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Grandparents in Ethiopia

Ethiopian gransJane Fearnley-Whittingstall travelled to Ethiopia with Age UK and found out a bit about how grandparents lived there. This is a guest blog she wrote for us about her experiences.

"I love my grandchildren to bits. I’d do anything for them." How often do these words trip glibly off my tongue?

Food for thought - I’m just back from Ethiopia where I met grannies who really and truly do everything for their grandchildren. It’s the poorest country in Africa, and more grannies than ever before care for their grandchildren full-time. Many children are AIDS orphans; the mothers of others emigrate to work as maids in countries where they are often dreadfully exploited, and the hoped-for wages never reach home.

"It’s our duty to care for our grandchildren," Zenebech, granny to two adorable little girls aged six and four, told me, solemnly. Then her face lit up; "but it also makes us happy, because we love them so much." Like most families in the slums of Addis Ababa, she and her sick husband and their two grandchildren live in one small room in a windowless shack, there’s no sanitation and the nearest water tap is at the end of the street. Zenebech hopes for a better life for her granddaughters. She sets great store by their education. School is free, but the uniform, exercise books and dinners are not. To provide these essentials, she often used to go hungry.

EthiopiaNow she receives help from AgeUK and Help Age International. Both charities support local community projects. "Adopt a Grandparent" and "Raise a Grandchild" give aid to grandparents who look after their grandchildren, killing two birds with one stone: they ensure a useful, dignified old age for grandparents and a better future for children who would otherwise be begging in the street and would probably starve.

In Addis I also visited the Eneredada Day Centre where the elderly gather to socialize and to work (they spin and weave "gabis", traditional cotton shawls, which are sold to help fund the centre). They get a good square meal there, washing facilities are provided, plus medical care for those who need it. Each family gets a monthly ration of flour, oil and soap. Instead of "Meals on Wheels", able-bodied elders take "Meals on Foot" to others who are house-bound. They wash them, cut their hair perhaps, and generally care for them. Local school children help out and learn to spin and weave in the traditional way.

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Eneredada is full of colour, chatter and laughter. The dignity and fortitude of the grandmothers and their infectious cheerfulness are heart-warming. When we were there they burst into spontaneous song and dance.

Ethiopia is a beautiful country, its people are friendly and smiley and the women wear bright, strong shades of blue, green, shocking pink, gold, orange, purple. In spite of the poverty, it fills you with optimism. I’m planning to go back.

You can find out more about the work of Help Age International on their website.