Students Reflections on Poverty Through a Global Lens

In March 2016, King’s University College students from the departments of Political Science and Social Justice and Peace Studies traveled to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa and surrounding area to learn about the role that Non-Governmental Organization’s (NGO’s) play in aiding poverty and development in Africa. The trip was organized by Political Science professor Dr. Thomas Tieku, who partnered with Dr. Erin Hannah to travel with the King’s students to Addis Ababa for their week long trip. The following are reflections from 2 students on their experiences and reflections on poverty in the global context.

by Floranda Agoram

Travelling anywhere can be a hassle, especially if you are travelling to another continent which you are unaware of the lifestyle, living conditions and food habits. I had the privilege and honor to travel to Ethiopia this past February. I witnessed extreme levels of poverty, food insecurity, vast amounts of agriculture and a culture full of love and peace.

The purpose of the trip was to expand on our theoretical knowledge about nations beyond the west and visit institutions like the African Union, European Union, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and many NGOs and embassies.

On our first day in Ethiopia we visited Debre Libanos, which is a town outside of the capital Addis Ababa. This visit to Debre Libanos was one of the most memorable trips I have ever had since I truly understood how grateful I am to be living in Canada.

After spending 14 hours in a plane and 2 hours on the road to get to this quiet and welcoming town, the group was ready to get in the shower and relax. However, the first problem many of us faced was the lack of water. Due to health restrictions it was recommended that we do not drink from the fountain and it was advised that we drink and brush our teeth only with bottled water. One of my main issues at Debre Libanos was not having access to the shower and the tap, this left me to use the very minimal water bottles that I bought to shower, brush my teeth and of course hydrate myself.

An issue I have with this restriction is that if I were an individual living in Ethiopia coming from the West it would be quite pricy for me to have to buy bottled water everyday to brush my teeth, cook, and drink water. Not having the privilege to use water from your own tap is devastating.

Debre Libanos is a very green place to be in during the rainy season because of the agriculture and the waterfall by the Portuguese Bridge which unfortunately, we were unable to witness due to dry season.

One question that came to mind when I was walking around the town was “how do the people of this small town survive?”. Since Debre Libanos is approximately 2 hours away from the capital not many trucks carrying food drive into the town. Especially since many of the people in the town are either unemployed or make very little money to import goods from the city. This leaves the people of Debre Libanos to survive on what their town can produce of agriculture. This is a huge food security issue because most of the year is dry season and that means that there is a drought leading to crops not growing and bellies not satisfied. The people of Debre Libanos do not have the means of importing large trucks of water to care for their crops or hydrate themselves.

I began to question myself if this was the case in a small town in Canada, what would be the role of the surrounding cities or the government itself? Of course there would be vast amounts of water donated to the town to help the people survive and the government would be able to spend some money to help find other solutions for the drought. However, what about the people of Debre Libanos whose government does not have the means to provide social services or solutions to the drought that hits the town most of the year. The role of the international community is not heard in these cases because no one is doing anything to help people from starvation and dehydration.

The key point here is that we are so grateful in Canada to have a government which can support us in our time of need, many other nations not even specifically Ethiopia, struggle everyday to find means of food and water.

by Nikita Gisela Salvacion Klinger

My journey to Ethiopia was a life changing trip, which exposed me to a totally different and beautiful culture, and as well, gave me a new perspective about privileges that I have back in Canada. When I arrived in Addis Ababa, I was mentally prepared for the poverty I was going to witness. To my surprise, the city has actually gone through a immense growth and development, and it was not what I was expecting. Although parts of Ethiopia had new infrastructure, the poverty was still there. What I found very interesting was the fact that there was not one street that did not have any sign of some type of poverty, including streets with nicer infrastructure such as the African Union; it did not matter, poverty was everywhere. It seems as if poverty and development were coexisting. It was as if, this African country was trying to grow and develop, yet left a lot of the population behind. Before eradicating the poverty, they put a sort of ‘band aid’ hoping that the poverty would eventually disappear with the rise of development.

Ethiopia is a beautiful country, and Debre Libanos is breathtaking. On our trip, we had a lot of opportunities to exploreis predicted to be as bad as the drought in 1984.[1] The Blue Nile Gorge was almost completely dry, and the waterfall behind the monastery in Debre Libanos was completely gone. We could not drink the water there. When we did purchase our own clean water, for a 6-pack of large water bottles, it cost us almost $5.00US, and the price consistently fluctuated. A couple of the biggest shockers to me on my trip, was on our drive in the city to one of our meetings, I saw a man with leprosy. He had no clothes, he was covered in boils, begging for change, while people walked around him. I would have never thought I would ever see someone with leprosy, especially living in Canada in my entire life. As well, to my surprise, I did not see a hospital. Ethiopia is the second largest populated African country with a population of almost  97 million people.[2] It was shocking to see such an important institution not visible in the public.

The biggest thing that shocked me on my trip, was the sanitation, and in particular the washrooms. Many of the pit stops consisted of having to go to the washroom in the bushes, or in a hole in the ground. One of the washrooms I had to use, was dark, the door did not close, there was no toilet seat, no toilet paper, and the toilet would not flush. On top of that, running water to wash your hands with was often unavailable. This was the biggest thing for me to adjust to. Many of the places we visited, including a museum, or even restaurants did not have toilet paper, or soap. It was difficult not only for me, but for my peers. Bringing Kleenex and hand sanitizer was definitely a good idea.

I have lived in the Old East part of London, ON for almost a decade now, and the poverty I find here is totally different from the poverty in Ethiopia. It was interesting to know that Ethiopians and other African diplomats did not think Canada had poverty. Although our poverty may not be as bad as theirs, we experience a different type of poverty. Living in the East end of London, I see drug addicts, those with disabilities, or those who are unemployed. As well, in comparison, Ethiopia’s population is so large, unlike living in London, the poverty here is contained within certain parts of the city, and one notices right away when they are in an area with poverty. What also makes London, or Canada different from Ethiopia is the amount of social programs we have here to help those in need. Everything from Ontario Works (O.W.), Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), to programs that provide shelters and counselling. In the east end of London, we even have drug clinics such as the methadone clinic that helps addicts. I am sure there may be individuals who suffer fromCanada provides universal health care, and free primary education to both children and adults. Canada’s poverty may seem difficult for developing countries to understand because of the stereotypical view of being a ‘Western and Developed’ country.

Ethiopia was a beautiful country, and it was definitely a trip of a lifetime. Although it was a culture shock, we were debriefed before hand of what we were going to experience. Personally, I was more surprised by the fact that Addis Ababa was growing rapidly in infrastructure and development, including the new train system they had throughout the city. It allowed me to become humbler as a Canadian, and share what I had seen in Ethiopia with other Canadians. I am not grateful for the small things in life, such as water, and sanitation, even toilet paper! It is a sad reality to know that so many people live in poverty, and that there is only so much aid and help we can send over. We as Canadians really take things such as water and sanitation for granted, and it definitely has made such a large impact on me.

[1] Clark, Stuart. 2011. Famine in Ethiopia then & now: 1984 was a year of death and hunger. by 2011, how much has changed? Presbyterian Record 135 (10): 37.

[2]  World Bank- Ethiopia