Difficult places

November 6, 2014
The start of our hike to a gold mine in northern Ethiopia

Pact works in some of the most difficult places in the world. I’ve heard that statement many times since joining Pact six months ago. This week, I experienced it firsthand.

Amidst the Senine Mountains, one of the largest mountain ranges in Africa, sits Adimehameday, a mining village in northern Ethiopia where Pact is implementing our Mines to Markets project.

We started out at 7:00 in the morning, driving three hours along mountainous, sometimes treacherous, roads, dodging farmers and their goats, cattle and camels along the way. The scenery was breathtaking. So were the dramatic drops off the mountainside with no roadside barriers to protect us.

Our local partners, REST, informed us that after the drive, we would hike to the mine site. Two and half hours later, we reached the village at the base of the mountain. Only then did I realize what they meant by hike.

Looming ahead of us was a majestic, and extremely intimidating, mountain, reaching 3,000 meters above sea level. That’s almost as high as Pike’s Peak in California or Mt. Ranier in Washington! We loaded our gear onto camels and started out for the hour-long climb.

Fifteen minutes into the trek, I started wishing I had ridden a camel! My lungs were burning, my legs felt weak and I felt like I couldn’t take in enough air. Luckily, I had a savior guide me up the mountain. A 12-year-old girl from the village took my backpack, held my hand and sometimes pulled me up the mountain, grabbing my hand tightly when my feet slipped over the loose rocks.

Halfway up the mountain, I had developed an entourage. A group of local women, some miners and others curious onlookers, shaded me with umbrellas and gave encouraging smiles as I stumbled over rocks in my hiking boots.

These women were wearing plastic sandals, some carrying babies on their backs. I should have been the one helping them!

Finally we reached the summit. I rejoiced at having made it, giving a big smile and thank you to my amazing young guide. But the work wasn’t over. The gold mine site lies on the side of the mountain, so we began the hike down the steep grade. This time, a local security guard for the mine had to help me as I slid down rocky paths and climbed over tree stumps and fallen rocks.

The local crowd cheered for us when we made it to our final destination. I was amazed at the ease by which they climbed and the seemingly nonexistent effort it took. I was red-faced and winded. They looked like they had been strolling along the beach.

These people know the meaning of difficult places. They do this every day. It is part of their lives. Hauling babies, water and rocks back and forth, sometimes multiple times a day, while spending the day performing backbreaking work at the mine.

We can’t relocate the mine, but we can work to ensure a safer and more secure livelihood for the miners. Pact is working with local partners to improve access to clean water, proper sanitation, health information and business skills for the miners and their families.

Today, when people ask me where Pact works, I confidently say we work in some of the most difficult places.