In Addis Ababa, my guide is Nico, who works for DAI doing urban farming throughout Ethiopia, contracted by USAID. They work almost entirely with populations who are affected by HIV/AIDS. Studies show that the nutrients you get from vegetables improve the efficacy of the antiretroviral drugs that HIV-positive people take to avoid getting AIDS. Studies also show that overall health improves when people’s diets include regular servings of fruits and vegetables. What studies have a harder time showing is the intangibles, how growing your own food as part of a community of fellow farmers improves your quality of life and your mental health. But of course the intangibles are all that people talk about. One woman said that before she joined the project, she rarely left her home. Now she and her daughter come to work their plot together and she grows enough to feed herself and her children and sell the surplus. Sometimes American tax dollars are well-spent after all.
DAI also runs numerous school-gardening projects. At one of them I met Waldemariam. His father was killed when he was young, and his mother sent him to the capital for school from the village where he was born. After a time working as a servant and a brief period on the streets, he found a more stable home and a mentor who helped him to enter school. At his high school he became involved in urban farming. Many of the students who initially signed up for the program dropped out over time, but Waldemariam showed the patience and dedication required to succeed as an urban farmer. One of the first things he bought with the money he made selling vegetables was a flashlight and a supply of batteries, so that he could continue studying after dark; the family with whom he was staying were unable to afford electricity after dark, which in Addis is around 6:30 PM all year. He studied like this, by flashlight, for two years after his father passed away, until recently when he was able to move in with neighbors who have electricity. Now 17, his dream is to become a doctor, and his physics teacher told me he has what it takes to make it: this term he earned a 3.7 GPA and received one of the only A’s in physics.
Thanks much to Nico, Cherinet Gidi of The Social Welfare Development Association and the rest of the crew who helped out with the shoot in Addis! And thanks especially to Weldemariam for sharing his story with me.
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