Category Archives: Travel

Celebrating 10 Years of the Rwanda Path to Peace Program

Celebrating 10 Years of the Rwanda Path to Peace Program

Screen Shot 2015-10-15 at 4.20.53 PMThe style of our home décor leans toward Nomadic with pieces we have collected  from around the world on our travels that represent a meaningful trip or story. The beautiful hand-woven Rwandan baskets are no different, in them I see the history of an area of the world that I’ve been to and loved, woven with the hope and Path to Peace that each basket represents for the women of Rwanda.

In 1991 I spent six months living out of a backpack as I traveled overland through 16 African countries from Morocco down to Botswana. We camped in tents along the way, shopped for our food at village markets, and made our fire to cook over each night. As you can imagine it was a transformative experience. When people find out that my travels have taken me to over 60 countries around the globe they often ask which one was my favorite. An impossible question in this diverse and magnificent world of ours, rich with its variety of cultures and topography. When I am pressed to choose just one area, Central Africa is the region that pops into my mind each time. We went Gorilla Trekking on the border of Uganda and Rwanda, a phenomenal experience in itself, and it was just one of the most beautiful areas I have ever seen. It was not just the picturesque stepped farms carved into verdant mountains, and the surrounding lush landscape. It was the people, the villages, their arts, and culture that captured some part of me.

I was heart-broken and horrified just a few years later when I heard about the tribal massacres that swept Rwanda in a brutal killing spree that took the lives of almost a million people over the course of just three months. It seemed impossible that an area that had been so warm and inviting, had felt so safe, could erupt in such a violent way. I mourned for Rwanda and volunteered to go back to help, but they really only needed medical volunteers.  This left me feeling useless and frustrated at my lack of valuable skills that could help in any recovery.  The tribal hatred between the Hutus and Tutsis had turned into an ethnic slaughter where neighbor killed neighbor in one of the worst genocides in human history.

The violence left many Rwandan women as the sole providers for their families. Husbands, fathers and sons had been killed or jailed for committing unspeakable atrocities. In the aftermath of such horror I am always amazed by the resilience of the human spirit, that of women in particular. Despite fresh wounds, both mental and physical, the women of Rwanda began to come together through the tradition of weaving as a way to rebuild and reconcile.

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“After the genocide, which tore the ethnic communities of Rwanda apart, the country was looking for a positive symbol that all sides could endorse. Beautiful baskets had been part of Rwanda’s culture for centuries. Their craft and artistry were celebrated by all sides and across the ethnic divide. When the Rwanda Path to Peace program began, the basket became the symbol that all Rwandans could embrace. And as women from formerly warring tribes came together to weave, the Path to Peace program became a vital tool to foster reconciliation.”

In 2005 Macy’s launched the Path to Peace Program. Willa Shalit, an American Artist, Activist and Social Entrepreneur, had introduced Macy’s executives to the beautiful hand-woven Rwandan baskets. Macy’s Partnered with the women of Rwanda in one of the very first “trade not aid” programs where all parties in the business model would benefit from its success.

This week Macy’s will celebrate 10 years of the Rwanda Path to Peace program. It is the longest running program of this kind, and over the years has transformed thousands of women’s lives, and in turn, those of their families and communities. I have come to realize that there are ways to help despite my lack of medical knowledge, and one of those is through my purchasing power. By choosing to spend my consumer dollars on products that I know come from socially responsible sources and are beneficial to others and our world. The hand-woven Rwandan baskets from the Macy’s Path to Peace program represent that idea that sometimes simple actions can collectively make a big impact in the lives of others.

Join me at the 10 year celebration tomorrow in New York!

Screen Shot 2015-10-19 at 11.04.42 AMI am a member of the Everywhere Society and Everywhere has provided me with compensation for this post. However, all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

The Origin Of Coffee

The Origin Of Coffee

 The Origin of Coffee


SAMSUNG CSCBefore my trip to Ethiopia last summer with the International Reporting Project I’d had no idea where coffee had originated. Imagine my thrill upon discovering that I was heading to the very birthplace of my favorite morning elixir.   Coffee, called Buna in Ethiopia, is central to the Ethiopian culture, and much to my delight, its intricate ritual of preparation takes place throughout the day in every possible setting.

The legend is that back around 800AD a young goat herder named Kaldi noticed his goats had increased energy and would begin jumping around the field every time they had eaten from a certain tree.  Kaldi gathered the tiny fruits from one of the trees and brought them to the village elders. The elders tossed them in the fire due to the bitter taste of the fruits, dismissing the young Shepard and his claims, but when the smell of the coffee roasting in the fire wafted out, their interest was piqued. The roasted seeds left behind were taken out of the fire and placed into water to cool, creating the first drink of coffee.  Now we grind the roasted seeds from inside the fruits, which are what we refer to as the coffee beans, and millions of people worldwide consume coffee each day in all sorts of permutations.


Look familiar?

“When you drink a cup of coffee ideas come marching in like an army”- Balzac

I fell madly in love with thick rich Ethiopian coffee while on our trip, and became enchanted by the ritual coffee preparation that I witnessed in factories, restaurants, homes, or on the sidewalk throughout our days.

North of Addis Ababa, exploring the islands of Lake Tana in Bahir Dar we passed wild coffee trees with branches of coffee fruit lining the paths, and again south of Addis, in the fields of Yetebon, coffee trees lines the fields. Ethiopia produces more coffee than any other African country, and coffee is its largest export. The climate is ideal for coffee growth, and most of the major coffee producing countries of the world lie in that same swath of tropical latitude.

Coffee beans growing in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

Coffee beans growing in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

The seeds, or fresh coffee beans are hand roasted over hot coals, and or fire, in wide flat roasting pans called baret metad, with what I perceived as a cathartic patience, until they are perfectly done.


Trying my hand at roasting the beans

The coffee beans are crushed and then added to the hot water in the traditional Ethiopian clay coffee pot called a Jebena. IMG_2879

Once the coffee boils up the long neck of the Jebena it is done. Popcorn is the traditional coffee ceremony snack accompaniment when the coffee is served.

SAMSUNG CSCI travelled to Ethiopia as a New Media Fellow with the International Reporting Project to report on Newborn Health.

Of Wanderlust And Coming Home

Of Wanderlust And Coming Home

Elizabeth AtalayI try to keep a cool adult demeanor as I open the tiny package at my seat. In it I find a pair of socks, a diminutive set with toothpaste and toothbrush, and a sleep-mask. I want to turn to the older gentleman in the plane seat next to mine as I pull out each item to show him with bright eyes and exclaim “Look how cute this toothbrush set is!” but I manage to keep my cool.

Wanderlust ;  a strong desire for or impulse to wander or travel and explore the world.

Wanderlust is my favorite word.  Aside from being fun to say, it most aptly captures my enthusiastic desire to discover new places.   The more I traveled, the more I learned about new places I’d love to see. Put me on an airplane and I am as giddy as a child. I love to travel, and it’s not just about the destination. The journey itself thrills me as well. That sense of excitement and adventure as a trip launches. The forced stretches of time on the trip to read, write, or watch as many movies as I can fit in.  I love the diminutive compartments of the meals, accompanied by tiny bottles of wine.   I enjoy conversations struck up with other travelers, slices of lives in transit. Where we are, where we are going, and where we’ve been.  I’m excited by the anticipation of a new place, and of entering the unexpected.

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Health Post At Mosebo Village, Ethiopia

Health Post At Mosebo Village, Ethiopia

Elizabeth Atalay

We had just spent the night at the source of the Blue Nile River. Lake Tana sits in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, and as our caravan of Land Cruisers wove through the countryside from Bahir Dar to Mosebo I took in deep gulping breaths of sweet fresh Ethiopian air. The lush colors of our surroundings looked to me like they had been enhanced in Photoshop in the way that everything seemed to pop.  How could I feel this emotional connection to place that was never mine? A place I had never been?

Though this is my first time in Ethiopia, the verdant landscape brought me back to other rural parts of Africa I’d traveled through in my youth, similar topographies that had stayed with me ever since.  This time I’d returned to the continent as a new media fellow with the International Reporting Project to report on newborn health.  We were heading to one of the villages housing a Health Post which serves the local and surrounding population of approximately 3,500 people.

Photo by Elizabeth Atalay

Mosebo Village is part of Save The Children’s Saving Newborn Lives program, and as such is looked to as a model village in the Ethiopian Government’s plan to reduce maternal and newborn mortality.  Mosebo is a rural agrarian community that produces wheat, teff and corn.  There I met seven-year-old Zina whose mother, Mebrate was about to give birth.  Through our translator Mebrate estimated her age to be around 26, and told us that Zina was her first child.  As we learned from interviewing many mothers along the way, her age estimate was really more of a suggestion, and at times might be a full decade older than the expecting mother’s true age. I suspect this is somewhat the case with Mebrate as well.   She said that for economic reasons she and her husband had waited to have a second child, but again, as we also learned, this might not be the full story. Losing a newborn in the act of childbirth is so common, and almost expected in rural Ethiopia, that it is not spoken of openly.   Almost in the way a western mother might not offer up a miscarriage amongst her healthy born children if asked how many children she has.

When she had Zina, Mebrate had gone to her parent’s home to give birth, as women in Ethiopia often do. It is estimated that 80% of Ethiopian mothers will give birth in their home, often without a trained health care attendant. Towards the end of Mebrate’s first pregnancy she went to live with her parents as her family instructed, until after the baby was born.  In that way her mother could help her deliver, could care for her and the baby, and feed her the traditional porridge after birth. Although there were no complications during her delivery, sadly, many young mothers giving birth at home are not as fortunate. The time period during and around birth are the most vulnerable for the lives of both the mothers and babies. The Saving Newborn Lives Program aims to reduce maternal and newborn mortality beginning with awareness programs and pre-natal care on the local level at Health Posts like the one we visited in Mosebo.

Mosebo Health Post

The Mosebo Health Post and Health Extension Workers

We had met Tirgno and Fasika, the two Health Extension Workers at the Mosebo Health Post earlier that day as they showed us the two room interior, and explained their role in improving maternal and newborn health.  They work to raise awareness in the community about the importance of pre-natal care, and the potential dangers of giving birth at home for both mother and child. Newborn health is interdependent with maternal health, and the most prevalent causes of newborn mortality, infection, Asphyxiation, pre-maturity or low birth weight, and diarrhea can often be avoided with proper care.   These days in Mosebo after receiving pre-natal care at the Health Post women are then referred to the regional Health Center for deliveries.

Zina shyly smiled when we ask her how she felt about having a new sibling, she stood straight and tall listening intently as we asked her mother about the babies’ arrival.  When Mebrate goes into labor this time, with her second child, she will embark on the walk along rural dirt roads for around an hour to the nearest Health Center to give birth.

This story was reported by Elizabeth Atalay from Ethiopia where she traveled as a fellow with the International Reporting Project (IRP). This post is a modified version of one first written for World Moms Blog.

Health Extension Workers Impact On #EthiopiaNewborns Via

Health Extension Workers Impact On #EthiopiaNewborns Via
Photo Credit: Elizabeth Atalay

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Atalay

“My turning point, was I lost a mom of six from bleeding,” said Dr. Abeba Bekele when speaking about her commitment to maternal and newborn health in Ethiopia. She distinctly remembered that moment as her turning point.

After having practicing medicine for five years in deep rural areas of the country, “I saw the issues, the problems, the challenges,” she said. “What made me decide actually to go into public health…..was I lost a mom of six from bleeding. Just bleeding on a couch because there was nothing, no supplies in the facility, we didn’t have IV fluids. The family was not willing to give blood for various reasons. But there was nothing in the hospital. So we tried to do everything, I had two midwives with me, and myself, and we lost her. I said, OK this is it. I don’t want to continue my life seeing these types of challenges. I have to go into prevention.”Now the Thematic Sector lead at Save the Children Ethiopia’s Saving Newborn Lives Program, Dr. Bekele has stayed true to that vow. Maternal deaths have been reduced by two-thirds since the year 2000, from 1 in 24 to 1 in 67.Ethiopia has been praised as a success story in Child Health, having reached Millennium Development Goal #4, to reduce child mortality, ahead of the 2015 schedule. Yet while the mortality rate of children age 1 month to just under 5 years has annually declined by 6.1%, the neonatal mortality rate in Ethiopia is only declining at a rate of 2.4 %. Newborn deaths account for 43% of all deaths under the age of 5 years old.Save The ChildrenThe major issue in Ethiopia is that approximately 80% of women give birth at home, often without the presence of a trained health care worker. The majority of the population lives in rural areas with poor access to health care.Dr. Abebe’s own story also illustrates that even in the presence of the most skilled physician, without resources, or transportation to a hospital from a remote area, lives can still be lost. The fact that less than half of newborns are protected against tetanus is another major contributing factor, especially for home births in unsterile conditions.The country’s success on MDG 4 illustrates that with dedicated financial and intellectual commitment, Ethiopia’s goal to reduce the number of newborn deaths by 2015 can be achieved. The Health Extension Plan implemented by the government to target the issue is deploying trained Health Extension Workers, and the Health Development Army, both key delivery platforms at the primary level.The ultimate goal is one health care post for every 5,000 regional inhabitants attended by two Health Extension Workers. Then one larger health care center serving every five health care posts and one major hospital for each of the 800 districts of Ethiopia. Health Extension Workers train for one year after graduating high school in the communities in which they will serve. The Health Development Army volunteers have been key to the success of the program on a local level by educating their own communities.

In such a large, diverse country, there are cultural challenges to getting mothers and communities to adopt new health practices. In the southern region of Ethiopia when women were not coming in to the new Health Care Center to give birth, they figured out that the women did not feel comfortable with the birthing position on the table. When they changed it to a more culturally suitable option, women began to come in to give birth. Working with formal and informal community leaders has also proved important.

Dr. Abeba Bekele has kept her pledge from that moment when she lost that mother years ago as she continues to implement change in her country through her work with Save the Children. The government of one of the poorest countries in the world seems committed to preventative health care measures, and with education the thinking in rural communities is beginning to change. The great hope is that the newborn mortality rate will soon significantly change as well.

This is a slightly altered version of an article that appeared on  ONE Mom Elizabeth Atalay was in Ethiopia as an International Reporting Project Fellow on a New Media Fellowship to report on newborn health. Follow her journey on Twitter with hashtag #EthiopiaNewborns.