Ethiopia is no stranger of aid workers, community builders and contributors from Canada. But what sets John Graham apart is, he has lived through many African episodes of disasters, from the Ethiopian drought of 1984, to war and the flux of refugees in Southern Africa and can speak from experience and with rare authority.
Inside his petite office, my conversation with the head of Save the Children Ethiopia was planned for a mere 15 minutes but extended to a full hour. That even as his assistant walked in on us for no reason but as a gesture, a warning (to him) that he needed to end the conversation and continue with the work at hand.
To warm him up, I opened the conversation with the politics of home, his province. From the legendary Peter Lougheed to the controversial right-leaning moderate premiers of his generation, Allison Redford and Jim Prentice, who cut their legal careers fighting for equal rights in South Africa.
I continued to ask about others as well, including the famous Naheed Nenshi, the young South Asian, and African born mayor of Calgary? “I am proud to come from the most progressive area of Canada”, he told me, half-jokingly, perhaps as a way to explain how his province, once home to rednecks and right-leaning conservatives is now run by progressive moderate leaders.
“Are you Canadian?”, he asked me. Canadian I am!
Graham has been in Ethiopia since 1997, working as a dedicated aid worker. In the era of great Canadian international diplomacy, not experienced perhaps since the era of Prime Minister Lester “Mike” Pearson, a young Prime Minister in Brian Mulroney was also making an impression in the world. Appointing “Canadian friends of Africa” in key influential positions, including Stephen Lewis as Canadian ambassador to the United Nations, Joe Clark as Foreign Minister and David MacDonald, a true friend-of-Ethiopia as ambassador and Graham was an idealist young man with Oxfam Canada, helping with cross border operations from Sudan, providing needed aid to the destitute.
That was then and this is now.
Since he ventured in to the continent, Ethiopia has been in the midst of a slew of natural disasters. From drought, conflicts and war, they have each become the signature, face of the country to the world. As aid fatigue in becoming the norm and Syria is becoming what Ethiopia was during the 1984 famine disaster, Save the Children is facing its biggest challenge in addressing a current drought and in need of millions of dollars to sustain its work.
This from a group that has managed to raise a record $100 million for the drought of the previous year. This year, the goal is for a smaller affected population – $50 million, as part of the $1 billion dollars of the Humanitarian Requirement Document for 2017.
The current situation as one that has occurred as a result of “failed rains in southern and eastern part of the country caused by the negative Indian Ocean Dipole (that) have left
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