Student essay calls attention to fires as health hazards in Ethiopia — Elsa Lindenmeyr

Editor’s Note: The following piece was written by a CVU student as part of a school project this year. The characters were created as composites from research the author did into the topic of indoor smoke pollution in Ethiopia. Her intention is to communicate the daily struggles of the average family in Ethiopia.

By Elsa Lindenmeyr

You see the plains of Ethiopia, beautiful and flat. Zoom in on the village outside of Metu. There’s a road made of dirt and small huts scattered along side it, like the abandoned toys of a child who’ve grown too old for them.

Inside a little hut with mud plastered walls, just like all the others, you see a tired and worn woman sitting just inside her doorway with worry wrinkles prominent on her forehead.

She is called Abena. She sits, watching her children run through the dust and the smoke that encompasses their home. Abena then looks back down at the pot boiling on the open fire next to her, checking to see if the simple stew inside is done.

Her little girl, Liya, coughs as she runs, trying to catch her brother, Amari, as they race on the hard, dry ground.
Abena sees the stew is done and calls, “Come and eat,” and then watches as Amari sprints across the sand and jumps around the scraggly bushes until he reaches the hut and runs inside to grab his bowl.

But Liya does not run. She walks hurriedly, trying to keep up with her brother, but when she starts to run she has to stop to cough and wheeze until she can walk again. Abena observes this with a helpless sadness in her heart, recognizing that her daughter is ill but not quite understanding how sick she is.

They eat and talk about their days, sitting inside their home close enough to the fire to keep warm as the sun sets and the chilliness of night in the desert sets in.

Amari tells his mother about a little mountain veret that took a piece of his firewood by the river bed nearby. Liya says she collected the most firewood ever today and looks proudly at the small stack by the wall.

Finally, night arrives and with it comes sleep. Amari, Liya, and Abena curl up on thin mats with blankets thrown over them. They sleep, still and silent, except for the occasional cough from Liya. The fire continues cracking, as it always does, through the night and day, causing harm to their family through air pollution, to the environment from the carbon emissions, and to their chances of a future. But the fire, small and warm, provides the means of food, warmth and protection from the wilderness outside.

United Nations officials sit in their offices, aware but unable to help. Foreign governments import the Ethiopian coffee and other products for themselves, contributing to the crashed Ethiopian economy. Ethiopia’s government watches helplessly as it faces the country’s vast poverty and lack of electricity.

The characters of Abena, Amari and Liya are examples of the 70 million people affected by the smoke pollution in Ethiopia.

Annually, four million die from smoke-related diseases such as pneumonia and leukemia due to a lack of resources to provide medicine. The issue of indoor fires doesn’t only take place in Ethiopia, but in other developing countries as well, making it a major killer throughout the world.

Americans, with technology and social networks at our fingertips, barely know about the struggle for cheap, clean cooking techniques. The problem continues to escalate due to our lack of coverage and attention.

The need to gather fuel daily results in children spending a large amount of time at home helping out, instead of at school. Mothers like Abena watch silently as they see their children’s chances of escaping the cycle of poverty and pollution slowly decrease.

So tonight, when you sit down and eat your plate full of nutrition and breathe pure air without having to worry if you will have it tomorrow, tell someone about the people of Ethiopia. Share Abena, Amari and Liya’s stories. And one day our leaders will hear our conversations, will see past the red tape, and will dedicate more of our resources to clean fuel sources in Ethiopia.

But the only way for change to occur is if we take the time out of our days to learn more about the effects and causes of smoke pollution in Ethiopia as well as the African Clean Energy organization, which is dedicated to solving this issue in other countries such as South Africa, which is a great step in the right direction.

Shelburne resident Elsa Lindenmeyr is a rising sophomore at Champlain Valley Union High School.

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