Leading a trek in the Ethiopian Highlands in 2015, Passage West born Martin Coughlan visited a small local school. Built of mud walls on a wood frame, it was leaning over precariously. The children were squeezed three to a desk on rough earth floors. With too many children for the few classrooms they have two shifts morning and afternoon. Come June the rains will start and at over 3000 meters winds can be very high. Martin and his trekking companions took measurements. He planned to help.

It all started in 2007 with Irish Aid funding each community along an 80 Km. stretch of magnificent highlands to build stone Tukals to accommodate trekkers. Africa Direct, a small Cork based all voluntary charity, leads a group trek every October to raise funds. In the following year Martin, with the help of local trek guide Getish and Africa Direct funds, got the walls straightened and reinforced with a concrete base and new cement floors. New desks were funded, made locally.

It is very difficult to organise construction work in such a remote area. There are no Irish or any missionaries and no local NGOs to partner with to handle funds, buy materials, manage labour. The community are poor subsistence farmers, with little English and nobody with a bank account. But up stepped Liz O’Donovan, already very involved in South Parish community work. She led the highlands trek in 2017. Appalled at the poverty of the school, she joined forces with Martin and made plans for new classrooms and toilet blocks. Earlier this month the two Africa Direct members, Liz and Martin with guide Getish, got a rousing welcome from the whole community at two schools Sendenna and Wajella where the communities had already started the work. Many had promised to help but Liz and Martin were the first to return. They worked with the community elders, teachers suppliers and builders to agree contracts and distribute funds. Liz, now known locally as “Tough Lady” will lead a trekking group again in October to see the progress.

Africa Direct was founded in 2007 to facilitate members to get directly involved in projects and not just be limited to fundraising. Voluntary members do all the work and visit projects every year paying all their own travel. Liz and Martin, combining a fundraising trek with help to a poor community are a great example of how it can work. On in their stopover in Addis Ababa they met Irish Ambassador who promised to help with further projects. New members are always welcome in Africa Direct. The October trek already has ten bookings so just two places are left. Click HERE for more information on 2018’s Trek.