As his friends and family in the U.S. were celebrating Christmas, Ben Krause was in the tiny Ethiopian town of Kalala, rolling out two things that most of the residents had never seen: a map and a plan.
Krause, a 2003 honors graduate with degrees in Spanish and philosophy, works for Catholic Relief Services in Ethiopia, a country that has been and will continue to be hard-hit by climate change. To help the country move past emergency aid and toward sustainable livelihoods, CRS is helping them create a plan to better manage their natural resources through concepts such as terracing, rehabilitating gullies, preventing erosion and recharging the water table. Hence the maps—giant vinyl satellite printouts from Google Earth.
“After carefully explaining what the maps were and where they came from, we put the farmers to work drawing in the existing water sources, schools, markets, rivers, land uses, degraded areas and other features that truly make this land their own,” Krause says. “Though most of them had never seen a map before, they quickly moved from utter confusion to crawling all over the maps, markers in one hand and shepherd staffs in the other, arguing over exactly where a river bends and how big the plot of irrigated land should be drawn.”
CRS then sent the community’s efforts back into Google Earth to serve as both a baseline and a guide for the next five years of work, while the maps stayed with the residents to help them manage their own futures. It’s a long-term project, though, meaning they are still dependent upon aid. In fact, a month earlier, Krause was at the Port of Djibouti helping guide the delivery of more than 30,000 metric tons of grain—the equivalent of 1,000 semis—brought to the country to help Ethiopians survive their third year of brutal drought. CRS feeds about 2 million people a month in Ethiopia.
In the meantime, more projects are underway: new irrigation and agricultural techniques that preserve crops; modern beehives that increase production 700 percent; and “arborloo” latrines that are used by people for six months and then filled in with fruit trees. It’s good to give a man a fish, and better to teach him how to fish, but enabling him to fertilize his own fruit tree every day might just be the best lesson of all.