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BTC Ethiopia: Day 7 – Elderly homeless center training visit, change in plans, and how brotherhood saved a man’s life

Posted on July 10th, by changersadmin in Uncategorized. No Comments

When on the phone discussing our trip plans months ago, the GHNI team shared that there was a local elderly homeless center in Dire Dawa, near our compound that we would visit, see what work is being done to address this often neglected part of a community, and help serve and feed them at one of the meal times. We discussed how our model is ‘trade not aid’, ‘hand up, not a hand out’, and how important it was for centers like this to not just be feeding kitchens, but skill training centers so that they could sustain themselves, not rely on external aide, and work to elevate living standards of it’s visitors by providing a source of work and income.

There are only a few businesses you can start in an area and situation like this with the standards that GHNI lives by and that meet the Changers of Commerce model. It must be low cost, efficient, and sustainable. That means, it can’t require big technology, be difficult or expensive to maintain, and it must be easy to train and replicate. It must also connect and serve various parts of the community – so whatever they make, do or sell, it can’t be so expensive to cover costs that the community can’t afford it (and the community can’t afford much).

Quickly, the idea built to teach them to make a simple baked product that they could sell. Of course, inspired by Cinnabon. It’s not like you can fresh bake a Cinnabon cinnamon roll in these conditions – the ingredients and equipment are notably unavailable, and the environment is not suitable to make a complex recipe. There are chickens, flies and bees everywhere, no real floor (just dirt, mud and a basic cement base as you climb into the main building), and extremely inconsistent availability of electricity.

So, as we became aware of the few ingredients we would be able to get and visited the center to see what we were dealing with, the idea morphed into a Cinnabon-inspired sweet-cinnamon sandwich. That way, there was no baking needed…just prep, storage and assembly.

That morning, we took the ingredients, the mixer and materials gathered the day before and did a test run. Three ingredients in the filling/cinnamon spread, three ingredients in the glaze that went inside and on top, and freshly baked bread. It had to meet all our goals, and this did the trick. We had to make a small investment to get the mixer, sifter and mortar and pestal, and gave them a little start up capital to buy the first month or so of ingredients.

We conducted the training, answered their questions, and talked about how they needed to modify this to fit their constraints, what they know about their community, and their overall cost structure. These may have been homeless 70-something Ethiopians, but they asked questions that any thoughtful business student would: “How much do ingredients cost?” “How many servings come out of each bun?” “Will we be able to sell it cheap enough so the community can afford to buy it?” “Can we substitute the ingredients for cheaper ones and still keep the flavor?”

We were told by locals that this culture has never mixed cinnamon and sugar.

Cinnabon is a spice used in tea for its herbal properties, so this was new…but they liked the flavor. They loved it, actually. This is something that will be unique to this city, center and location, and hopefully create a buzz and demand that helps them support themselves and eventually build a bakery business.

We also found out the US military is helping them wall-off and build a small bakery area. We all marveled at how powerful it is that our own military is participating in proactive infrastructure and poverty-reducing activities. Joni coined the phrase ‘building bakeries not bombs’. The reality of this area, that is almost completely enveloped by Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, is that its villages are ripe for hostile take over by countries with known al-Qeada interests and cells. If the country doesn’t see support and growth from one group (say the US or other countries supporting Ethiopia), they may get the help they need from not-so-pure places and then become part of the terrorist organizations we are trying to diminish. Don’t forget, there are 85 million people in Ethiopia. If even 10% of them were to mobilize under terrorist direction, it could be catastrophic. So the point is, something as simple as a bakery, volunteers, and a teeny bit of investment is not just an investment in the elderly homeless in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, it’s an investment in elevating the competence and confidence of a people, so they are not easily won over by those spreading violence and terrorism.

The trainees did a great job learning, and it was a special moment. One trainee immediately got up to make the first cinnamon sandwiches in the country and the first of many yummy treats we hope they will be selling to better their lives. It was a powerful moment to experience.

We were supposed to go back to Megaladi to talk with the committee leaders about their priorities and challenges, but on the way, the team got a call notifying them that Ibrahim, a champion of GHNI’s work in the village, despite some opposition, had gone from sick to fatally ill. His stomach was dissended, he couldn’t eat, and had no access to clean water, nutrition or medicine. After quick discussion, the team immediately turned around to drop off our crew back at the compound, went to pick him up with our vehicle, and take him to the hospital while the rest of us stayed back. We waited for word, and after taking him to the hospital, returned to get a few of us to go see him (and find out how we could help). Amanda and I went, met his daughter who had come with him, and found out it appeared he had a severe liver disease, impacted bowels, and didn’t have much hope for survival. We agreed to support him getting tests and staying in the hospital, so while the tests were running, we went back and gathered supplies for our return visit.

The, team paid for the hospital visit, found out that he needed a blood transfusion, but no family there qualified to donate. We agreed to pay for the hospital stays, supportive treatment, and transfusion to help give him a fighting chance.

The next morning the GHNI local team would have to go to the Red Cross, plead our case, and get him 2 rounds/units of blood. Meanwhile, the glucose and nutrients were making him feel a bit better, although there was still severe edema throughout his body.

By the way, the $ amount it took to get him basic treatment was less than you would pay to stay 1 night in a nice hotel.

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