Sama Shal is a village in Sama Senbet Wereda of North Shoa Province in Amhara Regional State. It is located some 130 Km to the South East of Addis Ababa. The area is known for its surplus production of the staple food, Teff. They also grow wheat, barley and other grains, cereals. Even though the area is known for its surplus production it also is infamous for lack of water. The inhabitants of the area used to travel six hours a day to fetch water. Now, that is a thing of the past thanks to an initiative undertaken in 2006 by a Rotarian named Sonia Mendez. After five years of persistent work, they now have tap water.
When Sonia Mendez was visiting the area as part of her volunteer work for the Polio campaign, she and her eleven teammates went in to a nearby farmer’s house. They approached the farmer in his compound and asked what the biggest need of the residents was. The farmer was quick to respond to the queries of the strangers who came to his compound. He told them their pressing problem was the absence of potable water in his locality and the related diseases caused by lack of hygiene.
At the time no one imagined that their all too dry area would one day be filled with green crops. So when Rotarians travelled to the area to help provide water and a primary school, people were rather startled and skeptical. Tekle Beyene is one of the farmers who first told Sonia about their water dilemma. A 47 year old father of eight, he was born and raised at Sama Senbet, approximately five kilometers away from where the water was finally taped. Five years ago when Sonia and her colleagues unexpectedly visited his compound, he was waiting for elders of the locality in a bid to solve a boarder dispute with his neighbor farming next to his farm land.
“I remember sitting with my daughter and talking to elders about a dispute and someone in my family kept whispering that ‘Farenjies’ were heading to our compound. I said since when do ‘Farenjies’ come to our locality? Yet, when I turned around 11 foreigners were standing in front of my compound. I think Sonia was their leader. She asked me what problems we were facing in our community. I told her about my children, how they were not able to concentrate on their education because they have to travel so far to fetch water for the family. They leave home to fetch water early in the morning at 6:00 am and get back after three hours, he recalled about his conversation five years ago.
“She asked me to show her how we manage to carry water. A son of mine, who was in fourth grade at the time put a large yellow container on his shoulder. When she asked what he did when he got tired he simply leaned his leg on a stone, this made her cry as she could empathize with how hard rural life can be,” he added.
Even though Sonia did not have the resources to help at the time she was deeply touched and promised she would return to help them. So she figured out a way to stay in touch with Tekle from her home in the US. Which was no easy task given their remote location. “We were lucky because I happened to have the only mobile phone in my village. I gave her my number. She called back after two weeks when she managed to convince her colleagues in her Rotary Club in the US to collect funds from volunteers,” he said. With their assistance two things happened to dramatically improve people’s lives.
A well was dug and the road leading to the source was improved. “The road to the area was so bumpy; it took hours to get there from Addis. Now with the new asphalt road that is being constructed it’s a big change from five years ago,” said Sonia while sitting with four fellow Rotarians in the back of a Nissan Parol, remembering the conditions of her first trip to the area. According to residents in the area, the Amhara Regional State’s Water Work Enterprises has tried to dig water in the area many times but they was not successful.
With the help of the Rotarians and a local geological expert they were finally able to dig a 300 meter well that produces 12 litres of water per second.
In addition a new asphalt road is under construction starting from a junction at Mojo town of the Oromiya Regional State, on the way from Addis Ababa to Adama (Nazareth). The road to Sama Senbet eventually connects to Adama, Hawassa and North Shoa.
After five years of determined collective effort the potable water project has become a reality, an amazing success story. At the start, the project was expected to cost USD 60,000 but it ended up costing USD 200,000. Though its cost has surged more than threefold, it has really made a huge difference in many lives.
If one inspired mind like that of Sonia and her fellow Rotarian colleagues can do such a miracle work, think of what can happen if there are more people like Sonia and Tekle in the world and if they can find a way to meet each other.