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It Rained, Even Though the Ground is Not Wet

September 2012

chief-isaaq Chief Isaaq wears a pink hand towel on his head that he got from a hygiene kit prepared by members of the Church in Addis Ababa. The chief and most of the other men have found that it works as a head covering to protect their skin from the scorching African sun.
© Eric Ristau

The chief sits on the hard ground and gazes out at the barren, dry land before him. Deep in the Horn of Africa, he is miles from any civilization. The only thing he can hear is the wind whistling across the desert and the braying of his goats in the distance.

The chief is named Ahamd Issaq, and for generations his people have called this village Sala-Jama. It sits in the Dolo Ado region of Ethiopia, about 90 miles from the border of Somalia.

Last year, Sala-Jama was running out of water. Chief Issaq lay awake at night wondering what to do. The region is known for its salt mines, and as the water table dipped, even the rivers the villagers drink from became salty, making the children and the livestock sick. Issaq contemplated moving his village but knew that they would lose up to half their goats in the perilous journey.

Then one day a water truck arrived in Sala-Jama. It was an answer to prayer. "It rained, even though the ground was not wet," said one of the villagers.

The village is one of 22 sites along the border of Ethiopia and Somalia that received water last year through a partnership between LDS Charities and International Relief and Development (IRD). That effort - along with the 5,000 hygiene kits prepared by local members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ethiopia—was part of a coordinated response to the drought in East Africa.

"It's amazing how quickly Church members respond," said Lynn Samsel, Director of Humanitarian Emergency Response for LDS Charities. "In Chile after the earthquake, they took their own food storage and shared it with their neighbors. In Japan, we had 25,000 members donate over 122,000 hours of service."

Since 1985, when LDS Charities first responded to a drought in Ethiopia, more than $1.4 billion in assistance has been provided to nearly 30 million people in 179 countries.

In the village of Sala-Jama, the chief knows little about the Church or its humanitarian arm, and he has never seen a missionary. "The Church does these projects because it believes that's the right thing to do - the Christian thing to do," said Samsel.

"I would thank those who did this work," the chief says. "It has saved lives."

nutrition-centers In partnership with International Medical Corps, LDS Charities is building four community nutrition centers in refugee camps where families come to gather food rations and to receive nutritional evaluations.
© Eric Ristau

Besides trucking water, LDS Charities also worked with IRD to get medicine to hospitals in Somalia. LDS Charities has also partnered with another charity, International Medical Corps, to improve conditions in Ethiopian refugee camps, where thousands of starving Somalis have fled for food and help in response to the worst famine the Horn of Africa has seen in 60 years.

Looking to the future, the village of Sala-Jama is now building an underground water storage tank, or birkit, the size of a large swimming pool that will catch rainwater. LDS Charities is partnering with IRD to build these birkits in 10 villages in the area.

building-birkits LDS Charities is partnering with IRD to build birkits—or underground water storage tanks—in 10 villages in Ethiopia. Most of the labor is provided by local villagers.
© Eric Ristau

Isaaq says the project has given the people of his village a sense of empowerment and control over their lives. And because they are doing the work of digging out the birkit, they feel a sense of ownership. When the next drought comes, he says, the village will be ready.

In a hut made of twigs nearby, a mother stands at the entrance with her small children, who walk barefoot in the dirt. Like the chief, the mother used to lie awake at night worrying about her small children, who were often thirsty and sick. She prays for more rain and can't help but worry about the next drought. But for now, her prayers have been answered.

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