Honourable senators, for a week in late February, I visited Ethiopia with a parliamentary delegation hosted by RESULTS Canada: a grassroots advocacy organization working to generate public and political action to end hunger and the worst aspects of poverty. The honourable members of Parliament, Dean Allison — who is a good friend when one is on the road — and Bernard Patry participated in this profound educational journey.
Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in Africa, and one of the poorest. Those living in such extreme poverty lack adequate food, clean water and medicine. UNICEF estimates that one out of every 20 children born in Ethiopia dies in the first month of life, while one out of six Ethiopian children dies before the age of five.
It is one thing to hear such disturbing statistics, but quite another to look into the faces of the human beings behind the data.
I have lived in Asia and Europe; I have covered news events in many parts of the world and seen tragedy close up. However, this trip was different. Our delegation saw the utter absence of sanitation. We saw people in villages and urban clinics dying of tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria. Incredibly, though, out of this bleakness, hope shone through.
Everywhere, Ethiopians were helping Ethiopians. We met villagers who proudly showed us a latrine and rudimentary shower stall they had built, and their plastic water bottle for hand washing. We met women running businesses with the support of micro-financing and banking. We met women who had given money to women in other neighbourhoods to start businesses. . We met surrogate Ethiopian mothers who were feeding and caring for orphans. We met health extension workers providing services in their own villages. There are 35,000 health workers in Ethiopia. One Ethiopian doctor said to me, “We always have to try.”
I believe the situation we saw in the Gandhi Hospital in Addis Ababa sums up the necessary perspective. In one room, a premature baby in an incubator lay dying, yet other babies throughout the hospital would become strong and survive.
Honourable senators, RESULTS Canada has given me a new appreciation of how real advocacy works. The organization lobbies, conducts letter-writing campaigns, meets, argues and cajoles to ensure that Canada spends its money on the right projects. It does not matter if the projects are implemented through CIDA, UNICEF or any other organization; it is about the strength and appropriateness of the projects.
Honourable senators, it was a privilege to take this journey. The delegation travelled a long way, but what a gift it was to witness hope and betterment in such a context. I have returned home inspired.