So, last week something extremely exciting happened.
The President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, and his wife, Sabina Higgins came to Ethiopia! As the Ethiopian national broadcaster ran the story and was relaying footage all week, my colleagues, friends and neighbours in Woldia were aware of the visit of my President and they were all thrilled for me and proud by default.
Not simply a diplomatic courtesy call, their itinerary in Ethiopia was varied and extensive. In Addis Ababa, they were given a tour of the museums, they visited projects supported by Trócaire and Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s Fistula Hospital which you may have heard of. Set up forty years ago by the Australian doctor and her husband, they have been tirelessly working ever since to alleviate the suffering of Ethiopian mothers. The 90 year old doctor is still operating on patients in Ethiopia and was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize which Mayala Yousafzai was ultimately awarded with.
Leaving Addis, they spent some time in Tigray, to the North of Woldia, a region where there is traditionally a very strong Irish presence particularly since the 1984 famine. While there they visited schools, agriculture projects and, most significantly for me, a VSO Ethiopia/Irish Aid project on Neo-Natal Intensive Care Units which a fellow VSO Ethiopia volunteer, Jon, briefed him on 🙂
All registered Irish citizens in Ethiopia got the opportunity to meet the President at a reception in Addis Ababa. In the room were the Irish movers and shakers of the NGO world, diplomats, missionaries, business persons and the odd crusty like myself, amazed that I was let in. I was fairly over-awed to be in the room at all.
The Irish Ambassador, gave a short speech introducing our “poet President” to the invited dignitaries and the Irish diaspora after which the President made a speech of his own. It was a fine speech which touched on many issues but he was most passionate and most impressive when speaking about a trip he made to Gambella in the West of Ethiopia earlier in the week. There he met GOAL staff members and refugees from the South Sudanese conflict. The President praised the refugees themselves, and also the Ethiopian people and their Irish colleagues for their commitment to refugees in different parts of the country. This really struck a chord with me. It made me think that this is a very basic act of humanity, to offer shelter for those desperately in need, and although Ethiopia is a poor country, they are doing what they can. When I stopped to think about it, I found it very humbling indeed and was proud to be a friend of Ethiopia.
After the President’s speech finished, we all got a chance to introduce ourselves and shake hands with him. It really was a wonderful occasion to be Irish in Ethiopia.