Working in close partnership with communities in East Africa, Vita helps local indigenous peoples to fight the devastating impacts of climate change, conflict and poverty in order to create more sustainable livelihoods for the future.
Keep reading to find out more about Onaway’s partnership with Vita and how you can support their life-changing work.
Originally founded as Refugee Trust International in 1989, Vita is an Irish-based organisation which nowadays focuses its efforts on alleviating poverty and hardship in the Horn of Africa. The charity principally works in Ethiopia and Eritrea to support indigenous agro-pastoralist communities in their struggle against the damaging effects of climate change and land degradation on food security and livelihoods.
Vita combine their environmental focus with an emphasis on social justice, using a community-led development model to consult, inform and fully involve target communities in their work, and employing local people as project coordinators in order to ensure the true benefit of these projects to local indigenous people and their cultures.
Together, Vita and the target communities work to find solutions to extreme poverty, instability and hunger through initiatives improving access to sustainable sources of clean water and household energy while helping people to create sustainable livelihoods, with the aim of both improving food security and protecting the environment amid the backdrop of a fragile and changing landscape.
“It is through collaborative efforts we bring successful outcomes that improve people’s livelihoods.”- Wenghelawit Asrat, project coordinator
With the effects of climate change in Africa only continuing to worsen in recent years, citizens of countries such as Ethiopia and Eritrea are increasingly struggling to maintain their traditional lifestyles and livelihoods. Some areas of Ethiopia are experiencing the lowest levels of rainfall for 40 years, with consecutive years of drought and poor rainy seasons. This is a huge concern for the country’s many agro-pastoralist communities, such as the Suri people of the Surma district, who are having to deal with the repercussions of poor harvests as rivers are no longer flooding and watering the surrounding agricultural land, and resulting increases in food prices have left 8.1 million people food insecure.
Poverty and competition for natural resources between different communities as a result of climate change has led to 3 million Ethiopian citizens being internally displaced, an issue which is amplified by forceful land-grabbing by the government and foreign investors, who are removing indigenous pastoralist communities from their traditional farming and grazing lands in order to install lucrative initiatives such as sugarcane plantations.
The building of dams in rivers on tribal lands has diverted the natural flow of the water, leading to a reduction in natural resources such as fish populations and forcing further migration of vulnerable communities who can no longer be supported by their own ancestral lands. Furthermore, livestock disease and the degradation of pasture lands are leaving many with limited or no productive assets, and with 40 – 50% of those who own few or no livestock having an unstable income, these preventable problems could have far-reaching repercussions.
“We all have to make small changes - it’s hard to live in the old way.”- Lemme, beneficiary of Vita’s work
Certain groups are at particular risk of exclusion. Young people under 30 years old account for 70% of the population but are faced with a lack of opportunities in training and employment. Women, too, battle with many social, cultural and economic barriers, and are often unable to take control of their own finances due to a lack of access to the household assets and income. However, those who also belong to indigenous groups find they cannot even rely on having their rights protected by national law and frequently suffer shocking human rights violations as a result of tensions between ethnic groups, in addition to having poor access to essential services such as healthcare and education.
The Onaway Trust has worked with Vita on a number of vital projects helping to improve the lives and protect the cultures of the indigenous peoples of East Africa, while striving to mitigate the effects of a changing climate on the local landscape. The Trust has been proud to provide financial grants to several programmes supplying irrigation systems, high-quality livestock and crop varieties, and more efficient cooking stoves to communities in the South Omo and Gamo Zone districts of Ethiopia, home to many indigenous peoples including the pastoralist Suri and Dassanech (Daasanach) tribes.
In 2020, the Onaway Trust provided funding for a fruit production project working to improve the health and livelihoods of 60 households in the Surma and Nyangatom districts by offering agricultural training, farm tools, irrigation pumps, and new seed varieties of nutrient-dense, climate-resilient fruits to the most vulnerable members of these communities, particularly women and unemployed young people.
By assisting local people to grow drought-resistant varieties of crops such as bananas, tomatoes and moringa on 20 hectares of previously arid land, this initiative benefitted around 1000 people from the local and surrounding communities by providing essential irrigation systems, reducing the dependency on livestock, and increasing food security, alongside the invaluable health benefits of the fresh fruit. The production of this fruit has given local women the chance to create a source of personal income, thereby tackling social inequalities and helping many to break out of the poverty cycle.
“My life has changed dramatically. Now I manage all my expenses by myself and I don’t wait for my husband anymore.”- Tsehaynesh, beneficiary of Vita’s work
The Onaway Trust funded a further project in 2021 to provide a cluster of villages in the Gamo Zone with more sustainable and fuel-efficient cooking stoves. The community previously relied on three-stone open fires for cooking which placed a lot of strain on both the environment and the women and children who were required to trek long distances to gather large quantities of firewood from the community’s sacred forests. The inefficiency of these fires meant that firewood was being harvested at a rate faster than trees and shrubs could regenerate and the smoke they produced was toxic and harmful to the health of the villagers.
Providing these new efficient stoves to all 392 households in the Geresse district will not only improve the health and standard of living of the people and reduce the strain on women and children due to using fuel which is easier to find and gather, such as smaller twigs, leaves and crop residue but, by reducing firewood consumption by 50% per household, it should also alleviate the pressure on local forests. In addition to the obvious environmental benefits this brings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preventing deforestation, the conservation of these sacred forests will allow the Gamo people to preserve their own cultural heritage, beliefs and way of life.
The success of these programmes has had enormous and long-lasting benefits for the participating communities. In addition to improved food security, livelihoods and standards of living, thanks to Vita 40,000 more people now have convenient access to clean and safe water.
The Onaway Trust is proud to partner with an organisation which shares our core belief that defending indigenous peoples and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand; as the Earth’s best custodians of the natural world, helping tribal peoples to defend their right to remain on their ancestral lands in turn preserves the delicate balance of the nature they live harmoniously alongside. The impact of Vita’s programmes serves as a shining example that indigenous people should not have to sacrifice their cultures and traditional ways of life in order to find wellbeing, security, equality and prosperity in the modern world.
“There are very few philanthropic organisations who reflect our values the way that Onaway does.”- Vita
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