Ethiopia, June 2019

Water to Thrive’s Summer 2019 vision trip is under way, and as she travels through Ethiopia and Uganda to visit our water projects, Executive Director Susanne Wilson is accompanied by our summer interns, Madison Magiera and Kendall Prossner. This is the first trip to Africa for both Madison and Kendall, and they will be sharing their experiences. Madison writes about her first day visiting communities where we work. June 7. 


Today was my first day out in the field in Ethiopia with Water to Thrive! We visited four projects today and throughout visiting these projects and meeting with people in the various villages, one thing stood out to me. Everyone I met was so friendly and welcoming.

When looking out the window while we were driving through the countryside, I saw so many happy and smiling faces. Everyone greeted us with enthusiastic waves and even calls of “hello,” “welcome” and sometimes “I love you,” which made us laugh. In the hotels and in the city of Addis, where we stayed the first night of our trip, everyone I met welcomed me with a smile and was curious to learn about me. Upon meeting the villagers out in rural Ethiopia, some looked curious about me and some, especially the children, were bashful and scared to come by me at first. They could tell by my skin that I was not from the same place as them and that I am a foreigner (“firenji” in Amharic). However, after I said hello to them (“selam” in Amharic), shook their hands and smiled at them, their faces immediately lit up and they wanted to be friends. Our Water to Thrive team soon discovered that after these initial greetings at a project site, we would have a little posse of kids following us around for the rest of our visit.


During our visits, some of the children touched my skin and hair because they were curious about it or had never seen white skin and blonde hair. Many children (and adults) wanted their picture taken and loved seeing the pictures and videos of themselves on my phone. I spoke in Amharic to learn their names and I told them my name is Madison. Some of the villagers understood me when I said this and some did not because they do not all learn Amharic. However, even though I could not engage in conversation with all of the villagers due to the language barrier, I still felt so welcomed by their warm smiles, laughs and tight hugs.

Thus, the first lesson I have learned about the Ethiopian people we met today is how happy they are. The older villagers beamed with pride when they pointed out their grandchildren to me. The children are so friendly and sweet and all of the people were so grateful to us for visiting and grateful to Water to Thrive and its donors for bringing clean water to their communities.

Their genuine happiness stood out to me because I have not felt this same happiness in communities in the United States. Many people in the U.S. are so busy with their day-to-day routines that they do not stop to wave to people, greet each other with smiles or stop to talk or laugh with one another. The Ethiopian people I met live without many of the comforts that I enjoy in the U.S., like easy access to clean water, washing machines and microwaves, for example. They walk miles to collect water, hand-dig wells for water, wash clothes by hand, cook without electricity, etc. and in this way their day-to-day lives are much more strenuous than my life in the United States. However, they are so happy and thankful for what they do have – homes, communities, family, friends, love and laughter. It has reminded me that although modern technology and materialistic things provide comfort, they are not needed for true happiness.

Today’s visits also reinforced for me the way in which clean, safe water creates happiness. The communities were so excited to have wells in their village. Access to safe water is a basic need and once this need is met, the community is able to grow and thrive in other areas. After seeing so many bright and cheerful faces, I know that these communities will only flourish more once they are able to easily access clean, drinkable water.

Getting around in rural Ethiopia can present various challenges. In today’s blog post, intern Kendall Prossner details some of the difficulties of driving around…and introduces the expert who got them through. June 8. 


I wanted to introduce everyone following along to the people we’ve been spending most of our time with thus far. Along with Susanne, Madison, Gashaw, and me, there are three other very important people who have been with us for our days in the field.

Tessima is our partner, translator, and my personal Amharic dictionary. He has been so helpful in getting us to understand new words and specifically in knowing the spelling of words and phrases – Madison and I started a list of phrases in our phones so we can try to talk with some of the people we meet.

Galfi is a water technician employee for the sites we visited the past few days and he also doubled as our tour guide. He got us to all of our different project sites without any wrong turns and even more impressively, without a GPS.

The final member of our group is the MVP of today, our driver, Ashi. Ashi is a super sweet and soft-spoken guy. Although he doesn’t say much, we are so appreciative of him and the way he skillfully gets us around all of the tuk-tuks, boto-botos, donkeys, goats, chickens, and people that crowd the Ethiopian streets. For insight if you’ve never been to Africa, the traffic signs and road markings are merely suggestions: anyone can go anywhere, anytime. So having such an awesome driver has made the craziness of Ethiopian roads a little less stressful for the rest of us!


Not only does he navigate the streets well, Ashi also navigates all of the off-roading terrain we encounter on our way to reach villages far out with extreme precision. He makes our “African massages” as enjoyable as one can be. An “African massage,” as Gashaw says, happens when we get jostled around the car while we’re driving on the rough roads. Today, for instance, we visited a village that you could only reach from a single steep and rocky dirt road. Did I mention it’s the rainy season here? So what once was dirt, was actually mud.

So today we got a “deep tissue African massage” as this ride was much rougher than the rest. The mud covered road caused the car to slide and fishtail multiple times on our way down the hill before reaching a river we had to cross at the bottom. I think we were all freaking out internally as we slid our way down the hill. But not only did we make it down the hill and across the river to visit the village, we also made it back up the mud covered hill and back to our hotel without any issues. It’s safe to say that today, Ashi was my hero. I think it’s also safe to say that today, as I’m sure every day will be, was full of adventures much like the one I just shared!


Learning about the traditional foods of Ethiopia is a special part of traveling with Water to Thrive. Today, intern Madison Magiera describes her experiences at table. June 9. 

Time to talk FOOD! Since being in Ethiopia, I have had the opportunity to try some amazing new dishes!

The first traditional Ethiopian meal I ate consisted of jebena buna (traditional Ethiopian coffee), popcorn, and injera with shiro. The word “jebena” is the word for the pot used to brew the coffee and “buna” means coffee in Amharic. Jebena buna is very strong coffee because unlike coffee in the United States, which is water that has been poured over coffee beans, jebena buna is a mixture of ground up coffee beans with hot water. This liquid is inside the jebena and a ceremony accompanies when the jebena is poured out for the first cup. Everyone receives a small cup and then hot coals are brought out which burn incense. The jebena sets on the hot coals and then is poured. The first cup poured is called arbol, which is the strongest cup. The second cup poured is called tona and it is a little weaker than the first. Finally, the third cup is called bereka and it is the weakest coffee. Jebena buna is bitter and strong so it is served with sugar.


In addition, popcorn mixed with sugar is served as the side dish to jebena buna. All of us love our jebena buna, especially before long days visiting projects! Water to Thrive’s Ethiopia project manager, Gashaw, especially loves jebena buna – he has three or four cups a day and tonight after dinner, he even drank some at 9 pm just because he loves it so much!


So far, we have also eaten lots of injera and shiro. Injera is a staple in Ethiopia. It is sour bread with a sponge-like texture, which is used as a form of plate. Injera is served with sauces, such as shiro, on top and then everyone eats with their hands and breaks off pieces of injera to scoop up the sauces. Gashaw also really loves injera and jokes about his “injera belly” from eating too much injera. Shiro is also delicious and one of Susanne’s favorites! It is made of chickpeas and a blend of spices and can be relatively spicy depending on the different spices used.

We also had a meal of injera with lentils, chicken and beef stews and cabbage. I also tried goat for the first time yesterday! We had goat tibs (“tibs” meaning roasted), which was goat pieces served in bubbling oil and juices! Injera and bread was served with that, along with berbere to spice everything up! I must say I enjoyed the goat tibs and hope to eat them again while I am here in Ethiopia!


Other food that we have eaten while here is Italian food! The Italians occupied Ethiopia in the 1930s and their influence is still seen today in the prevalence of Italian food on Ethiopian menus. They have pizza, pasta, and Italian desserts (basically all the carbs). I have tried different pastas and had my share of pastries, croissants, and tiramisu! I have yet to try the pizza here so that may be next on my food agenda!

Besides learning about how delicious the food is in Ethiopia, I have learned more about traditions surrounding mealtime here. Meals are very communal, with everyone sharing one big plate and grabbing their share with their hands. There are traditions before some meals, like before the pouring of the jebena buna. Overall, mealtime is a special time for everyone to come together and share food and good company!

Constructing a hand-dug well is far more than just shoveling dirt … today, intern Kendall Prossner documents the painstaking process. June 10. 

Today was (surprise!) a travel day! We left our hotel in Hawassa early this morning and drove back to Addis, which allowed us to see some new parts of Ethiopia. Along the way we saw some huge monkeys, lots of dogs, and like always, more donkeys, goats, and sheep than you could imagine. Since most of the roads were paved we missed out on our African massages, but that meant everyone was able to get some much-needed shuteye.


After our four-hour drive back to the city, we were able to visit a site that sits at the very top of a mountain – Ashi got us most of the way there in the truck, and then we had a short but steep hike up to the site. This is a hand-dug well site and is one that is currently under construction for the third time. The first well didn’t strike water and the second well CAVED IN WHILE THEY WERE DIGGING IT. I have so much respect for the well diggers who continually descend several meters to hand dig a well for their community. This is not a job for the faint-hearted.

As I mentioned, these hand dug wells can cave in at any moment – something that can prove to be deadly to the digger at the bottom. The well we visited today I could swear was never ending. One of the site engineers tried to hold my arm so I could lean over and look in to see the digger at the bottom. Let’s just say, I don’t know what he looks like.


This site is just one of the hundreds of hand dug wells that brave diggers choose to develop for their communities. We’ve visited countless other communities, and I’m sure we’ll visit several more, that have sites that have been or are being dug out by hand.

Hand-dug wells are just one of the types of wells Water to Thrive uses. To give you an idea of how construction for this type of well works, these guys literally hand dig the well, put dirt into buckets that people pull up to dump out, and make little notches in the sides as seen below to have as a make-shift ladder so they can ascend and descend into/out of the well.


Once the digger strikes water, it is required for them to use a dewatering pump to remove water so they can continue to dig deeper into the aquifer. This is an extremely important step in the process because it ensures that they’ve gone deep enough in the aquifer that people will have water even during the dry seasons. After measuring the depth of the water and making sure it’s a reliable source for all seasons, concrete rings are put in place and a base plug is put at the bottom of the well. The base plug’s job is to seal the well and filter out fine materials that might enter through the intake. The well shaft is then sealed and gravel packing fills the voids between the excavated sides and the concrete rings up until 3m from the surface. For the final three meters, clay is used to fill the voids to ensure that surface water doesn’t seep into the well shaft and possibly contaminate the clean water. Finally, the well is sealed and the pump head is fitted and installed.

After hearing about how these wells are constructed, it’s impossible to forget that none of that would be possible without brave well diggers that are willing to risk their lives so their community can have safe, clean water.

The W2T team spent several days in an area of rural Ethiopia without access to the Internet, but interns Kendall Prossner and Madison Magiera wrote blog posts about their experience each day and sent home a big batch. Over the next two days, we’ll play catch-up and hear more about their first trip. First up, Madison writes about what to take with you. June 11. 

If you are traveling to Africa, most online blogs and packing lists will tell you you’ll need sunscreen, bug spray, rain jacket (if it’s the rainy season), etc. In addition to these essentials, you’ll want to pack a couple extra things that you may not have thought to bring. Here are the things that have been most helpful and valuable to me within my first week in Ethiopia.

* Washcloths – Depending on where you are staying, you may or may not have running water (or even hot water). Washcloths come in handy both for sponging off and drying off.


* Hand sanitizer – We have been meeting and shaking hands with so many people!

* Mini flashlight – The flashlight on your phone will work, of course, and I’ve used mine multiple times, but you might also want to bring a mini flashlight. Ethiopia runs on hydropower and wind power. This means that when the water level within the dams lowers, less energy is produced and the power goes out. We have experienced multiple power outages – this is a situation when our colleague Gashaw will say to us “TIA” (this is Africa). Typically hotels have their own generators so they are able to restore power within minutes, but if you are not staying in a hotel then you will want to have some light at night when the power is out. (And, as we’ve learned, some hotels may only have electricity sometimes.)

* Lip balm – The air here has been dusty and dry, so chapstick has been a must…I’ve used it all day, every day. Mine also has SPF 15 to protect from the sun.

* Camera – I have gotten some good pictures on my phone while here but if you have a good quality camera then bring it. You’re going to want to take lots of pictures! The countryside of Ethiopia is breathtaking, and in our case, the sweet little faces of the kids we visit are too cute not to capture.


* Hiking boots – In the rural areas of Ethiopia the roads are made of dirt and mud, and vehicles can only go so far. If you’re in the countryside, you’ll be walking along the roads and possibly hiking into villages, so hiking boots are needed. And I would suggest waterproof boots if you’re visiting during the rainy season.

* Toilet paper – In the villages, towns, and markets of Ethiopia there are few, if any, bathrooms with toilets. Instead, there are pit latrines, which are holes dug into the ground to hold human waste. Toilet paper is not provided at these pit latrines so it is BYOTP all the way.

* Laundry detergent/Febreeze – If you will be staying in Ethiopia for longer than a week, there are ways to find laundry services (some hotels do this for example). However, we did our own laundry in the hotel shower so our travel-sized detergent came in handy! If you don’t want to wash your clothes you can also just bring a travel-sized Febreeze bottle to keep your clothes smelling clean.

* Candy – I have been the candy diplomat so far on our trip. When we meet kids in the villages we visit, I always share some candy! The Ethiopians have been super friendly and welcoming to us to begin with, but the gift of candy can overcome language barriers and helps me make friends right off the bat.


Finally, I’ll share an item that I wish I’d brought to Ethiopia. Plastic forks.

In Ethiopia, all meals are shared between everyone at the table and silverware is generally not used. Injera is used as a sort of spoon to scoop up meat, sauces, lentils, etc. Traditional Ethiopian food is always eaten this way. However, there is also a good amount of Italian food in Ethiopia, so when I want a change from injera, I order pasta. This isn’t a problem in the hotels, but one day our team went to a restaurant in a town and Susanne and Kendall and I ordered spaghetti. The waiter brought out three plates of pasta and two forks. After our colleague Gashaw asked for another fork, he reported back to me that all the forks that the restaurant had were at our table already. The restaurant has two forks. So I used bread to scoop up my spaghetti and while it was a little more challenging to eat that way, it was just as delicious. Still, you may want to BYOF. TIA!

In this post, intern Kendall Prossner writes about what it truly means to “rough it” … and how “roughing it” can reinforce our understanding and gratitude. June 12. 

Today, I am thankful for bathrooms with running water. The hotel we’ve been staying at in Bako has a broken pump, so we’ve been without running water the past two nights we’ve been here. I say that as though it’s a necessity, and yet here I am traveling to different villages, watching as people happily walk to fetch clean water that has been made possible through a Water to Thrive well.

How grateful we should be, just to have a place to sleep and a mattress to sleep on, something that a lot of these community members don’t have.


But just so you all feel like you’re here with us, since there’s no running water, we can’t shower or flush the toilet normally. The hotel has provided us with a bucket of water for our bathroom, complete with a little pitcher, to use for the night. To flush, you use the pitcher to pour water into the toilet so that gravity forces what was previously in there down the pipe. In place of a cold shower from a bucket, we use wet wipes and dry shampoo. But “T.I.A.” or “this is Africa,” as Gashaw and Susanne like to say, and we are making it work.

Two of the communities we visited welcomed us into their homes and had prepared a feast for us as a way to say thank you, or “gelatoma” in the local language. (As a result of all of the jebana buna and cold drinks they provided us, we had to make quite a few “bush stops,” some of which were at the pit latrines that Madison writes about).


It has been so cool, meeting the people in our service areas and learning something of their culture and way of life. The hospitality they have had for us has been out of this world, and if they live in a world with no running water in their houses, then we can surely last for two nights.

W2T intern Madison Magiera describes how welcome the team has been made to feel in the communities they visit. June 13. 

As we have been visiting more and more completed water projects, I have learned more and more about Ethiopian hospitality. The Ethiopian people are some of the most welcoming people I have ever met.


Whenever we visit a project site, we are always greeted with smiling faces. Many times, after looking at the wells or springs, we are invited into someone’s home for food. Members of the community lead us to a home where chairs and a table have been set up just for us. We sit down and are quickly served drinks (Sprite, Coke, and Fanta are popular) followed by a traditional Ethiopian meal.

If we visit three wells in one afternoon, we’ll do this three times. Usually we eat homemade injera and beef stew, and sometimes we have potatoes, chickpeas, and seasoned barley. Before each meal, a girl or woman comes around to every person with water, soap, and a pail, and pours water over our hands so we can have clean hands before eating. Then, the women serve the food with proud smiles and encourage us to take more food even when we say we are completely full. We also sometimes have traditional jebena buna after the meal.


These families happily took us into their homes to make us feel welcome. The women and girls must have cooked for hours before our arrival, because at every home there was a ton of food. I must say that Ethiopian hospitality is not like any hospitality I have known before. The people we have met have gone the extra mile to welcome strangers into their communities. Every time we leave a visit, I have a full belly and a full heart.

The team’s stop at a site where a water project has not yet been built makes clear to Kendall what we mean when we say, “Build wells. Change lives.” June 14. 

Since we haven’t had wifi the past couple of days I’ll try to catch you up with what’s been going on with us. After spending two nights at the luxurious two-star hotel with no running water, we moved to a hotel in Ambo for the last two nights we are spending with this partner.

We now have running hot water – praise the Lord – and just in time too. Today’s sites were all located farther away and we got our workout in hiking around to the four different sites we visited. Hiking in Africa is no joke. Not only are the highlands incredibly steep, but the altitude alone will have you bent over trying to breathe. So by the time we got back to the hotel after hiking for so many sites, we were all hot and sweaty and in desperate need of a shower.


Of the 4 sites we visited today, we visited two finished projects (a hand dug well and a spring well), a hand dug well under construction, and a new site that hasn’t begun construction yet. I really appreciated visiting the new site because we were able to see firsthand the water conditions these people currently have to deal with. There are 67 households using this one source and as you can see, there’s not a lot of water and what’s there is not clean in the slightest. The murky water was littered with bugs as well as microscopic leeches that can prove to be deadly if they are ingested and cause an infection in your throat.


While we were at the site we met a 14-year-old girl, Esther, as she was collecting water for her family to drink. She told us she was in fourth grade and that she travels an hour to this site twice a day to get water for her family. She also showed us a scar she has on the left side of her face under her ear. It’s a result of trying to do a traditional ear piercing with a thorn and it getting infected – most likely because the water she was cleaning it with is contaminated.


Time and time again in these travels, I am reminded of the beauty of Ethiopia, but also the need in Ethiopia. Seeing the current water source that Esther’s family and 66 other households drink from was eye-opening. I wouldn’t even want to wash my hands in it, and yet they are drinking from it.

I am reminded how fortunate we are in our lives. And yet we are also so fortunate to be involved in change that will have huge implications in the lives of those we serve…many of whom are young girls like Esther.

Madison writes of another instance of Ethiopian hospitality and generosity…one with deep meaning. June 15. 


Yesterday was our last day in Bako, so we had a last dinner and wrap-up meeting with our partners at Central Gibe Synod (CGS). When the meeting ended, our partners surprised us with some parting gifts. They gave Gashaw a fancy Ethiopian jacket and traditional iron rod, which is a symbol of power that represents royalty. Susanne, Kendall, and I were presented with beautiful traditional Ethiopian dresses and jewelry.


Kendall’s dress has the Odaa tree on it, which is a symbol of blessings and ancestral wisdom. One of our partners told us that the tree branches of the Odaa tree are large and widespread and can be used to shade many people, making it also a symbol of community.

Our dresses are versions of the habesha kemis, a traditional Ethiopian female dress. This dress is typically all-white but it comes in different versions with different accent colors, which are used to represent various areas of Ethiopia.

Shito, one of the employees of CGS and a strong Ethiopian woman herself, picked these dresses out for us, somehow got the perfect dress for each one of us. It was such a wonderful surprise and another testament to Ethiopian hospitality and thoughtfulness. I am so thankful that I now have a beautiful piece of Ethiopian culture to take home with me!

In the course of meeting and talking with several women and girls throughout the course of a long day, Kendall finds much to be inspired by and thankful for. June 16. 


Today was a looonnggg day. Our morning started with a 4:30 a.m. wakeup so that we could pack and be on our way to the airport by 5 a.m. for our 7 a.m. flight to Gondar. When we arrived in Gondar, our driver took us to our hotel so we could check in and get changed into hiking boots for our first day in the field. Gashaw had told us that we had a six-hour hike ahead of us because the trucks and bota-botas couldn’t make it to the sites due to mud.

Thankfully, Gashaw was wrong. Although it’s currently the rainy season, we had no issues reaching the sites and were greeted by the most cheerful faces! With a traditional welcome, we had people singing, dancing, and clapping while we walked up at almost all of the sites we visited.

Madison and I had the chance to talk to quite a few women throughout the day. The one thing one of them said that really stood out to me was, “you American girls are very lucky”, and she is so right. We met girls who were 20, a year younger than us, who were already married with multiple children. For example, we interviewed a young woman named Atitegeb (below) who was 20 years old with 3 young children. She got married when she was 14 years old.


Another lady we met told us she had gotten married when she was 12. To us, it’s unimaginable. But to the women in these rural communities, it is often their reality.

So today, I am thankful that I am an American girl, getting an education, and able to use my education to help these women. Us American girls are very lucky, and it’s very easy to lose sight of that – so let this be a reminder to the American girls. We are very fortunate to live where we do and have so many opportunities available to us; women elsewhere aren’t so lucky.

Madison reflects on the hard work done by the people in the villages where we work, and the reminder that it serves. June 17. 

Today we were out in the field visiting water projects and potential sites. Usually when we’ve visited sites, we’ve been able to drive pretty close to the site before the area becomes what we call a “no drive zone,” and then we proceed to walk the rest of the way to the site.

But today was not one of those days. Because of the conditions of the roads, our truck wasn’t able to get us close to the sites, so we had a long day of hiking. While some days we’ve visited as many as four sites, today we only went to two. At one site there was water project in progress and at the other site construction on a well had not begun yet.


At one of the sites we visited on Monday, a well is the current source of water for a community in Gondar. There is no pump, and no cover for the well. This means that rats, insects, and dirt can get into the water and that the people of the community have to drop buckets into the well and drag it up to get water. A new hand dug well funded by Water to Thrive will replace this well soon.


Although we visited just two sites, we hiked almost 14 miles today! We all joked that we can say we completed a half marathon now …we just won’t say it took us five hours to finish. When we got back to the hotel we were all hot, sweaty, tired, hungry and sore.

We are all so exhausted after today but we had a nice hot dinner and we have hot showers and warm beds waiting for us. I’ve been thinking about the people we have met on our site visits. I’ve been thinking about the farmers with calloused hands who are on their hands and knees taking care of their crops. I think about the little kids with whips in their hands to oversee the oxen who till the soil. I think about the little girls as young as three or four with babies on their backs. We were all so tired from hiking today but we have met people who hike miles and miles every day to fetch dirty water from a spring and then hike miles back carrying their full 40-pound jerry can. After their hiking, they don’t have a hot shower or a pillow full of feathers to go to sleep on.

So far, this experience of traveling through Ethiopia with Water to Thrive has put so many things in perspective for me. I have especially realized how much I have to be grateful for. When I complain after a hard day’s work, I will think about the hard work that the people of these communities do every day and remember to count my blessings.

While the main purpose of a Water to Thrive vision trip is to meet with partners, visit water projects, and see the impact of working for clean water up close, there is also time to celebrate the rich history, culture, and geography of Ethiopia. Today Kendall writes about a “rest” day that was filled with excitement. June 18. 

Our day started out in Gondar where we left our hotel at 8am and went to visit the castle fortress in the city. After having walked 13.6 miles yesterday to visit project sites, we were all ready to have a relaxing rest day. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and knew of all of the best places to take pictures throughout our walk around the grounds.



After spending the morning touring the castle, we loaded up the car and headed off to the Simien Mountain Lodge, which is known for being the highest lodge in Africa. After reaching the lodge we unloaded our luggage, put hiking boots on and headed to go on a 2-hour leisurely hike to see the mountains and the Gelado monkeys – an indigenous grass eating species. Not only did we see a ton of monkeys but they actually let us up close to them and allowed us to sit and take pictures with them. We just sat and watched as they groomed each other and as the mama’s nursed the babies. It was truly an amazing sight.



We’re also way up in the mountains so we were able to see some incredible views and take some fun pictures along the way.


The biggest downfall of the day was the fact that our driver got lost trying to find the end of the trail to pick us up. He ended up driving 36 kilometers into the national park when the exit of the trail was not even 5 kilometers down the road. The cell phone reception out here isn’t the best either, so no one could get ahold of him to tell him to come back. Instead of waiting on the side of the road, we decided to start the trek back to the lodge along the steep and winding road. What was supposed to be a rest day, turned into another day of hard work and hiking – we were all struggling.


Thankfully, another truck going towards the lodge saw us and was nice enough to stop and give us a ride back. I’m not sure we would have made it otherwise. But we made it back, got some food & jebana buna, and watched a very interesting documentary on the Gelado monkeys. All in all, it was an adventurous day that made for lots of fun memories.

A day of travel gives Madison the opportunity to consider the various expectations that different societies have. June 19. 

Today we drove from the Simien Mountains, where we spent the night last night, to Shire, Ethiopia. It was about a five-hour drive, so I had lots of time to think and reflect in the car. I have been thinking a lot today – and really this whole trip – about the set of expectations that women around the world are expected to uphold.

In my experience living as a woman in the U.S., while I think we have taken great strides in removing limitations, women still seem to be expected to be wives and mothers, to take care of the home, and to submit to the authority of men without challenge. In my short experience visiting in Ethiopia, these same expectations are very present and pronounced for women.

Women are expected first and foremost to get married and have children. During our visits to project sites, we have met and talked to many women. Kendall and I (both 21 years old) have met 20-year-old women who are already married and have two or three children. When we ask women in the different villages how old they were when they got married, some have said “15,” “14,” or even “12.”


Once married, the woman’s job is to produce many children, as they will become helpers on the farm. These women drop out of school before their teenage years and never have the chance to finish a high school level education or continue their education at a university.

During one site visit, I noticed a woman looking at Kendall and me, and she spoke to us in her language. I asked Gashaw to translate what she said, and she said “You American girls are so privileged.”

This is true on so many levels. We are privileged to live in the U.S., where we enjoy many comforts of modern technology. We are also privileged that our country allows us, as girls, to go to college, to find work just like any male (and to find work in male dominated fields – shoutout to Kendall for being a female in engineering and doing amazing!!). We get to travel and to do more than get married and have children.

Throughout our site visits, we have also seen that the women take care of all of the housework. Women take care of the children, wash clothes, cook, and clean. This means that women also are in charge of collecting water. Whenever we are invited into someone’s home after visiting a site, the women serve the food they have prepared and the men eat with us, while the women wait and eat our leftovers after we leave. The men are considered to be the heads of the households and decision makers within communities.


We have noticed how shy the women are when we try to talk to them separately from the men. In Ethiopian culture, women are typically taught to be reserved and not outspoken. Sometimes this makes it hard to get the stories of the women in the villages we visit.


However, I have seen how Water to Thrive actively includes women in the decision-making around their water projects by requiring that half of the water committee members in each community are women. After all, it is the women and girls who walk miles to collect water. These walks are not only physically demanding for the women – jerry cans full of water can weigh 40 or 50 pounds, and they carry these on their backs! – but they are dangerous as well. Women and girls may be assaulted or raped on their way to and from the water source. Having a well within their own community takes this long walk away, making these women safer from assault and giving them precious hours back in their days. With these hours, girls can stay in school and possibly continue their education, and women have more time to take care of their many other duties.


What I have learned most from observing how hard women work here is to use my voice to give them the credit they deserve. These women truly do it all here. They serve their husbands, children, and each other, with joy in their hearts and without asking for recognition in return.

I have truly met some amazing and inspiring women on this trip. I am so happy to be working with an organization like Water to Thrive that recognizes the value of these women and works to uplift and empower them.


Water to Thrive’s work depends on partners in the countries we serve. The Relief Society of Tigray, or REST, is one of our most active and long-term partners, and visits with them are always packed and productive. Kendall describes a day working with REST. June 20. 

Today was our first day in the field with our partner, REST. Even on our first day I could tell that the phrase “there’s no rest with REST” was too true. We’re staying in a city called Shire for today and will be visiting sites within the region of Tigray for the next few days.

Tigray is extremely rocky and mountainous and arid, so we constantly have to drink water and wipe the sweat off of our foreheads. Today’s sites weren’t too bad – we only had to hike to one of them – but the drive in and out was quite nerve-wracking. All of the roads are rocky and are almost directly on the edge of a cliff. So while you’re getting your African massage, you’re also terrified that at any moment the car will shoot off the cliff.


The other thing about Tigray is that the heat here is brutal – and that’s coming from a Texas girl. Standing in the sun at one of our sites for more than five minutes causes you to be drenched in sweat almost immediately. But that’s the reality for the people who live in these communities.

I’ve continually had to remind myself after jumping into the car to get in the AC, that these people don’t have AC, and that before the well was built, they didn’t have access to much water in this arid region. Let alone clean water. Even more – one of the community members was explaining to us that if someone got sick, they had to carry them five hours to the nearest clinic.

They had to carry them five hours. And here I am, sore and complaining after carrying an eight-pound backpack for five hours (13.6 miles) on Monday.

summer-2019-0620-blog-pic-1-300x300.pngEvery day here I am reminded more and more of the many privileges we have in the US – today’s privilege is a car to take me to a clinic that’s five minutes away from my house.

On another day in Tigray, Madison writes about the importance of hearing the stories of the people in the communities served by Water to Thrive water projects, and how those personal stories make the importance of clean, safe water even more clear. June 21.

We are about two and a half weeks into our trip now! It seems like time has flown by, but at the same time I think we are all feeling more and more tired from working every day and doing more and more hiking.

We are in Tigray, Ethiopia now, with our partners at REST. As Kendall said yesterday, we have this joke going that “there’s no rest with REST” and so far it’s been true! We have done a good amount of uphill and downhill hiking and it is quite a bit hotter here in Tigray than in other areas we’ve been in.

Sometimes I find myself beginning to complain or wanting to stop hiking and just take a breather, but I am reminded to keep going every time we meet the wonderful and gracious people in the villages we visit. Today we visited two sites and I met the cutest and sweetest kids. We talked to women at the sites who said that they themselves and their children had been sick many times from drinking contaminated water. In fact, one of our guides for today said that he had been sick three separate times with waterborne diseases while he was working in that village.


The diseases that come from drinking dirty water are serious, and sadly many of the people we meet living in these rural areas do not have access to hospitals or clinics. Every 90 seconds in Africa, a child dies of a waterborne illness. When I meet these happy, playful kids it hurts my heart to think that many of them have already been sick and may have become fatally sick without access to clean, safe water.


When I meet parents in the villages I cannot imagine how hard it must be for them to watch their children get sick and not be able to do anything about it. Whenever we visit a site, the warm smiles of the parents who greet us and the laughter of the curious kids who run up to see who we are always makes my heart full.


As soon as we meet the people that Water to Thrive has been directly serving, I am reminded why I am here and what my purpose is for this trip. We have all been trying to focus on learning the stories of the people we meet. We want to know more about them, hear about their hardships, and understand how clean water has changed their lives. It has been inspiring to get to know the people in the communities we serve, and we’re looking forward to sharing their stories with everyone when we get home!

Kendall describes a pretty intense day in the field. June 22. 

Today, we hiked. Not like “walked around a mountain” hiked, more like “scaled a mountain to the valley and back up” hiked. As I’ve previously mentioned, the region we’re in is extremely mountainous, rocky, and dry. That terrain made our hike up, and especially down, very difficult because lots of rocks means lots of sliding on loose rocks.


We got to visit a site that is still under construction at the bottom of a valley. We were all sweaty and tired by the time we reached the site so it gave us an extreme appreciation for all of the workers and community members who carried stuff down to the site.


We were especially surprised to see a young lady with a baby strapped to her back helping build the wall around the well. Not only did she carry a baby all the way down there, but she was doing work at the site.


On the way out we were invited to a community member’s house to sit on the porch, have fresh jebana buna, and eat yummy corn bread with fresh honey.


Time and time again, these people show nothing but the best hospitality; everywhere we go we are invited in to a pre-made feast and lots of coffee.

I think we can all learn a little something from this culture and these people about the importance of community and how hosting people in your home can create relationships faster than anything. I have fallen in love with this country and it’s people and I am so sad that we are leaving in 3 short days!

As Madison prepares to leave the Water to Thrive group and return to the U.S., she shares what her experience has taught her. The photos in this post are among her favorites from the trip. June 23. 

My time in Ethiopia is now coming to an end! Reflecting on the three weeks I’ve spent here, I realize that I have learned so much – about Ethiopian culture and traditions and about the amazing and resilient spirit of the Ethiopian people, and also about a different way of life than I was used to in the United States.



There’s an abbreviation that our Ethiopian project manager Gashaw taught us… TIA, or this is Africa. It is meant to be an explanation for the unexplained, like the power randomly going out or sometimes not having wi-fi. People work on their own time and everyone takes their time at dinner and allows time for multiple jebena buna breaks (Gashaw specifically).


People are not as obsessed about managing every second of their time perfectly here like they are in the US. In the US we get so impatient when we have to wait for anything, but here the people are very patient and thankful for the blessings in their lives, instead of getting annoyed at the little things. Here, dinner may take an hour, or it make take three hours. When something would happen that made us “late” to getting to water projects, we just went with the flow and we still always made it to the projects and were able to see all the amazing work that Water to Thrive funded.


Speaking of time, again, my time is almost over here! It is amazing to think about how fast it all went. Before leaving, I thought that three weeks would go by slowly, but it has flown by. Overall, I am extremely thankful to have had this experience. I met so many wonderful people in the rural communities we visited throughout Ethiopia. I will always remember their hospitality and the warm welcomes they gave us. I will definitely remember the shocking things I saw on this trip, for example, when I watched a young girl collect dirty, bug-filled water to take home to drink. This is why we came, to help bring clean water to her community that can change her life.


I will remember all of the fun and silly memories I made on this trip with Kendall, Susanne and Gashaw (and all the funny videos Kendall and I took of Gashaw). Kendall and I especially became closer because we were roommates for a lot of the trip. I’m so thankful to have met her and spent this time with her. Now, I’m lucky to call Kendall a true friend.


Going to Ethiopia with Water to Thrive has been a life-changing experience in more than one way. I have learned so much about Ethiopia, the global water crisis, myself, friendship, patience, happiness, and love. I would recommend a vision trip not only to anyone who wants to learn more about the global water crisis first hand, but also to anyone who wants a new perspective on life. This trip has taught me more lessons than one.


Kendal reflects on visiting a special water project–the Mekele Fistula Hospital. June 24. 

Today we had the chance to visit several of our satellite clinic projects along with our hospital project. The health centers we visited each served over 47,000 people and each one only had around four beds.


It was crazy seeing the environments in which the women give birth – no running water, no air conditioning, dirty walls and floors. We got to meet and talk with a young lady who had given birth two hours before to a beautiful baby girl. She didn’t even look fazed. These women continue to amaze me with their strength.

Our hospital project also introduced me to even more strong women. It’s a hospital in Mekele sponsored by Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia, an organization that works specifically to provide care for obstetric fistula – a medical issue caused when there is a delay in the birth of a baby. To put it plainly, a lot of these women are so far from medical centers and help that they will remain in labor for extended periods – up to 7 days – waiting until they can get the help they need. This often times leads to stillborn babies and obstetric fistula – the creation of a hole causing them to continually leak liquids and feces.

The head nurse for the hospital was telling us about the societal implications of such an issue and I was extremely saddened by what these women and girls go through. Many times they become ostracized from society as they are deemed “unclean” and they are forced to live in the outskirts of the villages. Husbands will divorce them. Families will disown them. Churches won’t let them in. All because of a medical issue caused by lack of access to fast help.

The women who come to this hospital are given free access to the surgery necessary to repair the issue, and are allowed to stay with their children for several months. Not only is it an extremely painful surgery, but it’s also an extremely long recovery – one involving many weeks of physical therapy to correct the way they walk. While Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia has a hospital in Addis and five regional hospitals, there is a real shortage of care throughout Water to Thrive’s service area. In fact, in Uganda, there is another obstetric hospital just being completed, the Terrewode Women’s Community Hospital, that has been a project spearheaded by Water to Thrive board member Lynne Dobson. It is incredible that so few facilities exist to help the women in need, but the help that is given is so necessary and so appreciated!


If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. These women are so very strong. If you’ve never heard of obstetric fistula, I encourage you to look it up and educate yourself – 1.6 out of every 1000 women in Ethiopia will have obstetric fistula as a result of giving birth. And there are hundreds of thousands of women giving birth yearly.



We asked our intern Madison to write something about what she experienced after she got home from her several weeks in Ethiopia. At the end of her post, we’ve included a gallery of some of her favorite photos from her trip.

I have been home for almost a week now from Ethiopia – which is crazy! I wanted to talk a little bit about the reverse culture shock I experienced since returning home to the US.

The other day I told a friend “It’s been weird to get back into first-world living.” This is not a statement I thought I would ever say, having lived in a first-world country my whole life.

After being in Ethiopia for three weeks I got used to the more relaxed way of life there. In Ethiopia I wasn’t worried about not having wi-fi or even not having a hot shower because sometimes that’s just the way it was. And the people we visited in the rural villages didn’t have hot showers, toilets, cars, phones and especially not wi-fi, so how could I complain?

But back here in the U.S., I found myself back in a world engulfed by the internet, social media, and the need to always be doing something exciting (or to always appear to be doing something exciting for the followers).

Life in Ethiopia was so much simpler for me in that way. I have noticed that as I have been back in the US, I am taken back into the world of constantly checking my email, spending time on my phone and connecting less on a face-to-face level with the people around me.

Connection is one thing that Ethiopians do very well. Everyone greets each other with a smile, wave and “salam.” Meals are shared between people and everyone digs into the food together. Meal time can take hours because they allow time for good conversation throughout the meal. When someone dies in a community, the whole community, and I mean basically every person in the community, attends the funeral out of respect, even if they didn’t personally know the person who passed away. Everyone attends church and market days together. The community members take care of each other.

Back in the US, people keep to themselves more. I definitely miss being greeted by the bright, smiling faces of kids, who seemed to greet me everywhere I went in Ethiopia. Another thing that I have experienced could be called a sense of “first-world guilt.” I am back in the U.S. where I have a big comfortable bed, a nice apartment, a car, and access to the internet, health care, and most importantly, to clean water. I can turn on the tap water at home or at work and get clean water. I can go into any Starbucks and get clean water to drink (for free).

A couple of days ago my kitchen sink started spewing dirty water. I called a maintenance person who came and checked it out and then ran the water until it became clear again. He also attached a Brita filter to the faucet. It was an inconvenience to not be able to do the dishes that day, but then I thought about how many of the people we visited in Ethiopia had to deal with this problem every day (and they didn’t have a Starbucks to go to if they wanted a bottle of clean water).

This past weekend, I went out to eat and did some shopping and I couldn’t stop thinking about myself and all of these other people at the mall who were spending money, eating ice cream and walking around without a care in the world, when people in Ethiopia are walking miles a day to get dirty water and dying of waterborne diseases.

I think that this feeling is something that is going to stick with me. But this feeling is not necessarily a bad thing. This feeling will be a constant reminder to me to be thankful for all the privileges I have. More importantly, it will be a reminder that I have a responsibility to help those who are less fortunate than me, and that is exactly what I intend to do in my career.