AS AN award-winning pastry chef working in the finest restaurants, Will Torrent experienced some apprehension before visiting Ethiopia, currently in the grip of its worst drought for 50 years.
“In my day job I get to play with and eat some of finest foods,” he said last week, after his return. It’s almost like this conflict of the heart situation. . . These people do not have anything, let alone the world’s finest chocolate.”
During his trip, shortly after Easter, his expectations were confounded, he said, when he saw “completely the opposite: I saw real, tangible hope. I saw peace, love . . . Through the work that they are doing they have switched their mindset from a ‘no’ mentality, in the sense that ‘we can’t survive or sort ourselves out’, through education, support and encouragement, to ‘yes, we can do this.’”
The trip, to Addis Ababa and Hosaena, involved seeing a few of the 18,000 “self-help groups” supported by Tearfund. Each group, run in conjunction with local churches, numbers 15-20 people, who support one another, develop plans, and set up a savings fund in order to realise them, for example by granting a small loan or by bulk-buying food to sell within the group at a cheaper price. Tearfund estimates that it is helping 1.7 million people in total.
While stressing the gravity of the situation — 10.2 million people are food insecure following successive crop failures and widespread livestock deaths caused by the El Niño-induced drought, and 2.2 million children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers are suffering from malnutrition — Mr Torrent said that he had returned from the country with “amazing stories of hope. . . Yes, there is a need for emergency aid distribution and giving right now, but we have to tell the stories of good news and hope.”
Tim Raby, the deputy head of Tearfund’s East & Southern Africa team, said this week that the groups had proved transformative.
“As more and more businesses start to grow, people are able to earn enough to send their children to school and work their way out of poverty. There are people who started as the poorest in their community who now employ others in two businesses.” The groups could also “transform gender relationships in the home”, he said. They were founded in relationships and the biblical principle of love for one another, and for God.
Food aid was still being distributed, he stressed. While the groups were “growing in resilience, the severity of the drought in Ethiopia means that even their resources have been overwhelmed, and external assistance is necessary.” A new approach providing cash grants was being piloted.
“Building resilience to these disasters and empowering local people to respond is a key part in sustainability. If we don’t do this, then development will be thwarted.”
Mr Torrent, an ambassador for Tearfund, said that he hoped to “use my profile to highlight the issues in the world”, including stories of hope.