Famine fighters

Lifestyle/Technology | Elderly couple bring relief to their homeland

Issue: "Summer of '68," Aug. 9, 2008

Drought in Ethiopia has aid workers there fearing a repeat of the human suffering brought about by the 1984 famine, which led to more than 1 million deaths. The Christian Science Monitor reported recently that about 10 million Ethiopians (12 percent of the population) need emergency food aid-but the increase in prices makes that food even more expensive.

Sadly, dealing with a food crisis is nothing new for Marta Gabre-Tsadick, the 75-year-old founder of Project Mercy in Yetabon, Ethiopia. Just as she was in 1984, Marta is once again in the United States to raise awareness, collect donations, and expedite a shipment of vitamin-fortified atmit, a thin gruel made of oatmeal, powdered milk, and powdered sugar. It's a life-saving version of a traditional meal that Marta developed with the help of Indiana University in 1984, during the last terrible famine.

Although Marta was born in Ethiopia and was the first woman to become a member of that country's senate, she and her husband Demeke Tekle-Wold fled from the communists in 1975. They settled first in Kenya and then Greece before coming to the United States, where they and their children eventually earned citizenship. But even when they were in the United States, Marta missed "the trees, the people, and the landscape" of her native land, which she calls "God's creation."

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While they were still refugees, Marta and her husband established Project Mercy in 1977 to help other refugees. For years they had to be satisfied with providing help long distance. But when the Communist government fell in 1991, Marta returned to Ethiopia while Deme stayed in the United States to run his businesses, which provided resources for their Ethiopian relief projects.

Marta's family came from Yetabon, a two-hour car ride south of Addis Ababa. Originally when she returned to Ethiopia, it was to an area southwest of Yetabon, near the border with Southern Sudan. She found no one to work with there, but "the people in this area knew the work we'd done"-so Project Mercy came to Yetabon.

Marta began by asking the people what they needed. "We need a clinic and a school," they said-so Project Mercy set out to build a clinic and a school. After several years the Muslim elders of the nearby community felt threatened by the Christian program, but the elders were realists. "What's the use of trying to get rid of you?" one asked: "You have set your roots so deep, if we got rid of you there are so many others."

From that Marta derived a principle: "If you want to evangelize a community you should not just put a Bible under your arm and go to them. You want them to come to you."

That's what Project Mercy has been doing for the last 17 years. "We have a school, we have a hospital, we have a training facility for our staff," Marta says. An agriculture program aims, with the help of the Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization (ECHO), to develop drought-tolerant papaya, mango, and avocado trees for people in the community. The modern hospital sees 11,000 patients a year, many of them Muslim, yet that doesn't keep the staff from asking, "May we pray for you before we treat you? We are doctors but Jesus is the greatest doctor."

Volunteers from among older students in the eighth grade and beyond go into the surrounding community to teach gardening, family planning, and nutrition. In 2003, during another famine, Project Mercy received a request from the government to help feed 200,000 families within 180 miles of Yetabon. Among those needing help were 75,000 children, of whom 1,500 were severely malnourished. Marta says proudly, "We fed these people and lost only 11 children. Why did the Lord allow us to have the privilege to serve all these people?"

Project Mercy's Yetabon site is bubbling with entrepreneurial projects. Woodworkers create furniture; they made a lovely wooden ceiling in the chapel. Beadworkers from America came and taught young people how to make glass beads to form into bracelets and sell in the United States. Proceeds from the bracelet sales were enough to build a beautiful new dorm to house orphans.

Marta and Deme are at the age when many people retire to be with their grandchildren. But on one recent trip to the United States, they were so busy on Project Mercy business they didn't have time for family visits. When Marta no longer has the energy to oversee the many activities at Yetabon, she believes that Project Mercy will continue. A young girl recently responded to her question about what she will be when she grows up with this answer: "I'm going to replace you."

Click and give

By Susan Olasky

Is it possible to help end hunger by clicking a button on a website? It isn't hard to raise money toward that end. Since 1999 the website hungersite.com brags that it has raised and donated the equivalent of 500 million cups of food to its partners, America's Second Harvest and Mercy Corps.

Freerice.com, another click-to-give website, is only a year old and has already raised and donated the equivalent of 400 metric tons of food to the UN World Food Program.

Both websites and others like them have discovered that people with a passion for a cause-breast cancer, animal rescue, rainforests, all have sites-find clicking a no-pain way to support them. Freerice.com combines the impulse to click with a vocabulary quiz where each correct answer results in a donation equivalent to 20 grains of rice.

The sites work through advertising. Internet advertisers are always looking for ways to maximize the number of people who see their ads. People who click (or get a correct answer) see sponsor ads on the screen. Advertisers also like being associated with good causes. They believe that folks who care about saving the rainforests, for instance, will think kindly of the advertisers sponsoring that site.

Snopes.com, a website that tracks internet hoaxes and rumors, verifies that the websites actually do benefit the charities listed. But Snopes doesn't analyze whether the charities or the UN World Food Program actually have an effective plan to fight hunger. Clickers should scrutinize the charities receiving funds, because sometimes clicking makes us feel good but doesn't do much good at all.

Time for a change?

Still trying to decide whether to move from an iPhone to an iPhone 3G? Tech website Ars Technica provides a detailed comparison of the old and new at arstechnica.com/reviews/hardware/iphone3g-review.ars.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.


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