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The city of Stratford in Ontario, Canada is better known for being the hometown of teenage pop sensation Justin Bieber, for the residents of the town of Dukem located 37km southeast of Addis Ababa, and its environs.
But a group of residents of Stratford, who paid a visit to the area to help with the provision of rural potable waters and supply educational materials, said there are a lot of things both sides can cooperate on and share even though they are separated by thousands of kilometers.
Ellen Sparling, a resident of Stratford, said she came to Ethiopia after meeting Dr. Gezahegn Wordofa, founder and Director General of the Odda Gabisso Development Association (OGDA) and is also a resident of the Canadian city, who shared the same kind of interests she had in areas such as human rights and social justice. “Clean water provision was given a priority, because it severely affected the health of the community and the wellbeing of domesticated animals,” said Ellen, adding that she came here to observe firsthand the reality on the ground to address the needs of the society and devise ways to help them solve their problems using methods that best suits them.
Sue Orr, another resident of Stratford and a veteran participant in many community projects in her city, said she saw how people had to walk long distances to get water and that people and animals shared the same pond for their water needs. She also was able to see to the needs of the local school, which had lacked essential items such as desks, chalkboards and pencils.
“We collected money, to finance clean water, desks, uniforms, soccer balls and electricity, through social media outlets like Facebook and twitter,” stated Sue, explaining further that it’s also about helping kids receive formal education instead of having them fetch water from nearby ponds. She said they are working with the Catholic Church of Ethiopia to alleviate the problems together.
Gezahegn also said that veteran Oromiffa singer Mohammed Tewil, has agreed to do a concert free of charge for the village to help publicize the needs of his birth place while also facilitating discussion of twinning agreements between Stratford and Dukem at a later date.
“During my childhood days I drank dirty water, and my family and friends are still drinking that water,” said Gezahegn, adding that Dukem town authorities have promised to build roads if the running water project is realized.
Ellen stated that the relationship between the two areas is not just one-sided, saying that the Ethiopians are giving back something in intangible form, like teaching them their cultural values.
“You have to prove that there’s a need, and that if you give money to the project, that the money will go to that project rather than going to expenses such as advertising, administration or anything like that and only to execution of the project,” Ellen said.
Sue continued by saying there are many problems in the World, including in her country Canada, where serious ailments such as cancer are causing problems, therefore it could get tricky when you have to pick and choose in which areas to assist, but for her, ultimately what she wants to make sure is that their money is used for the intended purpose.
Ellen surmised that, although she won’t rule out corporate assistance, not all corporations’ activities adhere to human rights principles and so assistance to the areas of Dukem will remain community-based.
Gezahegn concluded that, apart from the assistance and cooperation between the two sides, there are plans to create business links, such as through exporting flowers and coffee.