When 15-year-old Pape’s mother became sick, she quit school and moved to a rural area to care for her. Determined to finish school, she moved back to town with her mother two years later, but it was difficult to be a caregiver and continue her education on the meager financial support her sister provided.
“Taking care of my mother was the most important thing for me,” Pape says. “And although I was happy that I could help her, it was very difficult to care for her myself and stay in school.”
Then, in 2006, ORDA installed an irrigation system down the hill and across the road from Pape’s house. Pape recognized the program as an opportunity to feed herself and her mother and have enough money to pay for school supplies.
“I learned how to plant and tend crops by watching the others who were being trained,” she says. Eventually, she asked for and received seeds from ORDA for her own personal use—cabbage, spinach, lettuce, onion, tomatoes, peppers and ground nuts. Every day, she would walk down the hill to get water for her crops.
Her hard work has paid off. Pape has been able to raise enough food for her family’s consumption and has enough left over to sell at market. She’s used the income to purchase school supplies, clothes and, most recently, a tin roof for her home.
Pape still enjoys school, and has great expectations for her future. She dreams of becoming either a doctor or a teacher.
“I would like to be educated in either America or Europe,” she says. “But after I finish my schooling, I will return to Ethiopia. I want to help my people succeed, just as ORDA helped me when I needed it.”
When we revisited Pape in 2008, we first noticed how much she had expanded her garden. She is now growing castor plants, sugar cane, peppers, jatropha (a bio-fuel plant), lettuce, 2 orange trees, cotton (which she uses to hand-spin thread), eggplant, a mango tree, 3 papaya trees, lemongrass, cabbage, herbs and coffee.
She also recently purchased chickens and has taken up basket-weaving.
Pape knows that to bring her family out of poverty, she must attend school and grow food that they can eat and sell at market.
“By using my time wisely, I can devote every second to study and tending my garden,” said Pape. “I am not interested in playing like my friends. It wastes my time, and I can do more work in my garden this way. I am not going to be free from my problems by playing.”
She still dreams of becoming a doctor or nurse, noting that “The decision depends on how well I do in school. If I get this chance, I will be able to get a job and support my mother.”
Her hard work and determination impressed ORDA staff so much that by the end of the visit, we offered Pape a nearby plot of land to grow tomatoes. Pape was thrilled at this gift and told us, “I recently asked a farmer for a plot of land that he was not using so that I could grow tomatoes. He said that because I am female, I could not farm his land.”
A few months ago Pape injured her leg and traveled to Djibouti (where her older sister lives) for surgery. Unfortunately, the doctors didn’t know how to treat the leg, and it still bothers her. Nevertheless, her spirit is still amazingly strong and she is proud to report that she is now in 5th grade.