Stories of the World

Ethiopia Water Mill Project update!

The Ethiopia Water Mill project that I have been working on since returning home in December is moving along! The initial $1,000 wire transfer has been made, correspondence to and from Africa continues, and I’m learning a great deal about what’s entailed in beginning a project-and what all might be possible if I dream broadly enough.


The initial installment of funds will allow Tsega, my Ethiopian contact, to travel back to Begi in the western part of the country, choose the exact site for the water mill, draw up the plans, and apply for the necessary land permits and paperwork to begin the construction.


There were a few obstacles along the way in even getting the initial money to Tsega: we had to set up a bank account that we could both access that was designated purely for this project. I wanted everything to be very clean and transparent between us and for donors: not just a personal account, and not an account that was already being used for other fistula projects. This involved my writing a letter of intent to the Ethiopian bank with all of my contact information and my signature (with the promise that my in-person signature will be given when I return to Addis Ababa.) It also involved trying to fax the paperwork on a day I was leaving town, when the fax machine at the Ethiopian bank kept losing its connection, and apparently when the licensing of my (legal) copy of Photoshop expired. That was a day it was hard to keep a sense of humor and perspective- though eventually everything came together.


Another unanticipated hurdle was Tsega’s lack of access to a laptop (his had been stolen) for our continued correspondence, and for his tracking of all of the finances and project details. I remembered that I had an old Dell laptop in my home office, so I dragged it out, dusted it off, and took it to a local computer repair place to have the system upgraded, all of the drivers updated, and the hard drive wiped for security. I had it tailored for Tsega’s use and then had it boxed, taped, and insured for its long journey across the sea.


Even the mailing proved challenging. I wanted the laptop insured, but at first glance it appeared that Ethiopia will not accept parcels insured at a level greater than $200 USD. The man at the post office and I researched and worked together until finally everything was settled and insured in full: for a final price tag of $340! That, plus the nearly $250 I’d paid at the computer place were not part of my project budget, and neither is another trip (or two) that will likely be necessary for me to travel back to Ethiopia to make sure the project is progressing and that funds are being used appropriately. I’m learning as I go, and none of this project would be possible without the patience, support, and hard work of Tsega who is the local champion and engineer. It’s a multi-cultural experience in every sense of the word!


Beyond my fundraising efforts for the actual water mill project ($10,000+ is still needed), I have been having conversations and meetings with colleagues, friends, and potential donors who are encouraging me to start my own 501c3 organization. It’s a thought I’ve entertained for a number of years, but I’ve always been very daunted by the prospect of boards and by-laws and how my particular non-profit would have a value proposition unique, useful, and savvy enough to sustain the very real challenges that plague all of the other well-intentioned, financially-challenged orgs already in existence.


Recently conversations, however, have gotten me thinking. Despite the fact that one water-powered mill helps grind grain for 800 families in the surrounding community (plus provides a sustainable income source for the fistula-survivors who live there) one man in Seattle asked me why I was content to think so small. “Why aren’t you setting your goal on helping 10,000 women, or 100,000? Why don’t you set a vision to create one mill this year, 3 more next year, and 25 over the next 10 years? Why settle for one?”


There are broader questions on whether or not I want to focus my whole life around the cause of obstetric fistula or if I could build an organization that would allow me to research, discover, and collaborate on projects all around the world, with a vast array of topics, creating a bridge between impactful global stories out in the field with networks and resources here at home. There are issues of funding sources and capacity, income, and sustainability. There is a lot to consider.


When I start to get overwhelmed and discouraged, when my ideas start racing light years ahead of the actual situation at hand, and when I start to wonder if my good intentions are doing any good at all, it’s helpful to go back to basics and revisit the small moments that make my heart warm. A few lines from a recent email from Tsega, for example, the day his laptop arrived in the mail:


Today I received the laptop with its batery charger (I have chaked it, it works) a picture of woman waiting for treatment (nice picture) and short lettr with a nice flower picture. Dear Kristie all these are from your kindness, I don't have enough words to say all about your kindness, love you have for us, especially for me. Thank you Kristie I love you!





This is when, whatever the outcome, I’m sure it will all be worth it in the end.




To make a donation to the Ethiopia Water Mill project, please visit the following link on the Crooked Trails website. Donations can be made by check or online. Be sure to mark your donation “Ethiopia Water Mill project” under the Notes heading. THANK YOU!!