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Ethiopia: the hunger has never gone away



Date Published: {J}

By Ronan Scully

‘I seek not aid, nor seek I gifts. I ask not for bounty nor ask for riches. I call for compassion. I call for care. I call for insight. I call for awareness. I call for thoughtfulness. I call for consciousness. I call for apprehension. I call for consideration. I call for recognition. I call for respect. I call for sanity. I call for real hope. All for our world and its children.’ (A Poem by Someone who can see and cares)


Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest independent country and, with the exception of a five-year occupation by Mussolini’s Italy, avoided colonisation. Unfortunately best known to many for its droughts and conflict, Ethiopia is surprisingly mountainous and lush. Known as the ceiling of Africa, two-thirds of the country sits on a plateau between 6,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level.

Throughout history this rugged terrain shielded Ethiopia from outside influence. Amharic is Ethiopia’s official language, but roughly 70 different other languages and 200 dialects are spoken. The country has its own alphabet, one of only 13 in the world, and its own calendar – this year is 2002 in Ethiopia.

Reading some of the stark facts about Ethiopia is depressing; approximately 15 per cent of the population of Ethiopia is concentrated in urban centers, while 85 per cent of the 80 million populations reside in rural communities. With such a significant portion of the population dependent on rain-fed subsistence agriculture, which accounts for approximately 42.1 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product, the majority of Ethiopians are vulnerable to climatic shifts.

The country is one of the poorest in the world with approximately 44 per cent of the population living in extreme poverty; the people have a life expectancy of 49 years; the infant mortality rate is about 20 per cent, and over three quarters of the population live on less than a euro a day, a crushing poverty of such depth that we in Ireland could not even imagine.

But to witness it, as I just did recently, is enough to make you weep. There are twice as many Ethiopians hungry today as there were during the 1984 famine when one million people starved. This uneasy truth means that, every year, up to eight million people, twice the population of Ireland is starving and in need of some form of food subsistence.

Ever since I saw the BBC’s Michael Buerk’s report on the famine and heard Bob Geldof and GOAL’s John O’Shea shouting at the tops of their voices for the international community to wake up to the catastrophe there, I have wanted to work in Africa, especially in Ethiopia. Now, over 25 years later, having spent many years working for GOAL both at home and in the developing world, I recently got the chance to visit Ethiopia again for a fourth time for work and personal reasons.

Arriving in the region of Borena and Awassa after a 24-hour air and road trip was surreal. I had viewed photographs and read reports before I arrived there. This was not a photograph or a dream. I really had arrived in Ethiopia. In the span of two days travel I had left behind my family and friends and comforts of the Emerald Isle and travelled, what felt like, half way around the world.

It is only through the randomness of birth that I am Irish; I could easily have been Ethiopian (actually my daughter is a beautiful Ethiopian angel). My heritage was not my choice, but rather than focusing on our differences, meeting these people and children in Ethiopia has made me realise how alike we are. We breathe the same air. We walk the same way. Our spirits need love and acceptance. Our bodies need food, water and sleep. We share the same humanity. We are really not so different.

The facts of life don’t make for good reading as regards life in Ethiopia:

More than 80,000 children die from malaria each year yet untreated mosquito nets cost just €2 and treated mosquito nets cost only €5. Unemployment rests at around 80 per cent. Most of the 80 million people who live in Ethiopia survive on less than €1 a day. There are large amounts of orphans and street children – witnessing this, as I said before, is enough to make you weep.

HIV and AIDS is one of the contributing factors to why so many children live on the streets. As parents die and relatives prove either unable or unwilling to provide care, children are left to fend for themselves. Some street children are involved in high levels of sexual activity and, as the young girls rescued by GOAL have told us, many are raped and abused at the hands of older street children and men, putting them at risk of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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