Along with millions of other Americans, I’ll be watching Anquan Boldin and the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL playoffs this weekend—but my mind will be in Ethiopia.
I traveled to southern Ethiopia not long ago to visit Oxfam America’s programs in the area. As we drove, my colleague Tewodros Negash explained why Oxfam uses its cash-for-work program to pay communities to clear brush from the fields by hand, something they’ve done for generations by setting controlled fires. As it turns out, the winds, which for as long as anyone can remember have been predictable, are now wholly unreliable. It used to be that people could set fire to the brush, rely on the wind to control the flames, and have a field that was clear in time for the rains. The grass would grow and their animals would have a place to graze. But with wind that’s unpredictable, and rain that’s even more so, communities must now take steps to survive the effects of climate change.
Just weeks later I told that story to Boldin and his friend and former teammate Larry Fitzgerald, NFL wide receiver for the Arizona Cardinals, during a meeting to discuss Oxfam America’s work. Boldin and Fitzgerald learned this summer of the devastating drought in East Africa and were looking for ways to help, which is why they reached out to Oxfam.
“I’ve been to the Horn of Africa before,” Fitzgerald, who will be appearing in the Pro Bowl for the seventh time later this month, told Yahoo! Sports Radio in a recent interview. “And I’ve seen some of the effects of the drought myself. … When you see [people affected by drought] you definitely want to do something because they are in dire need.”
Since then, in between catching footballs and evading linebackers and safeties, Boldin and Fitzgerald have raised money for Oxfam America on Twitter and Facebook, filmed a public service announcement (below) and used their high profiles to bring attention to the crisis.
One of the things Boldin, Fitzgerald, and I discussed is why the unpredictable weather is such a problem. This time last year Oxfam was warning of a serious summer drought, and urging the international community to step up its preparedness plans. Unreliable winds and rain mean there is a strong likelihood that the situation will be bad again this summer. Now is the time to prepare, and to expand sustainable development programs that work so that we can mitigate the effects of the next drought.
Both Boldin and Fitzgerald have expressed an interest in traveling overseas to shed light on the situation in East Africa, and I hope to join them. If they go to Ethiopia, they’ll have a chance to see the effects of the crisis firsthand, as well as to visit the Oxfam programs that they’ve helped to support.
“I always thought when I was growing up that I had it hard, but in no way does it compare to what’s going on in [East] Africa,” said Boldin of his efforts. “Anything that I can do, I’m going to do.”