Author Archives: Common River

Mama Hope’s Global Advocate

Our partnership with Mama Hope began with Laura De Giorgis, the first Global Advocate to volunteer at Common River.  After going through an initial 3 month training by Mama Hope and raising $30K prior to her arrival in Ethiopia, Laura implemented a female small-scale enterprise program from September-December 2016 in Aleta Wondo.   She designed a dairy and poultry raising program, to increase the income generating capacity of our female literacy students.  Bravo and a thousand thanks to Laura who worked tirelessly on this project and many other program interventions during her stay.   Visit her blog at:

1st Baseball Team formed in Ethiopia

An avid baseball player from Orinda, California, Nick Dutto, started the first baseball team in the history of Ethiopia.  Nick, a sophomore in high school, volunteered in July 2016, along with his parents, brother and Ethiopian adopted sister to build a baseball diamond and teach the children of Aleta Wondo how to play baseball.  He raised over $ 6,500 through a GoFundMe campaign called  “MAKE A PLAY ON POVERTY”


He successfully reached his goal to build a baseball field at the school. He distributed donated gloves, baseballs, helmets and bats. He taught the children the rules of the game, showed videos of American games, handed out baseball cards, and trained them on the field.  He held a tournament and had a party to celebrate the opening day. It is a beautiful example of a highly successful cross-cultural exchange by a truly hard-working and committed baseball player.  Way to play Nick!

Basic Sidaamuafo Lessons

 Basic Sidaamuafo by Kathleen Halat

I am a mother of a wonderful young boy adopted from the Sidama region of Ethiopia. I have created this page and these videos to help him, myself and others learn some basic words and phrases in Sidaamuafo. I am not a linguist and did my best to make the videos and white boards as correct as possible. If you notice any errors, please point them out and I will do my best to make corrections. I owe all of this to the wonderful group of boys and staff at Common River in Aleta Wondo. Without their enthusiasm and generosity, none of these videos would have been possible. We plan to visit Ethiopia again in 2015 and make more videos so stay tuned! Galateemohe!

Deep in the Ethiopian Rift Valley

Verity Danfold, a community dance/circus artist and theatre for development practitioner visited Common River in March 2013 and wrote this article about her stay….


Deep in the Ethiopian Rift Valley, inside a bamboo hut, the air is cool and sweet.  Fresh beans snap and whistle in the heat of the fire, sending out rich plumes of coffee-scented smoke. The process is peaceful, methodical. The mortar grinds the beans and water boils. Soon, from the elegant black coffee pot, lush chocolaty coffee spills into cups.  Welcome to Common River, Aleta Wondo.

 The collaboration of Tsegaye Bekele and Donna Sillan, Common River is a multi-faceted project that improves the lives of Aleta Wondo’s inhabitants.  This once stable range has been hit hard by the falling price of coffee and the impacts of global warming. The wide range of projects reflects the diversity of Aleta Wondo’s volunteers and participants.  From education to agriculture to cultural exchange, this is a place where futures are secured.

The school on the Common River site provides the young inhabitants to one of the most vital tools for a happy and successful life: an education. Four classrooms hold children of all ages: polite, eager to learn, attentive and dedicated, this is a teacher’s dream. A large field extends the learning space into the Ethiopian sunshine. Art, music, and sports complete a well-rounded education. Volunteers visit from all over the world, sharing their skills. The school lunch programme keeps the young learners at their best. Fresh milk from the school’s cows and produce from the fields ensures a healthy, balanced meal.  The classrooms are picturesque, including a brightly painted traditional Sidama hut.  When the bell rings for home time, the school doesn’t rest. Trickling from the village and fields, all bright skirts and happy laughter, come the women. The Common River Female Literacy programme is a wonder. It is said that to educate a woman is to educate a family and here educated women are formed. For two years, they return to school, receiving the basic education so many of us take for granted. When class is finished, they will go back to being mothers and wives with the dinner to cook and the children to put to bed, but for a few hours a day, they are something they thought they might never be- a pupil with their hand and head held high.

Ethiopia is well known as the birthplace of coffee. Common River and the coffee growers of Aleta Wondo have worked together to produce a single-origin coffee that is available worldwide. As small-scale producers, the amount of coffee produced each year is limited.  Profits return directly to the community and it makes a wonderful – and socially conscious- souvenir. Less portable, but no less amazing, is the traditional bamboo huts that dot the sight. The locally based collective can make and design bespoke bamboo huts.  Fragrantly cool, sustainable and beautiful; it’s a pity these won’t fit in a suitcase home!

Common River’s projects also include a new irrigation system, bring water to more members of the community than ever before. Having easy access to water will mean fewer trips to the communal springs.  Their sanitation centres improve the health of community members, as does their provision of medical checkups, nutrition classes and first aid training. Annually, medical volunteers visit and provide care and information to the townspeople. Other projects include a bio-diversity garden that supports and showcases the area’s rich bio-diversity, rain catchment
and wells, reforestation and improvement to local infrastructure.

Common River welcomes guests and volunteers to visit and assist with their range of projects. Tours, school groups, and volunteer placements are all available. Coffee can also be purchased via their website. Visit their website at to find out how you can experience this wonderful place or enjoy a taste from the comfort of your own living room.

The Story of STONE SOUP

In April, I asked the female literacy students what they wanted to learn.  As a public health educator, I am always ready to give our women health training.  This time, unanimously, all three classrooms of students requested training in NUTRITION.  That was definitely on my mind, since I had just completed conducting 2 week Positive Deviance Nutrition training in Wolayta, a town also in SNNPR.

When planning the lesson, I decided to purchase locally available inexpensive food for demonstration purposes.  I would have the participants divide the various food items and place them in different baskets representing the three food groups and we would prepare a pot of mixed vegetable porridge:

  1. Vitamins and Minerals:  fruits and vegetables
  2. Proteins:  beans, eggs, lentils
  3. Carbohydrates:  potatoes, wheat, enset

On the training day, the pavilion filled up with 100 women.  After explaining the 3 food groups, the women divided the food appropriately.  I explained the 3-color test is a simple way to see if the meal is mixed and balanced.  Normally, across the world, white food is the standard and you don’t mix other items with items, out of cultural norms and convenience, not particularly poverty.

After the food was divided up, the women’s task was to make a big “Stone Soup” where we would prepare the various foods on the table.  We gathered all the knives and basins and the women set off to make a meal.  Groups of women were chopping 2 kgs of onions, others were peeling 2 kgs of garlic, others cleaned 5 kgs of potatoes (and NOT peeling them as I instructed…all the vitamins are in the skin!), a group was chopping 2 kgs of ginger, another group was chopping the tomatoes, kale and carrots.  Pots were brought out of our school kitchen and soon there were 3 fires started in the yard, using 3 stones for the pot and wood as fuel.  One pot was boiling lentils, one pot was boiling potatoes and one pot had a mix of oil and garlic, ginger and onions, along with 2 kgs of berberi, their local red chili powder.

When the meal was ready there was a HUGE pot of the vegetable stew, and another big pot of lentils.  There wasn’t a pot large enough to combine them together.  It looked like we could feed the entire Ethiopian army as it was grew to become a voluminous amount of food.  We started the feast and each woman got a plate with a mountain of the veggie mash along with a hill of lentils.  We had freshly baked bread from our new cob oven, so everyone got a few pieces of bread.  After the first round, the pot hardly had a dent in it.  Then a second round was served and the women consumed as much as their first helping.  They finished off the entire pot of food which was absolutely delicious!

Lessons learned:

  • Too many cooks doesn’t always spoil the broth.  Combined effort makes cooking so much fun and fast!
  • If I had prepared the meal or our staff, the women would be reluctant to try it, much less like it.  Traditional palates as a rule are not adventurous.  But, when the participants invested in it and knew what was in it, they loved it.
  • Creating a balanced, high protein diet is not expensive.  It cost under $50 to feed 120 people (our staff included) and they all ate tons.
  • Proteins can be inexpensive…no meat necessary.  Usually, we have a feast with a goat or a cow, which is a few hundred dollars.  This was purely vegetarian, as many of the women were fasting.
  • The recipe can be tried at home.  Women said they would do it at home as they have kitchen gardens and love the new recipe.
  • Our female students are hungry.  We have a school lunch program and we feed our primary students.  We do not feed our female students.  We need to do this type of feast more often!
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The Power of a Signature: Kate Mecca’s Women’s Education Center

We are very proud to have the female literacy students enthusiastically write their names for Kate Mecca, who helps support the Women’s Education Center.  It is a way to thank her and share their new found pride in their literacy skills.  This marks a major milestone for them.  When asked why they want to learn to read and write, one woman answered “I need to be able to read the statement written by the police when I’m thrown in jail.”  Another woman said “I want to be able to sign my name at church rather than give my thumbprint. I feel so much better about myself.”  One of Common River’s kitchen staff signed her name for the first time at one of our meetings.  The minutes are passed around for those present to sign.  She was absolutely thrilled to be accounted for as a person.  She felt validated and equal with the others now, just by the fact that she signed for herself.

Who would have thought that the ability to read and write would be so important?  Do we ever have to worry about reading the reason for incarceration or be embarrassed to have to ink on our thumb at church?  We take for granted our education and the freedom it avails us.

The students are also learning numeracy and even wrote a number before their name.  To be able to add and read numbers empowers a woman who otherwise would not know if she is been treated fairly in the market place.  It is a tribute to the donations provided by a true educator, Kate, who realizes that a “one shot” contribution will not be as meaningful, as a consistent gifting to see a program grow.  Education is a long-term process requiring a continued investment.  Our female students want to continue to learn.  They are graduating from the 1st grade to the 2nd grade.  We want to grow with our students and offer them an education, which was not offered to them when they were girls.  It is never too late for an education. To witness the empowerment that accompanies a signature is beyond comprehension for most Americans.  It has erased shame and emboldened a new found inner pride that can never be taken away.

Thanks to Kate Mecca for her compassion and understanding of the importance of educating women.  When you educate a woman, you educate a whole family.  She stands as the shining light to bring women in Ethiopia out of the dark shadow of illiteracy. The women are forever grateful to Kate for her support of the literacy program and send their blessings every day to her.

Written by Donna Sillan, Program Director

Signing their name for Kate