An opening dinner at the Sheraton marked the official start of the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) Field trip, organized by the International Development Program (IDP) Committee of the Board (of which I am a member).
A two-hour morning briefing session for introducing and framing the study trip. Purpose of the Field Trip: to explore and evaluate the current IDP activities in Ethiopia, comprised primarily of Dr. Rick Hodes’ Spine and Heart program as well as a number of other ongoing and new projects in the areas of hygiene, clean water, pediatric outreach, a new Honey bee Centre for education and training of farmers, a Science and Technology Centre to encourage high school students to pursue such studies and careers, and support for “Women in self-employment” initiatives. The ultimate goal is to understand and evaluate our current and future activities in Ethiopia, with a view to sustainability and capacity building.
Following the Museum visit we observed Rick examining patients at a relatively new hospital called AaBET. One of the patients we saw was a little boy around 2 years old, accompanied by his mother; the toddler recently had both heart and cataract surgery in India. He was very happy and lively, and he felt like clapping his hands frequently in, what I believe, was a display of how happy he was - blind from birth, he could now see.
|Dr. Ibrahim (front left in picture)|
On the spine front, it is very encouraging that AaBET hospital appears to have been designated as the future site of a new spine centre of excellence in Addis intended to support Dr. Rick’s spine cases and to train and build capacity within Ethiopia to do more complex spine surgeries than currently possible. The very serious cases would still have to go to Ghana for a number of years. Chris, John and I did bump into visiting spine surgeon Dr. Kamal Ibrahim from Chicago, who brought a whole team with him to perform some spine surgeries and start the process of training some of the locals. We were able to hear Dr. Ibrahim’s vision for developing this spine centre over time.
We then had breakfast with introductions to the Gondar, Amhara region, and the IDP Chair also asked the two Vancouver spine surgeons accompanying me on the trip, Dr. Chris Reilly and Dr. John Street, to share their insights into spine disease and their observations of its manifestation in all the cases Rick is seeing; they also shared their observations as to the particular challenges Ethiopia presents in terms of building surgical capacity and the equal or greater goal of earlier detection and treatment.
After breakfast we toured Fasilidies Castle, “Africa’s only Camelot”. Chris, John and I had an abridged lunch as we rushed off to Gondar University Hospital on a parallel agenda to touch base with some of the senior surgical people regarding the Trauma care Partnership program established back in 2013 between UBC faculty of Medicine, Branch for International Surgery/VGH (as part of the 2012 “Bring Back Hope” initiative ). We hoped to also meet with some of the Pediatric outreach doctors to go over some of the issues in getting outreach into the vast network of villages for early detection of spine problems. We ended up going over thematter with Dr. Solomon, head of the surgery department. One major disappointment: the new Hospital that was well underway on my visit the end of 2012 had stalled just a few months short of completion, though I was assured more than once that the issue will be solved.
We then caught up with the group at the Gondar STEM Center (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) built and operated by JDC since 2014, where students attending after-school programs in laboratories presented their very impressive and sophisticated projects to us.
At the end of the day we made a brief visit to the construction site of the latest JDC project in sustainable development, the Woleko Ethiopian Honey Bee Centre. We distributed some colourful bee themed hats that were made by JDC board member Alan Rothenberg's son-in-law Kevin, who is in the hat making business.
That evening we enjoyed a traditional dinner and dancing at the Four Sisters restaurant.
Wednesday, November 11th
I was sorry that Chris and John couldn’t experience this day of rural exploration, but they had to leave early for home due to commitments. After breakfast we departed for a day in rural villages of the Gondar region. We first visited a village in the Dembia province with our partners from the Israeli non-profit NALA
piloting WASH (Water, Sanitation and Health) projects in rural Gondar.
Next we visited a rural school which I also visited on my last trip in 2012 – it was fun pulling out my computer and showing a number of the school children surrounding me pictures I took at the school 3 years ago and seeing their reaction as they recognized many of the faces.
After a picnic lunch stop en route -- consisting of boiled potatoes, eggs and a banana -- we made the long land cruiser trip over extreme terrain to the historic Jewish Beita Israel/Falasha village of Ambover. Now inhabited by others since the Jewish inhabitants abandoned the village decades ago to fulfill their traditional and religious yearning to get to Israel, Dr. Rick Hodes talked to us about the history of Ethiopian Jewry and their exodus to Israel in Operations Moses (1984) and Solomon (1991) and
JDC’s historic involvement.
|Dr. Sisay, Sam Amiel (JDC country|
head for Ethiopia, me in the middle,
Dr. Mensur in the right of the picture
Thursday, November 12th
|With my friend Alemu, senior JDC|
field staff in charge of Ethiopia
In the morning flew back to Addis and on our way from the airport stopped in at the Women in Self Employment (WISE) Centre, a leading NGO that is helping vulnerable women across Ethiopia and is a partner of JDC. I noticed that WISE has support from a number of Canadian philanthropic organizations and other international support. After learning about the program in some detail, we were able to buy different products produced by the women being assisted in developing sustainable cottage businesses.
Back at the Sheraton over lunch the group had a debriefing and sharing of thoughts and observations on what we have seen and what our future direction and strategies should be.
Later, we had a special closing dinner at the home and gallery of talented Ethiopian artist Fikru Gebramariam, who had returned
|Fikru showing us his painting in|
his second floor studio
As we arrived by bus, his lovely villa that he personally designed and built appeared like an Oasis in the outskirts of Addis and we were warmly greeted by him and his lovely girlfriend.
We were treated to seeing many of his paintings completed or underway in his home art studio, and enjoyed an excellent buffet dinner well hosted by friendly staff.
That night or the next day most of the members of the JDC Field trip departed for home. As is usually the case on such trips, I enjoyed getting to meet a number of new people and establish some common bonds with them, as well as strengthen relationships with many of the others that I already knew to varying degrees.
But I still had the remaining three days I set aside in anticipation of revisiting Tesfaye’s village with him and Fanteye (as recounted in my post Tesfaye's Village Revisited Nov. 2015 ).