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Even the Donkey is Making a Difference in Eritrea
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Dr. Tesfa G. Gebremdhin

West Virginia University

Women in rural Eritrea are involved in various types of domestic work, some of which is hazardous to their health. Water is one of the major problems especially for women. It is a time-consuming and backbreaking work; it takes up to six hours a day. For example, collecting water alone can be a tiring and arduous task that takes place several times each day. The nearest source of water may entail walking several kilometers, particularly in the dry season. If families do not have donkeys, fetching water literally falls on the shoulders of women. Kunama women use a yoke with two containers on each side. Narra women carry water with a headband on their frontal bone. Tigrinya women in the highlands travel long distances carrying 20 kilograms or more of water in a container either balanced on their heads or in cans strapped to their backs. Continual water bearing can distort the pelvis of young girls and make the recurrent cycles of pregnancy and childbirth more difficult and dangerous.

Dr. Stefanie Christmann made many trips to Eritrea and has observed the hard life of women in rural Eritrea. As a humanitarian and people-oriented person, she mobilized a concerned a group of five close friends to start a "Donkey Initiative Project" as a means of reducing the domestic workload of women in rural Eritrea. Its web site is www.esel-initiative.de . The Donkey Project first started in 1996 in Gash-Barka region by Stefanie and her group of German citizens out of Berlin, Germany. The group is now composed of 17 members of varied professional disciplines, but with one clear humanitarian objective. The main goal of their Donkey Project is to reduce the burden of women in fetching water from long distances. The group has been raising funds from private donors to purchase donkeys for distribution to support women in Eritrea and to inform people in Germany about their living conditions. The project was initially targeted to poor and single mothers with children who live far away from water resources. The Donkey Project has also been extended to Traditional Birth Attendants (TBA) who use the donkeys for transportation when they campaign, particularly against female genital mutilation (FGM). Female donkeys are distributed to the poor women after the National Union of Eritrean Women (NUEW) has made proper screening. The recipients utilize the donkeys for various economic activities such as fetching water for sale and for home consumption; bringing fire wood to the market; moving furniture and building materials for construction; and as draft animals for farming. Since the inception of the project, about 850 donkeys have been distributed to poor and single mothers and before the end of 2001 another 800 donkeys were scheduled to be distributed. A female donkey with a water container costs 750 Nakfa. Female donkeys are preferred to improve the livelihood of poor mothers because the donkeys can increase their numbers by giving birth to young donkeys. During my recent visit to Barentu with Stefanie, I have heard and observed many wonderful success stories of rural women who have received donkeys and water containers from the project. These stories are testimony to the success of the Donkey Project. With the help of donkeys donated from the project many poor and single mothers can earn a daily income and sustain their standard of living, to have the opportunity to send their daughters to school, and to become role models for their children by showing care and love for them.

Since most of Eritrean society ascribes to women and girls the arduous task of finding and transporting water, improving access to safe water through the Donkey Project can help women and girls save time and energy, to be invested instead in their own advancement. Reducing the domestic workloads of women and girls can also improve their health. However, to help them overcome gender inequalities, men should also have to take up their fair share of the burden in such tasks as collecting fire wood, fetching water, cleaning, and taking care of children. What fair share of any burden in Eritrea should the so-called Eritrean professionals take to improve the lifestyle of their people? Dr. Stefanie Christmann is not an Eritrean by birth, but she is an Eritrean at heart. What she is doing in Eritrea is really outstanding. Are there similar problems in Eritrea? Yes, there are numerous problems more than we can even imagine. Could we have done the same or similar projects? I do observe that we Eritreans in diaspora are more professionals in words than in deeds. But, as concerned Eritreans with great diversity in professional skills, we should be able to identify and solve critical problems in Eritrea if we are really committed to serve our people and rebuild our nation. As Martin Luther King said, "The time is always right to do what is right." Trust me, everybody of us can feel great because everybody of us is able to serve his/her people. Again, if I can be of any assistance in the field of providing service to Eritrea, I will be willing to share my experience to Eritreans in diaspora at any time. My email is tgebrem@wvu.edu - However, please I donít do windows, I donít do cleaning, ---- I donít do politics either.

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