ADDIS ABEBA -- Hiwot, who lives in the Abraha Atsbaha region in Northern Ethiopia, says she realized what the MERET project could do when the local community helped her build a well outside her house.
"It gave me access to water, changed my life," says the 35-year-old single mother of three as she prepares cabbage with tomatoes from her garden for breakfast. "The money I received from selling guava and lemon allowed me not only to send my children to school but also to build a house,"she added.
Until a few years ago, most people in Abraha Atsbaha were not able to produce enough to survive. The land was degraded, covered by sand and full of gullies. Many people simply left.
But when the MERET project (Managing Environmental Resources to Enable Transition) took off, offering people food assistance and a way to improve their land, they started to come back.
Working with local administration and development agents, the community started the MERET interventions by building terraces and check dams in the surrounding hills to stop water from carrying away soil and to increase the level of the water table.
As the ground water level rose, the community built shallow wells near their homes which allowed them to grow different fruits and vegetables. The land productivity improved steadily and the community decided to use Food for Work activities to construct roads to transport their yields to the markets in surrounding villages to increase their income.
With the well in place, Hiwot's fruit and vegetable production increased year by year and so did her income. In the meantime she bought several cows, pays for her brother's university education and she covers all of her mother's expenses.
Hiwot participated in many of the MERET activities and she recalls suffering a lot from carrying the stones from the surrounding hills to the gully to construct the check-dam but back then it was only thanks to the food rations she received as a compensation for her work that she and her family had something to eat.
"I don't know where my children and I would be without MERET," declares Hiwot. "If the children are smart enough, they are going to make good use of their education and get a better life, if they are not able to make it, they can come back here and expand the farm I have and improve it. They won't suffer like I did," Hiwot added.