ONEMoms in Ethiopia: First health, then happiness

Ethiopian mother and child
How can you possibly sum this photo up? Photo credit: ONE/Karen Walrond

Before you can be happy, you have to be healthy.

It sounds like a platitude you’d read in Chicken Soup for the Afflicted Soul, but I’m seeing it in the most literal way here in Ethiopia. Health — I’m talking basic health, the kind we don’t think twice about — is nowhere near guaranteed.

For once, a picture I took. With my iPhone. So breathtaking here.

We don’t think about it, not because we’re spoiled or stupid or unfeeling (important to say that out loud), but because our very environment makes it a given. Most of us live in clean homes connected to telephones with 911 service. We have access to doctors and emergency rooms and ambulances and routine immunizations and a pharmacy down the street (and a car or bike to drive there). Our toilets flush. Our water runs — and the water running out of the tap is pure. It’s hard to imagine the absense of these things.


We’ve just returned to Addis from the rural areas outside Bahir Dar. We had a chance to visit clinics and homes and farms. The land was remarkably beautiful: hilly, green land dotted with wildflowers, fields of corn all around, and more cattle, sheep and donkeys on the road than cars. 

  • Most people get around on foot.
  • Most families live in mud and grass homes the size of an average hotel room. With their sheep.
  • Most of these homes have no electricity or running water.
  • Cooking happens over a wood fire.

These details, by themselves, are not problems, nor are they sad. There is so much life and joy here. (At some point I’ll write a post just about THAT.) But from a healthcare perspective, there’s very little infrastructure for basic services. The good news is that infrastructure is growing by leaps and bounds. Please click over to my post The Accidental Expert where I describe our visits to healthcare facilities in more detail.

But I just wanted to give you some context for how different daily life looks in rural Ethiopia (at least outside Bahir Dar) to get across how different the healthcare challenges are. Once those challenges are met, and most of Ethiopia has access to basic healthcare, people can set their sights beyond survival. I won’t say “on happiness,” because security must come first. What people need is an opportunity to envision a more secure future.

Rural residences
Rural residences. Photo credit: ONE/Karen Walrond

When the cows come home.
When the cows come home. Photo credit: ONE/Karen Walrond 

Stopping to smile.
Stopping to smile. Photo credit: ONE/Karen Walrond

* * *

I’m in Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights poverty and preventable disease, primarily in Africa. 

The idea behind the ONEMoms partnership is simple: the connection we share as parents extends around the world. When we recognize that connection and come together, we can make real change.

If you’re moved by what you’re reading here (or on any of the ONEMom teams’ blogs) please join ONE, and spread the word about our ONEMoms journey this week! ONE will never ask for your money, just your voice. 

Follow along with ONEMoms happenings on the ONEMoms website, or use the hashtag #ONEMoms on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You can also find ONEMoms on Facebook.

More: Posts about ONEMoms


  1. says

    This…. “These details, by themselves, are not problems, nor are they sad. There is so much life and joy here.”….is what I wish everyone would understand and what you so beautifully painted with your words. These are not images that should make us have pity or be sad, they are images that should represent a call to action for each of us–to do whatever it is we can. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. says

    I think your headline sums it up perfectly. (You always get to the point so succinctly, I envy it!)

    It’s hard to explain how there’s no sadness or self-pity in the faces of the women living under conditions that Americans can’t even fathom. I’m going to remember all that laughter, all those smiles hopefully forever.