Posts tagged ‘tigray’

Videos from HEW training

Couple of short videos from our recent HEW training sessions:

Health Extension Worker technical training

Last week I spent several days visiting the training Araya and Florida are running to show the groups of Health Extension Workers how they can use smartphones for data collection.

We first visited a group in Adi Gudem (about 30km south of Mekelle), they’ve had the phones for several weeks now, so are already familiar with them. The training revolved around them using an updated client application (we’ve also changed the server software to use OpenDataKit, but this ought to be invisible to the end users) and the new ante-natal care protocols that we’ve developed over the last few weeks. For the second group in Wukro (about 40km north of Mekelle), this was their first training session, so they’d not used the phones at all before.

All seemed to go well, we had a couple of technical issues that I need to look at this week – but this is to be expected given that we’re still in the technical feasibility stage, we won’t be starting the intervention study until early next year. One of the issues we’re still finding is the level of English of the HEWs – it seems likely that we’ll need to provide the protocol questions in both English and Tigrinyan.

Some photos from the training sessions (plus a few other pics):

Settling in Spain

Has now been a couple of weeks since I arrived in Spain and started to get settled in properly. Although it’s been a relatively short time, I’ve met up with people I knew from both the Open University and from Mekelle. In both cases it’s just been coincidence they’ve been here. I’ve also had chance to visit a few places, to see Guernica at the Reine Sofia museum and to spend a weekend in Salamanca. Strangely most of the people I’ve been mixing with so far have been either Ethiopian (we now have 5 students from Mekelle in Alcala) or Romanian masters students studying Spanish to Romanian translation.

in Salamanca

In sorting out a new bank account I was surprised to find that my signature was required even more times than when I open an account in Ethiopia, quite impressive given that the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia needed my signature more than 12 times.

Much of what I’ve been working on over the past couple of weeks has been about how we can offer out Basic Certificate in Online in Education to more universities and organisations in Ethiopia. We’re currently planning to give the training and certification to members of the eCompetence Centre teams, hopefully we’ll be starting the initial face to face sessions in February or March next year – but dates and location aren’t yet fixed.

I’ve been working with a team of student developers in the Engineering Faculty in Alcala, who are starting to develop a virtual keyboard to enable the input of Ge’ez characters into Android. We’re also looking at how to translate some of the core applications and interface elements of Android into Tigrinyan and Amharic. Enabling the input in local languages and scripts should help once we start to develop applications and training to be used by the Health Extension Workers (HEWs).

Although I’ve found out that Ministry of Education has stipulated that all post-secondary education and training must be given and tested in English, there will be some way to go before the HEWs have the level of English necessary for this. Although I can understand the reasons for using a single language (rather than trying to give training in all the possible local languages), it would appear to me that by first needing to raise the English levels would delay the effects of any advances that can be made in improving the healthcare delivery.

Abi Adi & Abba Yohanni Church

Abba Yohanni rock church (just visible halfway up the rock face)

This weekend, Martin, Jaime, Stefan (French engineer from the wind farm project) and I went over to stay at the new lodge in Abi Adi, the Maylomin Botanical Garden Lodge. It’s still in the process of opening – they only have 9 beds so far in 5 separate lodges, built in a traditional south Ethiopian style. They’ve got big plans for the rest of the lodge, new lodge buildings in other Ethiopian building styles, plus plans for a swimming pool and even an airport – but I suspect this is a little way off yet.

Maylomin Botanical Garden Lodge

On Saturday early evening, Welday, the lodge manager, took us for a walk though the mountains to see the sunset, then arrive at the Maylomin cafe (other side of town where Andy and Crissy had a barbecue and party for the college staff back in November 2008).

Sunset over Abi Adi

On Sunday morning, with the two new VSO volunteers at the teacher training college, we took a trip out to visit Abba Yohanni rock church. Set midway up a rock face, it’s just about accessible by a step climb on the western side, followed by walk through tunnels carved into the rock, ending with a tiptoe along a narrow ledge with a steep drop, to access the church.

Drinking tilla

End of tunnel and ledge to access church

Despite 2 flat tyres and camel trains blocking the road on the way back, it was great to get out and about for the weekend – especially to visit some places I’ve either not been before or haven’t been for a long time.

Camel traffic jam

Mountains in Maychew

Me and Getachew

After 18 months, I finally managed a visit down to Maychew – less than 3 hours by bus south of Mekelle. There have been VSO volunteers working at the Technical College there all this time, but usually I see them fairly regularly as they come up to Mekelle on way to airport or just for shopping in the ‘big city’.

Apart from the fact I’d never been before, the other reason to visit was to climb one of the hills around the town. So Mike, Getachew and I ll got up far too early for a Sunday morning (6am) for the walk up Bekura.

View of Maychew from Bekura

It took us about two and a half hours to get to the top (around 3100m), making our own path up. There is a path but its very long so we decided to take the short steep route instead.

Maychew is known for being where the Italians finally defeated the Ethiopians in 1936 and there was lots of fighting in the hills around here during the TPLF fight against the Derg in the 70’s and 80’s. Because of this you still need to be a little careful where you go walking around Maychew, there are still mines and other unexploded munitions – we saw plenty of (used) shell casings on our walk up, where the farmers had ploughed, but Bekura is considered free from mines unlike some of the other nearby hills.

Whilst in Maychew I was hoping that I’d be able to get shower – we haven’t had any running water at home for more than two weeks – our water meter was taken away by the water board for repair and still hasn’t been returned. Our enormous collection of buckets and water bottles have kept us going, but now we’re even starting to empty these out. Unfortunately, no luck getting a shower in Maychew, the water pressure was too low during the my stay – so looks like I may have to wait until I’m in Addis next week. I will make sure I definitely get a shower before I fly home 🙂

35 Years of the TPLF

Over the last week, Mekelle has undergone a bit of a facelift, repainting, rubbish collected and flags put up, all in preparation for the celebration of 35 years of the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF). The road near our house was never quite tarmaced in time, but no-one seems too bothered. Town has been full of federal police, with small celebrations and events happening each day this week.

But today is the big day, the fields behind the Hawelti monument are full of people, most of the town and thousands of people from Tigray and further afield have arrived for a day of speeches. People began arriving last night and stayed up overnight – a huge firework display at midnight then today there is due to be a speech from the Prime Minister.

I’ve been up there this morning already to see what was happening, there doesn’t seem to be any schedule and I’m not too keen on spending all day in the sun listening to political propaganda speeches in a language I don’t understand. Fortunately our house is close enough that I’ll hear if anything significant starts to happen and can then take walk up. I’ll update this posting if there much else to report during the rest of the day.

A weekend in Gheralta

Last weekend had my second stay at the Gheralta Lodge, about two hours north of Mekelle. Last time I went was way back in December 2008. Out of the 10 of us we had 9 nationalities, with only Martin and I being from the same country, the rest from India, Pakistan, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Ethiopia and US.

On the Saturday afternoon we played rounders, using the bat and ball which have been sat at the back of my wardrobe for the past 18 months. There wasn’t quite enough of us to make up 2 teams, so we ended up making a cross between rounders and cricket which seemed to work after a few ‘discussions’ about what the rules should be (and rule changes half way through the game).

On Sunday morning, some of us stayed around the lodge playing frisbee and reading, whilst the rest went to visit one of th nearby rock churches. Those who had gone to the churches ha a hard time with the local ‘guide’ and priest. The cost of visiting the churches here has gone up to 100 birr, per person per church, up form 50 birr last year and 20 a couple of years ago. On top of this there are now ‘official’ guides who will charge 150 birr, then another fee just for climbing the mountain (even if you don’t use a guide or go in a church), then a final (variable) fee to get the priest to unlock the church door. All these charges and arguments about how much should be paid always spoil any visit and don’t encourage you to visit again, or recommend particular places to others.

So in the end I was quite pleased I didn’t bother with the church visit – it was one I’d seen before anyway – but it was great to get away from Mekelle, even if it was just overnight.

(l-r) Claudia, Freweini, Mali, Sana and Bea

Debre Damo

IMG_1305For the weekend after the training week the university lent us a driver and car to head over to Axum, so I could show Mike and Jaime some of the tourist attractions in Tigray. On Saturday morning we drove over to Axum and spent the afternoon seeing a few of the sights there – although I’ve now been several times, I’m still not a very good guide and have to make up most of the history (though I’m sure this is what most of the local guides do too!)

On Sunday morning we set off relatively early to go to the Debre Damo monastery, famous for being only accessible by climbing up a 20 metre rope and for only allowing male visitors, women (and female animals) are banned from the monastery and neighbouring village.

We arrived shortly after 2 coaches had arrived from Addis for a funeral. One of their relatives had asked to be buried at Debre Damo, but as the ceremony was at the monastery all the women who had come had to sit around at the base to wait to be driven back to Addis. Everything needed by the village (of around 400 people), including food, is hauled up by rope, so we can only assume this was also the way the body had been taken up. Though fortunately we’d arrived too late to see this.

When it came to our turn for climbing up, we were given the option of having a safety rope, although many of the locals just climb straight up. The impression given by the safety rope is that several people are a the top pulling you up, or a winch. However actually arriving at the top, you find it’s an old priest and couple of small children using a leather rope, thin and stitched together in places, which is preventing a fall. This doesn’t exactly inspire confidence for the return trip, which must be done by the same route.

There is a video of my descent, I’ll post the YouTube link soon, in the meantime, here are a few pictures:

Debre Damo from a distance

Debre Damo from a distance


View out over to Eritrea

View out over to Eritrea


Tsega, our driver

Tsega, our driver


With no safety rope

With no safety rope


IMG_1329

Another quiet weekend…!


It’s not every Sunday evening you spend in a bar eating goat and drinking neat gin with the local chief of police whilst watching “ultimate fighting” on satellite TV.

So basically another normal weekend in Ethiopia. The rest of the weekend was only slightly less eventful. Had an early Christmas meal up at the Gheralta Lodge, near where I went up to the rock churches a few weeks ago. We climbed up to another rock church and this time we actually managed to get in, though this might have been to do with the fact that we went to pick up the priest from home and gave him a lift home.

Corinna and Tina, who’d arranged the weekend, wouldn’t let us get away with just visiting another rock church despite Guh church requiring scrambling and free climbing up a few hundred metres – certainly not one for anyone suffering vertigo. To make the weekend more fun we had a checklist to complete…

  1. Find the local village chairman and take a little film with a short intervew
  2. Take photo of one team member on a donkey
  3. Take photos of all team members drinking tilla
  4. Rebuild and Ethiopian symbol with human bodies (build in local people)
  5. Dress 2 team members in local clothes and take pictures
  6. Find the local water well and bring a sample
  7. Bring something personal from the priest of the church
  8. Take photo of the team with an many animals as possible
  9. Sing a simple song with groups of locals and film it

Despite only setting off at 4pm, and it gets dark at 6pm we managed to complete the entire list as well as visiting the church, although we weren’t back to the lodge until well after dark – Prem and Corinna had driven out to find us, thinking that we’d broken down or got lost. We arrived back in time for dinner at the lodge, four courses followed a sheep bbq, a few bottles of wine and carrot cake.

Monday evening has been relatively quiet – a few drinks with a colleague from work, whose friend wanted me to find him a wife in the UK!