Saturday, April 07, 2007

wood carrier women

(March 16 - 17, 2007: Entoto Mountains, north of Addis Ababa.)

Just seeing them is heart-breaking. They are tiny, often barefoot, carrying huge bundles of wood and singing. Almost all the diesel-burning vehicles that roar past them, geers grinding on the steep mountain road, emit noxious clouds of exhaust. On the narrow roads, the drivers constantly tootle their horns at them and the women have to turn so that the bundles they carry are parallel to the road and do not jut out into the traffic, to allow the vehicles to pass. Many drivers barely give the women time to get out of the way.
At those altitudes, I huffed and puffed like somebody with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, so I could hardly believe my eyes to see these tiny women and girls who could not weight an ounce over 80 lbs, running down the mountain, laughing, chattering and singing, as they carried these enormous loads of perhaps 40 - 60 lbs of wood on their backs.
But when you hear more about their lives, you have to be made of stone not to cry for them.
In order to protect the scarce resource of the eucalyptus trees, the Ethiopian government has hired guards to protect the forests. In theory, if the women are not cutting down trees, merely collecting deadfalls, branches on the ground, and so on, the women are allowed to gather the wood. The women make the trip up the steep road from the city in the early pre-dawn hours, gather wood all day, then make the trip down to the markets at dusk. Often, it is the guards who harass and rape these women, who are already barely surviving on the pittance brought in by selling the wood in the city.
The work the wood carrier women do is terribly undervalued, as most households in the cities of Ethiopia and Africa still rely on biomass fuels like wood, charcoal, and dung for cooking.
There are a couple of projects that I am aware of, that have been set up to help the women. The first is the Former Women Fuel Wood Carriers Association. Their market is very visibly located right on the Entoto Road in the foothills of the Entoto Mountains. The second is The World Bank’s Ethiopian Women Fuel Wood Carriers Project.

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4:19 a.m.  

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