Ashhurst man and runaway provide hand up to Ethiopian village
As he read primary school books under streetlights, runaway Amlaku Teshome's hope to bring his Ethiopian village out of poverty must have seemed like a dream.
Now his hard work has introduced irrigation and new crops and begun to lift the 70 families out of subsistence poverty – all thanks to a chance encounter.
Teshome ran away from his village Bargata to go to school when he was about 12 – no-one is exactly sure of his age.
He learned how to live and sleep on the streets from other children and went to school part time.
Sometimes he showed tourists around medieval churches carved from stone near the town of Lalibela, and in 2009, he told Ashhurst tourist Ric Foxley of his dreams and asked for help.
Foxley had worked for many years with World Vision and knew what sort of work would make a difference.
He rounded up "family, friends, and 'uncle Tom Cobly and all'", and established Bricks for Life to cover Teshome's living costs to got to university in Ethiopia.
Then Teshome presented another unexpected proposition – a detailed plan to irrigate in his village during the dry season and to introduce a crucial second crop. "I just think the whole thing is extraordinary. I never went looking for this. It just landed in our laps," Foxley said.
Back home, Teshome had a hard job convincing his village, even spending two days in jail while the heavy equipment he had brought was investigated. Then the first lush harvest of wheat was ready while the other fields were dust and food supplies were low.
However, it was now clear the stream could not provide enough water to irrigate all the fields. So he built a dam and a network of 50 trickle canals. During the last two years, he introduced new crops the villagers grow on the canal boundaries – apples, oranges, carrots, cabbage and coffee.
"It's brought a big difference. They are able now to have food when there's shortages and to sell it to buy clothes," Teshome said.
He also organised for all 110 women in the village to have reusable cloth sanitary pads and the purchase of a grain mill, built a clean water tank for the village, provided carts to help transport water long distances, and teaches agricultural techniques.
He also supported himself through a diploma in tourism and has become a full-time guide to earn a living.
Bricks for Life is firmly Manawatu based and Foxley has seen the transformation from subsistence poverty first hand. He now hopes to raise funds to buy more seed and build a foot bridge across the river.
Teshome was gifted a trip to New Zealand to meet his supporters and he and Foxley will speak at Saint Mary Magdalene's church in Ashhurst on Thursday 13 April at 7.30pm, or on Easter Monday at St Peter's hall Ruahine St, Palmerston North, at 7.30pm.
More information about the work can be found at bricks.org.nz/