If you are among the unenlightened whose concept of Ethiopia involves famine and poverty (notwithstanding the present drought in neighbouring Somaliland), then prepare for an adjustment.
Firstly, Ethiopia is roughly the size of the American state of Texas and, save for a brief occupation by the Italians in the run-up to WWII, has never been subject to a foreign power.
Among the unique features of this ancient colossus is Lalibella, where churches carved out of solid rock have drawn pilgrims and other visitors for centuries. The stone churches, with their impressive craftsmanship and haunting iconography have been featured in many a travelogue, but what many of those visitors don't know, or just haven't shared, is that the surrounding communities, almost exclusively agrarian for millennia, are woefully underdeveloped.
At least they were until a group of committed young professionals decided to do something about it. Armed with university degrees and, more importantly, with a burning desire to see and implement change, the organization, Save Your Holy Land, has set about introducing modern communications, water systems (including a reservoir to support agriculture) and other projects aimed at increasing self-sufficiency among the residents and providing abase for community-driven improvement that will modernize without sacrificing the area's invaluable cultural and religious patrimony.
The future includes the construction, in collaboration with San Diego, California-based Sacred Places and Sactuaries (SPAS), of a multi-purpose center encompassing arts and entertainment, academic study, and skills training.
Drs. Shiva and Anta Merritt, founders os SPAS, shared pictorial highlights of their Ethiopian sojourn in a slide show that forms part of their "Visions of Ethiopia" program me done in collaboration with the arts- friendly Great Huts resort in Portland. Talking the audience through the images, the couple gave an expansive and movingly personal view of the dignity, strength and resourcefulness of the people determined to make something worthy of their gifts, despite the serious challenges of human and capital resource constraints. The film was accompanied by a display of modern Ethiopian religious art, honoring the established traditions, but smartly updating them.
The name Lalibella, which derives from the legendary king who spearheaded the construction of e churches, means "the bees recognize his sovereignty" -reportedly because a swarm of bees attended the future monarch at his birth. The inititatives depicted in this film, it is intended, will bring a swarm - controlled that is - of activity to the area with the aim of preserving it's vital treasures.
The monoliths of Lalibela
Taking kids out of the exploitive tourist trade and into productive activity
Other members of the group brought satellite communications, cell phones, set up a hospital and built a reservoir.
Gashe Haile Tedesse, artist who reproduces sacred articles from the Holy Land