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This original webpage contains the history of events that led up to Glastonbury's twinning with Lalibela. Much has happened since those early days so why not follow progress with a visit to the Lalibela website

In April 2003 my wife and I, as tourists, visited the ancient historical sites of Ethiopia.
The itinerary included a forty-eight hour stop-over in the Ethiopian Highlands to explore the twelfth-century churches of Lalibela. Whilst preparing to leave Lalibela, we learnt that our plane’s departure was delayed for a few hours. Simply to “fill the time” we asked our guide if we could visit the local hospital?
We were shocked by the conditions. As one of our sons, who came with us in 2006, said in an article – “what my parents saw that day marked the beginning of a process that has raised thousands of pounds for the people of Lalibela.” We returned from our sixth visit to Lalibela last November.

ETHIOPIA – lies in the Horn of Africa, a landlocked country surrounded by Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, Kenya and Sudan. It has a population of 77 million. It is five times the size of the United Kingdom which has a population of 60 million. Christianity was introduced in the fourth century; both Christians and Moslems live in harmony. English is the second language to the local dialects. Ethiopia’s proud boast – though a mixed blessing – is that it was the only African country never to be colonised by the European nineteenth-century rush for a slice of Africa.

LALIBELA – an isolated town of 20,000 population situated at 2,600m in the Ethiopian Highlands with surrounding peaks approaching 4,000 metres. Economically it depends on the tourist trade visiting the two clusters of twelfth-century underground rock-hewn churches. There are thirteen churches carved out of the bare rock landscape or the side of the rockface – an incredible achievement. No one to this day has satisfactorily explained or understood how such a mammoth project was completed.
Lalibela is the “jewel in Ethiopia’s crown”, a 1978 UNESCO World Heritage site, the eighth wonder of the world, the most famous tourist site in Ethiopia.
80-100,000 Ethiopians live in the harsh, barren, deforested, mountainous catchment area around Lalibela struggling to eke out an existence through subsistence farming.
Tragically this landscape was the site of the 1984 Ethiopian famine. The world was alerted to the disaster by Michael Buerk on BBC1 news – “Dawn, and as the sun breaks through the piercing chill of the night …. it lights up a biblical famine, now in the twentieth century. This place, workers say here, is the closest thing to hell on earth.” This famine prompted Bob Geldoff to start Band Aid. One million Ethiopians starved to death.

On our return to the UK, we discovered that a non-government organisation (NGO) called Plan was working in Lalibela.

Plan is a child-centred community-based worldwide NGO working in forty-five developing countries. Over 80% of monies raised is from child sponsorship. Plan is community based in that no money passes to the child or their family but to the benefit of the community. In Lalibela and its catchment area, Plan has built schools and health posts, subsidised the salaries of teachers and nurses, encouraged family planning and promoted the rights of women and children. Plan has ensured safe water by capping wells and, through solar power, piped spring water to schools, health posts and villages. Plan has introduced agricultural diversification, improved irrigation methods, constructed access tracks and provided facilities for small industry generation.

We have been very impressed with Plan’s work in and around Lalibela. They are open, transparent and accountable. Plan is simply the organisation through which our fundraising efforts reach Lalibela – it is essential to have a safe, secure trustworthy channel. Plan has agreed that 100% of all money raised will go to the projects. We do not work for Plan.

1) To link local Somerset primary schools through child sponsorship with schools in the Lalibela area: We visit Lalibela schools to hand over gifts and educational materials; we take many photographs. The focus of our talks and powerpoint presentations in Somerset is a description of the life and conditions that children of primary school age experience in the Ethiopian highlands. We hope our visits make the link more meaningful and real.

2) Raising awareness in central Somerset of prevailing conditions in Lalibela by supporting projects previously agreed as priority by health and education officers in Lalibela and Plan Lalibela – all Ethiopians.

3) To support the development of Lalibela secondary school.

St John’s Infant, St Benedict’s Primary and St Dunstan’s Secondary School GAP in Glastonbury plus Baltonsborough Primary School, Millfield Preparatory School and West Pennard Primary School have established child/school links in Lalibela. We have visited six other Somerset schools.
Glastonbury and Street Lions and Lalune Bistro, Glastonbury also sponsor children in Lalibela as do three other individuals – a total of eleven.

Presentations have also been given to Rotary, Lions, Churches and church groups, Townswomen’s Guild, the Windmill Hill Club and the Forget-me-not Club.

1) Anti-malaria nets – 2004-2007: Malaria is the number one killer in and around Lalibela, particularly affecting pregnant women and children under five. Insecticide treated anti-malaria nets reduce the incidence of malaria by about 45%. It is estimated that every one thousand nets save seven lives.

2005, 2006 and early 2007: Over £25,000 was raised towards 7,500 anti-malaria nets.

2) Lalibela Secondary School – 2004 onwards: Two large primary schools in Lalibela (5,650 pupils in total) and thirty-nine smaller rural primary schools feed into a single new secondary school built in 2005. Currently 2,700 pupils (1,200 female) attend the secondary school which simply consists of four blocks of four classrooms, a staff room and a few sheds. Attendance, because of huge numbers, is on a half-day basis. The target is more than 2,500 pupils for each year group – in all 7,500 pupils. Additional classrooms are under construction.

“When you educate a boy, you educate an individual.
When you educate a girl, you educate a community.”

2006: The pupils of Millfield and Millfield Preparatory School donated £6,000 towards classroom furniture and computer equipment .
2008: The pupils of Millfield School have promised 20% of the total sum raised this year to Lalibela Secondary School.

3) Maternal health projects and fistula repair surgery – 2006 onwards: Payment of all expenses for women suffering from obstetric fistulae as a result of obstructed childbirth to undergo curative surgery at either Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital or the nearer outreach Bahar Dar hospital. Towards the end of 2006, community village volunteers identified several fistula cases – an incredibly sensitive, secretive personal condition full of stigma, shame and humiliation.

November 2007: Twenty-two women have undergone successful fistula surgery – three more await surgery.
2007: £7,000 raised towards fistula surgery and midwifery care.

4) Empowerment of women – 2008 onwards: £5,000 – £7,000 funding annually for two years has been promised to advocate empowerment of women. This is a groundbreaking opportunity for women to start up their own income generating businesses and break away from male dependence.

An African poem: I have a dream that when my daughter grows up
she will be known for her contribution to the world,
not by the number of children she has nor by the
size of her hips.

5) Supplementary food project for pre-school and primary school children in Lalibela catchment area – 2008 onwards: Target £5,000. Families in the Ethiopian highlands are struggling to survive. In Ethiopia 80% of the population live on less than £1 per day, between 6 and 13 million are at risk from starvation and nearly 40% of the children are underweight due to poor nutrition. Nutritionally the first few years of a child’s life are crucial in determining its well-being in adulthood.

It is now five years since the plane’s flight was delayed, five return journeys, and a rollercoaster of emotions for us. We have been amazed and humbled by the number of individuals of all ages, schools and organisations who have been interested and contributed towards our projects. All the schools in their own way have touched the lives of their fellow Ethiopians. The Somerset schools crested sweatshirts and clothing on Ethiopian schoolchildren, new classroom furniture, computer equipment, writing materials, a new football, a tennis ball instead of a bundle of tightly tied rags all make an impact. They can give nothing in return except their thanks, their friendliness and their hospitality which they do in abundance. We are drawn to return by the generosity of the Glastonbury area support and the heartfelt thanks of the Lalibela community. We are happy to be the mules and messengers of the link.


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