How One Group Is Improving Life in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia

How One Group Is Improving Life in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia


ethiopiaIn the 1980s, images of famine in Ethiopia struck a chord with a woman who lived in Austin, Texas. Almost 10 years later, after Donna Berber had married and had three sons, she met a friend in the grocery store who recently had adopted two girls from Ethiopia. As they talked, Donna’s passion to help people in Ethiopia who were suffering was reignited.

“I knew there was something more to my life,” Berber said on her website. “I was just so comfortably numb that I needed space enough to hear my calling. It has always been about Ethiopia, I just needed to remember.”

She founded A Glimmer of Hope, a nonprofit organization, and in 2000 she and her family donated $250,000 to their work. Donna then visited Ethiopia and was moved by the dignity of the people she met despite their great suffering and extreme poverty. Her passion for helping people in need coupled with her husband Phillip Berber’s business know-how resulted in a large endowment that they now use to fund their work in Ethiopia.

A Glimmer of Hope continues to grow, increasing its donor base and its partnerships with local organizations in Ethiopia. Although Berber’s focus began on helping women and children, A Glimmer of Hope also provides education, medical care, microfinance loans, and access to clean water to people in rural villages. The organization is assisted by Ethiopian development organizations, such as the Relief Society of Tigray (REST) and the Tigray Development Association, which provide local expertise and help A Glimmer of Hope implement its projects.

The organization has initiated projects all over, including three in the Tigray region.

Senale Village

In Senale Village, which is located in the remote mountains, people have struggled for decades to survive in desolate and unforgiving terrain. Their main source of income is agriculture, growing crops such as lettuce, cabbage, and teff. They also raise animals like cows, camels, and donkeys.

A Glimmer of Hope began working in Senale in 2010. One of the most immediate needs was clean water, as women and children hiked for hours on treacherous mountain trails to find water that often wasn’t clean. The community also needed a health clinic to care for those who became sick after drinking local water and villagers who struggled with other diseases and illnesses. Further, Senale needed new schools, as children were unmotivated to attended classes in the small, dimly lit stick huts that served as schools. In 2011, Glimmer began providing health clinics, schools, and water projects for the village’s 13,000 residents.

Glimmer moved into action again in early 2016, when the Tigray region suffered from a serious drought. Glimmer started food programs at 13 schools, including some in Senale, delivering grain to more than 8,600 children and their families. Because of the food program, children have been able to stay in school and continue learning rather than dropping out to help their families with work.

Gonok Village

ethiopiaLike the Senale villagers, the residents of Gonok in the southern tip of the Tigray region have no water source and must walk miles every day to bring water to the village. Gonok women and girls travel through a deep gorge to reach a stream that supplies their water, which is dirty from animal waste. Glimmer learned that a clean drinking water source would allow children to attend school rather than spending time fetching water and would improve villagers’ health.

Glimmer found that children met for school under trees or in overcrowded, poorly constructed classrooms that were not conducive to learning. The village also desperately needed clean health care facilities with adequate medical equipment.

In 2014, Glimmer initiated a deep borehole well project in Gonok with the support of development partners and the village. The local community agreed to give a monthly financial contribution for the well’s upkeep, and community members provided supplies and labor. The local government committed to regularly checking on the well and providing support for repairs. In late 2015, villagers were digging trenches for pipes and gathering large rocks that will be used in the construction of the reservoir. Local residents had also contributed almost $300 toward the project.

Villages of AdiKeyh

In AdiKeyh, a series of farming villages of 22,000 people located between rocky mountains, the long dry seasons can make earning a livelihood difficult. Residents raise tomatoes, cabbage, avocados, and apples and have cows and oxen for plowing. However, it can be hard to keep animals and crops alive during dry seasons.

Glimmer has focused much of its work in AdiKeyh on building a school. A series of buildings now make up a school campus, attended by more than 700 students—40 percent more than attended at its opening. The improved teacher housing has made the school more attractive to potential teachers, and recently five people applied for the school principal job. The school has received ongoing support from the local residents, which has built retaining walls around the school to keep flooding at bay. The community has also hired a librarian to open the library on weekends for teachers and students.