LUFKIN, TX (News Release) - A team of eight East Texans that planned to travel to Ethiopia to drill water wells for remote villages have been forced to put their plans on hold.
The group of men were going on the trip through Hope Springs Water in Athens and Restore Hope in Arlington. On Sunday, the group was notified that the team would not be going because of a six month state of emergency that was put in place by the government.
The growing protest in the country is mainly by the country's largest ethnic groups, the Oromos, who are upset that their tribal land rights are being taken away, despite the group making up a third of the country's population. It is the first time a state of emergency has been put in place in 25 years years. According to a CNN report, protests have raged in the country since at least 52 people died on October 2 during the Oromo holy festival known as Irreechaa.
"I knew stuff was going on, but I really did not think about it," said Lufkin resident Scott Foster. "I then saw this news, and was like, 'Man it is worse than I thought.'"
This would have been Fosters second trip to the country. last year, Foster traveled to the country with First Baptist Church of Lufkin and helped with medical needs. This would have been Foster's first time to go and drill for water.
"It is bad there," Foster said. "The poorest in the United States live better than they do there. They have no running water and no electricity. It's terrible. The need for water is unbelievable."
Hope Springs Founder and Executive Director Ted Mettetal said despite little national press the group has been monitoring the situation for several months.
"I am not worried about our safety right now," Mettetal said. "There has been pockets of violence, but where we are going it has been okay. We are just not sure about the roads. Several roads have been blocked. and we are not sure if we could get in to where we need to be, and then if we are there, we don't want the worst case scenario to happen."
Hope Springs has been working in third-world countries for seven years by bringing in healthy water as well as materials that promote healthy living for the communities. Their main focus in Ethiopia is in the Oromia region. They also do similar projects in Belize, Uganda, Sierra Leon, and Nicaragua. The group survives on donations from the public and also sales packs of water. For every pack they sell, $1 goes to the water well projects. The water is currently sold in Brookshire Brothers across Deep East Texas.
"In our districts, there is close to 60 percent of the people that do not have access to clean water, which means they are drinking out of rivers, creeks, and holes that they have dug in the ground that are contaminated," Mettetal said. "Ethiopia is also in one of the worst droughts they have had in 50 years including the one in 1983, when they had nearly 500,000 people die."
Foster said he has been to over 30 countries on trips and has been in some intense situations, so the protest did not scare him. What did scare him was the thoughts of the friends he has made over in Africa.
"You wonder is this guy okay?" Foster said. "All the different pastors, are they okay? Are they good? That is what went through my mind."
Hope Springs also stopped another trip planned after Foster's group gets back. Mettetal said his concern right now is that other groups are also pulling out.
"It is not just us," Mettetal said. "A lot of the humanitarian groups have grounded trips and are starting to bring people back home until it is safe to go back. That is a lot of help that the people will not have."
Foster said he is not deterred by the unrest, and he will get to Ethiopia at some point.
"They've declared a state of emergency for six months," Foster said. "We are thinking of trying to get back in February or March. We will keep an eye on it, and after that, we will reevaluate it."
For more on Hope Springs Water, click here.