Growing Faith

Growing Faith

An Ethiopian community boasts a fruitful land after the 1980s famine


n 1994, Awegechew Teshome was stunned to find a thriving forest in Alaba, a town south of Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa. 

“There was fog. The trees had already created a microclimate,” he says, recalling how much things had improved since his last visit seven years earlier. “People were getting lumber from the forest.”

In the mid-1980s – on the heels of a devastating famine in Ethiopia that claimed the lives of 1.2 million people – Awegechew helped lead reforestation efforts in Alaba. As a wildlife management specialist, he had a passion for working in the field and was eager to support the initiative. Today, that formerly eroded, arid land supports a thriving forest, which is now a powerful economic engine.

Canadian Baptists helped support the early work in Alaba. In response to the searing images of Ethiopia’s famine, Canadian Baptists gave to a relief fund through what was then called The Sharing Way. Although relief funds were collected through Baptist channels, we also partnered with other churches and organizations. As charter members of the newly formed Canadian Foodgrains Bank, we contributed to early shipments of food aid from this consortium of Canadian churches.

After the initial emergency response efforts in Ethiopia, the Foodgrains Bank partners invited Canadian Baptists to support a project that would make a difference in the long term. Led by Food for the Hungry and Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief, the project aimed to secure a better future by rebuilding the ecosystem and halting soil erosion. In exchange for grain, local Ethiopians prepared the ground, raised seedlings and planted trees.

Today, Alaba is well known among reforestation specialists. Its 500-hectrate forest is so valuable that the government created a non-profit organization to protect and manage it for the benefit of local communities.

According to a 2014 report commissioned by the Foodgrains Bank on food-for-work projects, the Alaba forest has had a major impact on the livelihoods in the communities. “Aside from supplying wood for home use and for sale, it has made significant contribution to community infrastructure … The protection of land has regenerated farmland around the forest. Overall, the long-term results of this project are impressive,” says the report.

The template for that impact came from Awegechew. When Food for the Hungry first recruited him to join their organization, he insisted on working in the field and not in the office. And when they assigned him to lead the reforestation efforts in Alaba, he immediately recognized the potential.

“Aside from supplying wood for home use and for sale, it has made significant contribution to community infrastructure … The protection of land has regenerated farmland around the forest.”

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Fall 2020

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In 1987, I met Awegechew in Alaba while monitoring how the funds of Canadian Baptists were being used. I was impressed, and my report was enthusiastic. But I had little idea how dramatic the change would be.

The next year, there came an opportunity to help Awegechew himself.

As leader of Food for the Hungry in Ethiopia at the time, Tom Fellows recognized Awegechew’s talent and saw he had potential for more. He also respected his hunger to learn and uphold the prerogatives and skills of traditional farmers.

Tom and his colleagues arranged for Awegechew to study at Carleton University in Ottawa. Through Baptist connections, he found a place to live with Art and Irene Scott. Now both deceased, the couple welcomed him into their home, and they became close friends. They also introduced him to Bethany Baptist Church, where he attended services regularly.

Pictured in 1987, Awegechew Teshome holds a cylinder of earth in Alaba, Ethiopia. The tubes carry seedlings of acacia, indigenous to Ethiopia, and Australian pine, introduced for its suitability and adaptability.

Awegechew earned a master’s degree in Geography and a PhD in Agroecology. His research among farmers in Ethiopia demonstrated the relevance of their centuries-old oral tradition – it carries specialized knowledge about using varieties of seeds and methods to manage a range of conditions and threats to crops and soil.

A man of deep faith, Awegechew has given himself and his knowledge to farmers around the world. After two years of working in Rome, Awegechew returned to Ottawa. Through an international development agency, he provided consultation to farm projects in more than 40 counties. He continues to update his research and is now recognized as a leading authority in his field.

More than three decades later, Awegechew remains humble about his achievements in Alaba: “This is my belief and this is my confession: God was using me.”

Larry Matthews administered and promoted international relief and development projects in the 1980s for the Canadian Baptist Federation, which later became a part of CBM.

2020-10-21T11:53:29-04:00Tags: , , |