EAST Africa’s worst drought in 60 years wiped out Carfi Sara’s entire livestock and cost him his liberty.
The cattle herder knew it was illegal to cut trees for charcoal to sell at the market but he felt he had no choice.
And Carfi, 46, paid a heavy price for trying to feed his family when he was reported by his neighbours and then captured by local militia.
In 2012, he was jailed for three years and ordered to serve his sentence in a prison 60 miles from his home in the Fuloromose district of southern Ethiopia.
Carfi told the Record: “I was at the lowest level. There was nobody below me. I was where it all starts.”
With the main breadwinner behind bars, the odds were firmly stacked against his wife Kabale, 30, and the couple’s three children.
Such was their desperation for food, she also tried to sell charcoal. Around this time, SCIAF’s partners heard about the family’s plight and intervened before it was too late.
A year after his release, Carfi is now the proud owner of 15 drought-resistant animals and the public face of the 2016 Wee Box appeal.
As his new livestock grazed nearby, he said: “I have seen a lot of positive change in my life. I’ve been getting a lot of support.
“They initially gave me one camel. Now I have three. They gave me eight goats to start with. Now I have over 10. They gave me one donkey. Now I have two and one is pregnant. From the meat and milk I get, I not only sustain my family but I also sell it. This gives me additional income to play around with.
“Initially, I was the poorest of the poor but now I am a man of some worth. Not only that but I have meat to eat and I’m also someone who supports others.”
But the dark days of 2011 will always be ingrained in his mind. Carfi recalled: “In pastoralist communities, our wealth is measured by our cattle and I
literally lost everything. I had 20 cows and ox and they all died in one year.”
In the Borana zone, 65,000 livestock perished, 20 per cent of the total.
The drought was so severe 10million people needed emergency food aid.
Carfi was forced to take risks to feed his wife, daughters Loko, 12, and Dabo, four, and goatherd son Gamachu, eight. He said: “As a father and a husband, I had no choice but to support my family.
“I survived by working as a labourer, going to relatives and begging for support or going into the forest to cut wood and make charcoal, which is illegal. You do whatever it takes.”
Carfi’s reputation also suffered. He said: “The community did not respect me the way they used to because I had no livestock.
“In fact, it was the community that told the authorities I was selling charcoal and I was taken to court. I was sentenced to five years and they gave me a three-year suspended sentence.
“There is a term in our community called Jala – meaning a person loses his prestige. He is ostracised and does not have the respect he enjoyed previously. That happened to me.”
Cut off from his loved ones, Carfi struggled behind bars. But when he was released early last year, he discovered his family’s fortunes had turned.
Carfi said: “Once my livestock started increasing and the condition of my family started improving, people started saying I had reformed my ways.
“We have a good relationship with the community and everything is back to normal. In fact, I am now a role model. I would like to thank everyone for their support as I would not be here without it.”
Before we parted company, I asked Carfi how he felt about his picture being on thousands of Wee Boxes on the other side of the world.
He smiled and said: “I appreciate the attention – I’m very happy with it. Please continue promoting me in Scotland and I’ll be happy to visit my fans.”
WEE make a difference
The 2016 WEE BOX campaign focuses on cattle herders in Ethiopia and the challenges they face.
SCIAF director Alistair Dutton said: “The drought in Borana in 2011 left many families hungry and struggling to support themselves. We helped over 10,000 people – giving food to the poorest and most vulnerable and money to the able-bodied to deepen wells and clear grazing land.
“We also replaced the animals that many families lost.”
Last year, SCIAF marked their 50th anniversary by raising £3.4million through the Wee Box appeal. It encourages people to give up something for the 40 days of Lent and donate the money saved.
The final total was boosted by Aid Match funding from the Department for International Development.
And with the Record’s support, the charity have secured the deal for a second year in a row.
That means every £1 donated to SCIAF’s WEE BOX appeal between February 5 and May 4 will be doubled by the UK Government.
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