Prosperity Gardens’ Nicole Bridges in Ethiopia

On a cold day in January, I set out for a country I knew little about, excited for what was to come. As a former Peace Corps volunteer, I have worked and traveled throughout many parts of Africa, but had never landed in Ethiopia. I was immediately impressed by the size of the capital city, people and animals everywhere, a constant traffic jam in the streets. Just as quickly as I arrived in the capital of Addis Ababa, I was escorted to my assignment post in Kofelle, Ethiopia, about five hours south. The commute was a feast for the eyes. Fruit and vegetable markets littered the roadside. We speedily passed horses, donkeys and cattle. The women in their brightly colored  hijabs accentuated against the brown, dry landscape of the bush behind them. Small mud and dung constructed huts are strewn across the terrain, children waving while their animals graze in the fields.  Many of these scenes are familiar but the world around me is clearly foreign.

My first day at the offices in Kofelle felt a little bit like the first day of school, nervous, but excited. My co-workers were welcoming, supportive and friendly. I worked with a small group of CRS(Catholic Relief Services) employees. I was technically a CRS volunteer, appointed to work with a local women’s co-operative group on vegetable farming and post-harvest loss technology. I spent three weeks researching, observing and planning on behalf of my work at University of Illinois Extension related to post-harvest loss prevention.  I also delivered several classroom and hands-on workshops at the facility. The women came willing to learn and work, engaged in our discussions. Each workshop closed with traditional Ethiopian coffee and biscuits, my favorite part. We were able to work together and discuss the challenges facing the region. The main challenge they identified was the cost of seed being too high for their families to afford, followed by pest and disease damage to their plants. In response to these problems, I was able to resource several hundred dollars, donated through my family, to buy seeds for 35 members of the group. They were each given two packs of seed to practice inter-cropping on their own farms, a concept I introduced during our trainings. I also held trainings related to organic pest management, specifically addressing issues related to their cabbage crop. Ethiopia has a very diverse and rich agricultural industry and it was exciting to observe and learn more.

In addition to the work, I enjoyed the sites and sounds of Ethiopia, and the food too! I ate several times at a local restraunt that served the best njira and veggies, even though there happened to be a resident rat that scittered along the walls. Every meal was followed by a delicious coffee, prepared for you on site in a small outdoor makesift coffee house. I enjoyed seeing their weekly ‘farmers market’, very different from anything at home. Need a horse, some soap? A goat, cabbage, a new scarf perhaps? You could literallly buy anything there needed for daily life, what a site.

Each day was a day of discovery, and I will cherish these memories. Ethiopia now has a place in my heart right next to Zambia and Champaign/Urbana.

Planting in Unison

Planting in Unison