Goodwill to One and All?

25/11/2015 13:04 GMT | Updated 24/11/2016 10:12 GMT

The season of cheery goodwill is approaching fast. The big Christmas ads are up and running, the city centre lights are sparkling against the chilled night skies and holiday plans are being formulated.

But could Christmas 2015 be a turning point in global consciousness? Could this be the year when we look at the excesses of this annual party season and question if we can share the celebration with more than our immediate friends and family?

Surely 2015, more than any other year in recent history, has brought the haves and the have nots so sharply into focus that nobody with a heart can ignore them? A tiny child's body washed up on the shore encapsulating in one desperately sad scene the perils of seeking a new life through migration. Body bags carrying the victims of violence and terror through a myriad of city streets and communities from Syria, Iraq and Pakistan to Nigeria and France. And I haven't even started on nature's disasters; the heatwave in Asia which killed thousands, the ongoing threats of Ebola, malaria, HIV/ AIDS in Africa, the earthquake in Afghanistan.

The list goes on. 2015 has been an emotional roller coaster for anyone who cares about humanity, and finding a personal route-map through the misery to make a meaningful contribution seems impossible. What can our one voice contribute in a world confused by such unpredictable madness?

But is it so unpredictable? Yes there are politics, ideologies and natural disasters we can't have personal control over. Big organisations, country governments and analysts are watching those, envisioning how the globe needs to respond. The forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals are a good example.

Yet a lot of what I see through our charity, working in seven African countries, is all too predictable. If you don't give people the training and resources to help themselves, they are going to live in an endless cycle of poverty and disaster. Humanitarian aid becomes the norm - whether it's food aid from the national government or emergency aid from charities around the world.

Ethiopia is a good example. Climate change coupled with the effects of El Niño means the country is facing its worst drought in decades. An estimated 8m people are already affected in the north, and the Ethiopian government is predicting this number will double in the coming year. What it means for a country heavily dependent on smallholder farming is food insecurity: families depending on food aid to supplement their meagre supplies.

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But while the drought is exacerbating hunger for millions, and the United Nations' intervention alongside the national government's plans are very welcome, the reality is that living without decent nutrition and struggling to eat more than once a day during the 'hungry months' between harvests has been a fact of life for millions of Ethiopians for generations. It's the reason why Send a Cow has been working there for over 15 years. We are trying to help break the cycle of dependency by giving people the hope and confidence to help themselves.

Our focus has been in the south, where isolated communities have depended on the grain crop teff, the root vegetable taro and on coffee for survival, but we have also been investigating how we might work in the north.

We train farmers in land and livestock management and have also been successfully introducing them to community and cooperative working, which gives them a support network and enables them to maximise market opportunities. As soon as people are food secure, we encourage them to diversify their income by growing a wider variety of crops and establishing other enterprises so they are more resilient when a harvest fails or a natural disaster strikes.

A big part of our work has been introducing communities to vitamin and mineral rich vegetables which they had never eaten before and didn't know how to grow. Vegetables like the leafy moringa that, a bit like cabbage, is packed with nutrition, and tomatoes and onions which command high prices in the local markets.

We are also helping to innovate. Taro is a waxy root vegetable and a staple part of the diet, served boiled. But it has a limited shelf life, just a couple of months, so we have been working with farmers on a pioneering project to extend the value of taro by drying it and processing it into a flour. This takes the shelf life to 18 months, giving farmers something they can eat and sell as bread and biscuits, or as flour.

So yes, I think we can all contribute goodwill beyond our friends and family this Christmas. We can help counter some of the world's all too predictable tragedies but it means thinking beyond the next emergency and acting now to help others help themselves.