In March, 2010, Sam Nuttmann and I traveled to Ethiopia to do work for Ethiopia Reads. Ethiopia Reads (ethiopiareads.org) is a non-profit that builds libraries in schools throughout Ethiopia, they also set up donkey mobile libraries to bring books to kids in more rural villages, and they publish books in local languages. While we were there, we stayed at Ethiopia Guest Homes (ethiopiaguesthome.com), a group of homes set up for adopting parents to say at while they are in Ethiopia during the adoption process. The homes were set up as an alternative to staying at a hotel, which can feel very intimidating to both the parents and especially the children. The guest homes provide transportation, a translator, a cook, a nanny, and many other services (including massages) to make the adoption process more comfortable.
While at the Guest Home, we met Sammy, who works with the Guest Home. Sammy spent the majority of his childhood struggling to get the food he and his family needed from the garbage dump in Korah. When he was 12 years old, he and some of his friends decided to go and join the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea – simply because the army provided meals. They were sick and tired of always fighting for the leftovers that could sometimes be found in the garbage dump. On the way to register for the army, they crossed the compound where Young Life started the ministry. They saw a lot of the U.S. Young Life Leaders hanging out with the kids from the Korah community. He ended up joining them and decided not to join the army. Since then, Sammy has dedicated his life to helping those in Korah.
One of they days where we were not filming for Ethiopia Reads, Sammy offered to take us to Korah and the garbage dump next to Korah, where many residents search for food. We grabbed our gear and happily piled into the van, not knowing what to expect. On my travels I have visited garbage dump cities in Egypt, and been to slum villages in India – but I was very unprepared for the eyeopening, humbling, and heartwarming experience about to follow.
We arrived at the dump and the second we were out of the van we were greeted by 5 grinning boys. They all said hello and gave us the customary greeting in Ethiopia of a handshake with a shoulder bump. They then led us to the main part of the dump. Here, the garbage trucks arrive and dump their load of trash. The people there, ranging from infants to the elderly, then sort through all the trash using their hands, or medal hooks. Some of the garbage is saved for recycling or to resell, but a majority is eaten on the spot. It was really difficult watching kids suck the last bit of salad dressing out of an opened packet or drinking the last few drops of water left in a water bottle. There is very little regulation out here, and we were told stories of medical waste showing up at the dump as well as other highly dangerous items. Throughout our time there, however, we were received with open arms. Although, at times shy, everyone was all smiles – and held on to a firm belief that things will get better.
And I am happy to say, that I found out a few weeks ago, that through organizations like Project 61 (p61.org), and with the help of our film – 250 of the kids who live in the dump and Korah, were given scholarships to a school that provides room, 3 meals, clothes and schooling.
After visiting the garbage dump, we drove into the Village of Korah. The village of Korah is a small village just outside Addis Ababa, the capitol city of Ethiopia. The village was founded over seventy five years ago by people inflicted with leprosy, seeking treatment in Addis. Three generations later, over 100,000 people live in Korah, most of whom have leprosy, HIV/AIDS, are widows or orphans. Their extreme poverty has forced many of the villagers to forage through the local trash dump to find enough food to survive each day.
When Sam Nuttmann and I arrived in Ethiopia we had never heard of Korah. And as we talked to people while we were in Ethiopia, a lot of them had never heard of it – even though they lived only a few miles away. So, we were amazed to see such a huge village. The people in the village live in very small, mostly mud and wood huts/houses. A huge problem Korah faces is that when it rains, there is no way to keep the water out of the houses. And while we were there it started pouring. To see the water freely flow in and through people homes, was very hard to see. But… everywhere we went, we were very warmly greeted. Even with so little, everyone proudly invited us in and showed us their home. One of the women we met (I feature her photo on my web site, and the image recently won 3rd place in a photo competition), had a very common story from Korah – She has 3 children and after her neighbor also passed away a few months ago because of HIV, she now takes care of her 2 children and makes a living by spending time finding food and things she can sell at the nearby garbage dump.
We felt so honored to be invited to both Korah and the garbage dump. The images and faces I saw there will forever be ingrained in my mind. I am returning to Ethiopia in January 2011 to work on a feature length film about adoption and Korah. The new project is called Both Ends Burning.
For more information about Korah, visit:
To our guide Samuel Liben and all the people of Korah who opened their homes and hearts to us, trusting our intentions with the footage and stories we collected there. They will not be forgotten and our work for them has only just begun.To Patrick Watson and Secret City Records for granting permission to use the track “Man Like You” in this video.
MUSICPatrick Watson”Man Like You” from the album Wooden
Producer / Director / Cinematography: Sam Nuttmann and Keith Bolling
Editor / Sound Design / Motion Graphics: Sam Nuttmann