Fighting unemployment and getting girls back into school: Czech development projects in Ethiopia
Agriculture, water and education are three of the main areas where Czechia cooperates with Ethiopia on development. While just under a third of the country’s inhabitants live below the poverty line and more than half are illiterate, the population is growing fast. Aside from the problems this situation brings with it, such as unemployment and deforestation, Ethopia also has to fight something else caused by the developed world: climate change.
Ethiopia is one of the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ priority countries for bilateral development cooperation due to the high poverty rate in the country. This in itself is the result of a complex crisis caused by a number of factors such as climate change, Covid, the various current international crises, as well as ethno-political conflicts in the region.
With 120 million inhabitants, Ethiopia is the second most populous country on the African continent and at the same time, has the largest number of refugees on the planet. A fifth of its population requires aid on a daily basis. Furthermore, current developments show that Czech aid will be increasingly needed in this area, as Barbora Ludvíková from the non-profit organization People in Need told Radio Prague International in an interview.
“Aid is needed more and more, and unfortunately, often humanitarian aid. We are growing mainly in this area, which of course does not make us happy, but that is simply the reality.”
Ludvíková explains that Ethiopia is one of the few regions where People In Need implements humanitarian as well as development projects. It operates in the Tigray Region, for example, which until recently was in the grip of civil war.
Their main area of operations, however, is chiefly in the south of the country, which has not received as much attention and support as the north, explains Richard Walker, People In Need’s regional director for Africa.
“We are certainly recognized as the lead actor in terms of the international NGOs working in those areas. We’ve focused on the south, mainly because there is an awful lot of funding and support given to the north of the country while there isn’t so much in the south, so therefore the impact of what we do is stronger.”
The impact of People in Need’s work, Ludvíková adds, is also connected with the fact that they maintain close and direct contact with the people who receive the aid. She also emphasises that local authorities respect the organization, due to the fact that it lives up to its promises.
“Our organization – and I think that all of our employees would say the same – is very special in the fact that we really get in direct contact with the communities where we work. I also think that we don’t try to raise false hopes or set unrealistic expectations – we understand that it isn’t good to promise something and then not be able to follow through.
"And that’s why local authorities respect us. We work with communities really at the level of local farmers and so on – it’s not only talking with government officials.
"So I think that you can feel free to go and talk with any one of our beneficiaries and ask them frankly what they think of us, and I think they'll be able to name specific things that have changed their life for the better in one way or another.”
However, Ludvíková explains that her organisation’s greatest success isn’t seeing the impact People In Need has had on a specific individual, but when the organization's efforts lead to an indirect impact on a more general level.
“The biggest measure of success is not in whether the farmer we directly work with does better, but whether his neighbour does better because he sees that the farmer we worked with has better results and that it will be beneficial for the community to change something.”
Fighting unemployment in the town of Mojo
The most important of People In Need’s activities in Ethiopia are the restoration and construction of water resources, agriculture and sustainable sustenance, and the sustainable treatment of natural resources. Another project with a big impact is in the field of education, says Walker.
“We’ve been working in natural resource management for many years, so anticipating the impacts of climate change, not just in terms of drought response but in development programmes reclaiming eroded land across whole valleys and regions. We’ve built an enormous amount of water and wash infrastructure, either through public tenders or through both the humanitarian and development programs there, and I guess we’re probably one of the largest actors in terms of education. We have trained hundreds of thousands of students, also in terms of running programmes like inclusive education, getting girls back into school.”
Aside from the aforementioned “Leave No Girl Behind” project, People In Need is also involved in apprenticeship training. In the town of Mojo, which is located around 60km south of the capital city Addis Ababa, the organisation helps the leather making industry by supporting apprenticeship training and thereby boosting job opportunities in the area, which is struggling with very high unemployment, especially among young people.
In addition to providing equipment for the local tannery school, People In Need also contributes to teacher training. The director of the tannery school in Mojo, Ato Abinet, described his own experience in an interview with Radio Prague International.
“The impact is that our trainees have gained knowledge and skills that will help them create their own enterprise or gain wage employment in different companies. It has a positive influence in that the whole community was inspired by this training. It also empowered the city in leather production. In our city of Mojo a lot of youth are jobless and now as the result of team support we expect that more youth will get employment opportunities in the leather sector.”
Continuity is the key
People In Need has been developing its activities in Ethiopia for 20 years, and its employees agree that it is the long-term projects that guarantee the best and most sustainable results. These projects take longer by their very nature. As Ludvíková says, you can’t see the impact of new agricultural activities if it doesn’t rain for several seasons in a row.
However, it is not the organisations, but rather the Ethiopian authorities, who decide on the length of projects in accordance with their aims. Another thing is that the local communities also need time to adapt to the changes introduced by external actors, says Martin Šefr from the Czech Development Agency, established by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“It’s a great advantage when People In Need or a different non-profit organisation is active in the region for a long time and the sectors in their remit don’t change very often, because it takes quite a long time for the community to come to terms with what was introduced there and for the longer-term results to be seen.
"The absolute most ideal thing is when a project can be rolled out in several phases, for example three or four phases over 15 or 20 years. Continuity is crucial. And of course it’s wonderful when you go to a place where a project was done this way and you see not only that the people know what to do better and how to do it better, but they also share it among other people and communities and the project actually multiplies by itself without our help. That is the best thing that can realistically happen, but the road to get there is long and difficult.”
The Czech Development Agency in Ethiopia is active primarily in two areas: agriculture and rural development, and sustainable management of natural resources. The latter is mainly about the construction of pipelines to bring water to places that don’t have it and in some cases never have. Šefr shared his own experience from his visit to Ethiopia, when he saw the success of Czech aid with his own eyes.
“Just the fact that someone is coming is a big occasion for them, because they are very cut-off in isolated and remote places. And we come and give them water, which has never been there, even historically. In the village it was evident that everyone was absolutely thrilled that this was happening. And when the water starts to flow, that is a whole other dimension for them. It’s wonderful to see that development projects can lead to that.”
Šefr emphasises and agrees with experts from People in Need and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that no project can be successful if the beneficiaries and local authorities do not request it. That’s why different organisations working in the field of humanitarian or development aid have to work together, also on the international level, with the Ethiopian government.
“When preparing projects a study is always done that takes into account the precise needs of the people that live in the area where the project is to be carried out. Then it is coordinated with the relevant bodies of the state apparatus, which of course have to be part of it. The fact that we include the target groups in the preparation of the project and then later the state administration leads to more sustainable results.”
The interviewees all agree that the greatest possible success of Czech development aid in Ethiopia would be if there was no longer any need for it. However, the development of the past year indicates the opposite trend and an increasing need for financial resources, precisely at a time when donor countries may be increasingly reluctant to give it due to the generally uncertain economic situation.