birr 100. Mind you…spending birr 100 per week for alcoholic beverage is too much! Won’t it be much better to pay this amount of money to the construction of a school for your children?…”
A big lady got to her feet. She hasthin face with sunken cheeks. Her hair is cut short. She put on a waist band of her Netela (woven shawl). She smiled broadly and took time before she speaks. “Yes… What you people over there said is quite correct. We rural people need these things… Fetching water and making it ready for drinking is considered to be the task of women. We have long been loaded with the burdenof the yoke. We feel the drudgery… No one can talk better than women about the advantages of fetching clean water within short distances… Let whatever the cost be, it should be paid! I assure you, it is paid!My men, if you are asked to pay for Arekie, you will peel out your birr from your pocket! My brothers, are you not the ones who drink beer by stepping on acrate which is full of bottles of beer? How much do you pay for the alcoholic beverage? Hundreds of birr! …Yes! We women know that… Anyways, we need the school for our poor kids. We need the health posts and water schemes. Can you hear that? We lost many of our sisters for failing to get better medical treatment…If need be, we can settle down the needed payment by selling Kubet (dried cow dung). We don’t want to lose this golden opportunity. Please, fellow countrymen, listen up… prick up your ears and take heed of this issue that we should notkick the donkeyloaded with gold out of our district…! … Please, think twice…Use your heads that are buried under your muddy hats…”
The conference hall echoed with booming laughter of the workshop participants. Then followed by long clapping given in appreciation to the lady who was looking around fiercely. Then, when the noise ebbed,the lady cleared her voice and said, “yes, my brothers and sisters, let’s be wise… We heard that others have not yet got such opportunity. We should know this…” She sat downamidst the clapping and murmuring…
The man who was leading the discussion patted the microphone and when silence reigned, he said that others should pay heed to the point raised by the lady. “When we say every beneficiary Kebele should contribute 10% of the entire cost of the projects, it means that the farming community and the donors join hands to build the schools, water points and health posts. If we need birr 100,000 to build a health post, the donor will give us birr 90,000 and the difference, which is only 10,000 birr, will be covered by us. This means if there are 500 households in the Kebele, the 10,000 birr will be divided among those households. A family thus will pay only birr 20. This is not much; is it? …” The man stopped his talking for he was disrupted by clapping and murmuring sounds… He was surprised and looked at the people in astonishment.
An elderly man rose to his feet and said, “Getaw (sir)… we had enough. We don’t need to spend our time in this issue hereafter. We want you people to start the project as soon as possible. The rain will come in these areas starting from March; after a month. So, let’s not talk too much. We are running out of time… Let’s build the facilities.”Clap of thunder and whistling erupted across the hall.

By Haile-GebrielEndeshaw

The writer can be reached at: gizaw.haile@yahoo.com