The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Lecture - Thursday 15th April 2010

Twinning and Working with Older People in Ethiopia

Given by - Alan Burnett

Reviewed by - Anne Parsons


Alan Burnett is Chairman of the Portsmouth Pensioners' Association and in April he, and his wife Jenny, spoke to the Society about their work with the elderly in Ethiopia. After retiring as a senior lecturer at the University of Portsmouth, Alan began working for Help The Aged in the UK. But he also felt that he would like to do more for elderly people abroad (especially in East Africa). He made enquiries with Help Age International who had contacts in Addis Ababa, Khartoum, and Nairobi and received a positive response from Addis. The Burnetts made their first visit (mainly as a fact-finding exercise) to Ethiopia in February 2007. Following their return to the UK, they very successfully raised £5000 in the first eight months and have subsequently gone back to Ethiopia several times to distribute these, and further, funds and to monitor projects and assess progress.

Every trip to Ethiopia involves them dropping in to meet the members of a cloth weavers group in Addis. This project was established by a Mrs Negate Asfaw on her own land. The members attend two days each week. The woven textiles that they produce are sold commercially and provide a small income. The project also provides free washing and bathing facilities - a great benefit for some who have to live in reduced circumstances. At Debre Libanos money was provided for a water tank to cater for the needs of ill and disabled elderly people. In Dire Dawa Alan and Jenny inspected some new building work on accommodation for the elderly and made a donation for a lavatory block and for a room specifically for married elders (as one couple had to be parted every night as the existing dormitories were single sex!). These are only a few examples of the projects that Alan and Jenny have been involved with - there are many more!

The Portsmouth Pensioners' Association has made a formal twinning arrangement with the Ethiopian Elderly and Pensioners National Association (EEPNA), an umbrella organisation of about 50 countrywide smaller organisations. The official twinning ceremony was held in the Presidential Palace. It is hoped that a good dialogue and true two-way exchange of information can be established between the UK and Ethiopia - and that it should not merely be a conduit for sending monetary donations. One of the first goals is to help EEPNA develop ideas for, and lobby for, a proper pension system - as, unfortunately, there is no state provision at all in Ethiopia.

Comments from the audience were very positive and members emphasised that perhaps the most important roles that Alan, Jenny, and others in the UK could have would be to provide 'know-how' and encouragement for the elderly in Ethiopia to be self supportive and to continue and develop the projects for themselves.

We thank Alan and Jenny most warmly for sharing their experiences with us and wish them well in their future endeavours.

First Published in News File Summer 2010

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