First Person

You can call me Loko now

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Huka Balambal checks the water in an irrigation ditch he built along the Dawa River. Photo by Eva-Lotta Jansson
Huka Balambal checks the water in an irrigation ditch he built along the Dawa River. Photo by Eva-Lotta Jansson

I have a new name, and I’m thrilled with it. It’s Loko—a Borena name that means tall and thin.

The sobriquet was a gift, bestowed on a starlit night over the coals of a dwindling bonfire, by our Ethiopian partners with the Liben Pastoralist Development Association, or LPDA. Several colleagues and I had just spent two days with them trekking to some of the hardest-to-reach places I’ve ever been on any Oxfam story-gathering trip. The mission was to see some of the work LPDA has undertaken since last year’s drought and food crisis left so many people in this region near the Kenyan border facing hunger and hardship.

For two hours, we lurched in a truck down a rough, rock-strewn road—hacked through 45 kilometers of bush by 230 community members with machetes and hammers—to reach a tiny farm on the banks of the Dawa River. It belonged to Huka Balambal, a 64-year-old herder and a leader of this far flung community of 600 households. The road was his brainchild, sprung from the determination to find a way to help his community prosper. For years, no social services at all—no schools, no medical facilities, no way to get to market—had penetrated this hilly terrain, leaving families entirely on their own to cope with the consequences of increasingly erratic weather.  So Balambal called a meeting of elders, women, children—everyone—and they decided to ask for help. Would LPDA work with them to build a road? With hand tools and 200 sacks of grain LPDA offered in a food-for-work program, the road was born.

But it wasn’t just material support LPDA gave to this isolated community. It was passion. It was heart. It was total belief in the idea that if people make up their minds to do something—even something as epic as carving a road through ledge and bush without the help of heavy machinery—that resolution is all-powerful, and the key to self-reliance.

“After this road, everything is possible!” said Kote Ibrahim, LPDA’s founder.
Those words have been ringing in my ears since he spoke them: Everything is possible. They are words of hope and deep strength and complete faith in a community of people that others have forgotten. And that’s why, on our last night with LPDA when Ibrahim and other LPDA staffers made us part of their world by giving us our own Borena names, the names of their people, I felt so honored.

I’m Loko now. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+