When my family and I first went to Ethiopia on a volunteer trip five years ago, it opened our eyes to a level of poverty we'd never seen.
Reading about indigence in Africa is nothing like experiencing it first hand - and we could not have imagined or appreciated the level of utter poverty had we not seen it and lived among it ourselves. It was shocking - families en masse living in one-room mud huts with no running water, no toilets, no clean drinking water, not enough food, and no access to medical care. When we returned home that Summer, we could not leave what we'd seen behind.The (very) short version of this story is that since that trip, we've returned (in different combinations of family members) to the village of Gondar, Ethiopia over ten times, and humanitarian relief work there has become a central focus of our family's life.
My husband is a physician and since that initial trip we've been able to set up and fundraise for several medical care programs in Gondar, Ethiopia. Two years ago we assisted hands-on with a study that demonstrated that a significant percent of the children under age five in Gondar suffer from severe malnutrition - at twice the rate even of children overall in Ethiopia of the same age group. Because of this, we were able to secure grants for a feeding program. The program currently feeds 350 children aged 0-5 one stable meal per day, and more recently we added a separate program to feed Nursing Mothers. These mothers walk long distances with a nursling on their back and most of them with older children in tow, to get their midday meal.
On our most recent trip earlier this year, we spent a day helping cook and serve the food to the children and nursing moms. It was an emotional experience to see it in action, and our trips there are always a reminder of how different our lives are here in the "first world." Back at home we can sometimes take it for granted that we have access to healthy food while pregnant or nursing, can get pre and post-natal care, can call a doctor when we are sick. It has been a gift to be part of this program, which we are continuing to grow, so that as many nursing moms, children, families, and elders have at least their basic needs met. For now, with Covid-19 our trips there have been put on hold, but we look forward to returning soon, and we continue to be involved from afar.
I hope you and your family are managing well in these unusual times - here's to good health for everyone.
Elisa Minsk Hartstein,
Founder and President, Milk Nursingwear