Gordon Janzen (pictured fourth from right, light beige shirt) with participants of the Ethiopia learning tour, which included 12 Foodgrains Bank supporters from across Canada and 3 staff members.
Gordon Janzen is the Manitoba regional representative for Canadian Foodgrains Bank. In February, he travelled with a group of supporters from across Canada to Ethiopia to visit Foodgrains Bank projects and partners, and learn firsthand about how their fundraising efforts in Canada contribute to ending hunger.
As the Foodgrains Bank regional representative in Manitoba, I am blessed to regularly interact with generous Manitobans who are committed and excited about being part of ending global hunger.
I’ve encountered Foodgrains Bank projects before, while working for Mennonite Central Committee in India in the 1980s, but this trip was my first time seeing Foodgrains Bank projects in Ethiopia.
My hope was to meet people being helped through the Foodgrains Bank, gain new insights about hunger issues and learn more about the ways we can respond together, both in Canada and in Ethiopia.
I learned that Ethiopia is a country of great diversity in geography and ecosystems, and rich in history, culture, and people of faith. In the northern part of the country, however, I was struck by the very dry conditions because of prolonged drought.
It was a bit surprising to me, and different from other countries I’ve visited, to see the limited amount of mechanization used by farmers who rely mostly on animal traction and hand cultivation.
I saw lots of encouraging things, though.
We visited three irrigation projects that have changed fields that were once dry and rocky into fertile, productive land.
It meant that instead of being limited to one rainfed grain crop, farmers are now able to produce two, and sometimes three, high value vegetable crops each year. For the farmers tending the land, this change is transformational.
It was farmers such as these who provided me with my most profound learning.
We met Kibretu Ayalew, a young farmer from one of 98 farming households who are now cultivating 60 hectares of irrigated fields near the village of Medaghe.
Kibretu proudly showed us his green field of cabbage, onion and corn which contrasts dramatically with the adjacent dry and rocky fields. Increased vegetable production has meant his household has improved their diet. Although Kibretu faces some challenges in getting his high value vegetable crop to market, he is already realizing much better income than before the irrigation.
Kibretu Ayalew, a farmer from the village of Madaghe, now produces two high value vegetable crops per year following the completion of a 2.5 km irrigation canal.
Not all the projects we visited were specifically agriculture related.
In the Amhara region, we visited a project of Foodgrains Bank member World Renew providing basic food rations to 4,500 children who have lost one or both parents, often as a result of HIV/AIDS.
There was so much appreciation from community members for the way this project improves the lives of the most disadvantaged children.
It was evident, however, that a big reason for the project’s success was the determination of young people in the program to give back and make the most of the opportunities that they were given.
One young man who stands out in my mind is Mogas.
Mogas lost both his parents as a baby, and has been raised by his grandmother. He is thankful to have been part of the project for six years, and is determined to give back. He shared that his goal is to graduate from high school this year and go to medical college. He wants to serve as a doctor in his home village.
Our time in Ethiopia was brief, but participants in our learning tour have all returned to Canada with a new appreciation for the people of Ethiopia and our Foodgrains Bank partners there.
We also have a renewed appreciation for the abundance of our land. The most lasting impressions for me, however, are the memories of people who take a small bit of help, and with their own abilities and determination, turn it into a life-changing benefit for their community.
The images of land and lives changed in Ethiopia will continue to motivate me as I work with Foodgrains Bank supporters in Manitoba.