Last Saturday a fire ravaged a community north of Bingham Academy in a place called Wingate. Many make-shift houses had become established over time, typically constructed of corrugated metal and tarpaulin. Five of the girls who are part of our “Y’tesfa Birhan” programme as well as a young boy from the equivalent “Horizon” boys project lived there. Fire trucks were called. The first arrived with no water but was followed by a second. Once the blaze was tackled it was clear that there was nothing left.
Two people lost their lives in the fire although the following day another elderly man died from smoke inhalation. Some 250 displaced people are currently being housed in three large rooms in a building with concrete floors. The floors have been covered with eucalyptus leaves to try to give some form of insulation. It barely masks the aroma.
At the time that one of my colleagues was contacted about the fire on Sunday afternoon, she was visiting Selamawit, another Y’tesfa girl, who lives in a different area. As soon as she heard, this 17-year-old wanted to do whatever she could to support these needy girls. Selamawit is fairly unusual in that she is currently studying for Grade 12 (year 13) and trains regularly as a circus performer.
On Monday some folk from Bingham took jerry cans of water to the displaced community, gave money to the young Horizon boy for his epilepsy medication and gave out food, clothing and towels that our community had donated. They also brought our Y’tesfa girls along for the regular meeting that was taking place as usual. If I had only the clothes I stood up in and my home had been destroyed, I can’t imagine being as resilient as these girls, who listened to the Bible story as it was presented, after which I prayed for them (with interpretation) on behalf of the group. They then sat threading beads and making bracelets which was the craft for that evening.
Once all the sports in the school gym were over, the girls were invited to use the showers - not exactly glamorous, but functional as they really needed to get clean. Selamawit announced that she wasn’t going to her home but would stay and help. She sorted donated clothes, helped the younger girls shower, then peeled potatoes and prepared a meal for them all - something she is well used to doing.
Meanwhile another colleague had brought back two ladies with their babies, 6 and 8 weeks old. She had noticed that the young mums were unable to feed their infants who were distressed. Having not had water for two days these ladies were so thirsty. They each drank one to two litres of water each over the next few hours. An offer was made for the mums to bath their babies - one was quite soiled and really needed attention. It was a brand-new experience for both, a boy and a girl, who looked a bit surprised at first but soon began splashing. The mums then asked if they too could clean up. At 28 and 34 years old these were their first ever showers. Having eaten, it was time for the mums and babies to be driven back to their temporary shelter. The babies were dressed in clothes several sizes too big for them and each was wrapped in a patchwork baby quilt. The mums also had a blanket to share. On the drive back only the sound of contented babies suckling could be heard.
It was also time for the girls to return to the shelter where they would spend the night. Selamawit had been working hard all evening but as she climbed into the car to be driven home, she said, “I feel happy!” - and she meant it.
Post script: The “Kebele” (local authority) that provided the temporary shelter has promised to provide a large water tank. We hope that this has been forthcoming. Sadly, though, the Orthodox church adjacent to the fire disaster has made it clear that no more dwellings will be allowed on its land in the future.