July 2012 Newsletter

Dear Friends,

We would like to keep you abreast of recent developments in 2012 in Aleta Wondo.


  • The University of Texas Medical School sent 8 first-year medical students and two doctor professors to Common River for a global health practicum.  This is our 4th year of receiving students through our established relationship with the Center of Medical Humanities and Ethics, thanks to the dynamic head, Dr. Ruth Berggren (the daughter of Donna’s Public Health mentors, Drs. Warren and Gretchen Berggren).
  • The students treated over 700 clinical patients in 10 days and conducted a water and sanitation community survey. They distributed $10,000 of donated medicines


  • The primary school has 121 students in grades 2, 3 and 4.  Students who did not pass their final exam were admitted in our summer school program to provide additional academic support.
  • The sports program has expanded beyond two soccer fields (girls and boys) to include a basketball court, two volleyball courts and a new swing!
  • Kate Mecca’s Women’s Education Center has been packed with 153 motivated women who walk through rain and shine to attend school every afternoon from 3-5 pm.
  • Donna has been able to provide health education to this “captive audience” as they are thirsty for preventive health messages.  This summer the topics included family planning and nutrition.
  • One of the medical students, Bilal Dar, took 150 of our female literacy students and our staff into town and bought them all new shoes! A big coffee ceremony was held to give each woman her new shoes. Those women who had low attendance did not receive shoes.  In Donna’s experience throughout the developing world, husbands resist having their wives attend literacy classes. They are afraid of changes that happen if you educate women (they are right!).  However, in a most ironic twist, the female students who did not receive shoes because of their scant attendance were actually reprimanded by their husbands for not going to school regularly!  Here is a new strategy to convince husbands to agree to literacy classes for their wives!


  • A University of Washington student, Sasha Kamdani, became our 1st Indonesian volunteer!  As most of the Sidama call all foreigners “China,” they were actually getting closer to being right, but still not spot on.  We continue to expand the world view of Aleta Wondo residents, which has been only the town’s limits.
  • The Summerfield’s, an American family with Ethiopian adopted children spent a week teaching arts and crafts to our students and reunited with the extended family.


  • The garden is producing enset (the local staple) and the students have planted a huge school garden with carrots, tomatoes and chili peppers!
  • Our traditional bee hives have produced white, creamy honey, which is delectable!  The honey has a coffee scent as the bees are surrounded by coffee blossoms on the property.
  • This year’s Common River school coffee crop, grown on the campus, is picked, dried and pounded by our students.  They have produced coffee, which even tops Aleta Wondo Coffee.  We think it is the love from “kid energy” that makes it so special. The children also sing and dance whilst picking and processing the beans.
  • Our herd has expanded to 8 cows and they are producing enough milk now for every student daily.
  • A biogas installment, using the dung from our cows, has been fueling the kitchen fire!
  • Water continues to be an issue, with five hand-dug wells sporadically drying up and of varying degrees of cleanliness.


  • This year’s award for volunteer excellence goes to a pair:

Geert Somers and Harald Kirschner

  • They came together from Brussels, Belgium and were outstanding volunteers!  Some of their contributions included:  building a picnic table and bench with student helpers, interviewing Sidama seniors to collect case histories, designing a brochure for Tafesse Enterprise ( a hut building company), conducting a community malaria survey and being the BEST BIG BROTHERS to our students!


  • Dr. Zink, supervising UT doctor, wants to gear up and add an emergency response component next year to the health program.
  • The school will expand to include a Kindergarten-First section of 25 new students.
  • As a lot of Ethiopian adopted children are from Sidama Region, we would like to offer “Sidama Cultural Camps” for their families. Our experience hosting adopted families has been extremely positive. Both the adopted child and their American family can experience Sidama culture and meet extended family members.   As you may know, Common River was spawned by two adopted Sidama children, Batri and Eyasue Novick. It is the seed of the program.
  • We will be developing more entrepreneurial activities such as opening a youth skills training center, selling the farm products (dairy, honey, veggies, etc.) and promoting eco-tourism.
  • Ashley Lackovich, an Antioch PhD student, who is living in Addis, is committing her studies to Common River’s development plan. Her research will directly translate into action for us.
  • Aleta Wondo Coffee will be focusing on selling green coffee to roasters due to the Ethiopian restrictions and cost of roasting.  Visit:  www.aletawondo.com


Donna’s book on the Sidama foodways is now available at: www.blurb.com. It is called Sidama Sustenance.  Rather than a cookbook, it is more of an anthropological documentation of the Sidama staple, called enset.  The food is quite unique and difficult to process and has been handed down through an oral tradition. This is the first written record of the actual enset plant processing from the floor of the forest to the bellies of the Sidama, written for the sake of the Sidama tribe. It will need to be translated into Sidama language.


Common River’s son Abraham is thriving and doing well in school.  He is now in 3rd grade and continues to be a big helping hand, as well as a master at starting fires with a speck of an ember for our guests in their huts at night.

Four boys (ages between 12-14 years) are residing living on our campus.  They are our best students and sportsmen.  As they come from difficult and vulnerable home situations, we board them.  They have proven to be responsible gentlemen and a tremendous asset to our NGO.  They are the “positive deviants”.


  1. DRILLING a WATER WELL  ($10,000)
  2. SHIPPING a 40 foot CONTAINER of donated items already collected ($10,000)
  3. SCHOOL COSTS ($2,500 @ month)


You will participate in the authentic village life.

  • live in a traditional bamboo/mud hut
  • eat home-grown, organic Sidama cuisine
  • play and work with true Sidama friends!

Selam,  Donna Sillan and Tsegaye Bekele   July 20, 2012