Common River: Connecting Communities

Common River

Common River

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.

Aleto Wondo

Aleto Wondo

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!

School at Common River

School at Common River

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.

ATD Fourth World: Empowerment, Change & Community

ATD Fourth World offers activities for all ages

ATD Fourth World operates in twenty-five countries worldwide, championing the cause of the most vulnerable and impoverished with dedication, compassion and a human rights based approach. From its 100,000 members worldwide to its permanent delegation to the European Union, ATD Fourth World addresses the challenge of poverty on every level. ATD Fourth World believes it is crucial to allow those individuals affected by poverty to have a voice and perspective whenever and wherever poverty is discussed. Providing a platform for people to influence the national debate on poverty is at the very heart of their work. Here in theUK, ATD Fourth World works with the poorest of the poor. They work with families of hardworking and kind individuals who, brought together by hardship, strive daily to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. Paul McDonald summed up the experiences of the many families and individuals ATD Fourth World has helped by saying, ‘ATD Fourth World is a second home, an occupation, a community, a group of friends.’ It is an enduring testimony to their compassion that even as the families work to change their lives, they remain with ATD Fourth World, constantly learning and developing new friendships and skills.

Their open lunches have become something of a tradition. It’s a welcome chance for old friends and new to gather, to offer encouragement, advice, a joke or a hug. Some of the members have been coming for over thirty years, watching as people come and go, growing older and having children of their own. Bunched into one small room in theirLondonoffice are ATD Fourth World team, the ATD Fourth World families, the volunteers and a delicious spread of food. Sitting down with them is like joining a big family at the table; everyone speaks at once, food goes round and round, children knock over glasses, grandmothers laugh at each other’s complaints. From enduring spells of homelessness to custody battles, each of these people has overcome great odds to create this family. Time and time again, it’s referred to as ‘my chosen family.’ And like the best families, it’s one that has seen them through all the hardships that just keep coming.

In addition to influencing policy on national and international levels, ATD Fourth World offers families assistance with housing, legal problems, education and more. Families helped by ATD Fourth World are actively encouraged to campaign for their own change, and have spoken in Parliament on the very issues closest to their hearts. As ATD Fourth World member James Riley puts it, “You do matter and your voice is important to someone out there. And if you put your point of view across in a constructive way you will be listened to. It’s important because, that way, the people in poverty through social reasons or whatever else feel that they are a valued member of a community or organisation. And if they feel their opinions matter to someone, at least, they will constantly grow and evolve. I think that if you have enough voices in anything [then] you’re going to get heard no matter what, so I do think it makes a difference.” It is an active, participatory approach to poverty cessation which benefits everyone.

ATD Fourth World offers respite time in its Frimhurst Family House in Surrey. For many, the houses in London and Surrey have been a life-line in hard times. It may meet as basic a need as a non-judgmental environment or be the retreat which allows them to re-connect with their children away from the stress of everyday life. Long time ATD Fourth World participant, Denise Smith said at one lunch “ATD Fourth World have helped me a lot. I have changed for the better. I enjoy meeting the new volunteers and I have made new friends. ATD Fourth World help through phone calls, filling forms that sort of thing. I heard about them through a social worker around 35 years ago.” Poverty can have a hugely detrimental effect on family life and the retreats are a crucial opportunity for families to be together, for parents to hone parenting skills and children to enjoy time in the great outdoors.

ATD Fourth World offers individuals the vital opportunity to develop life skills through workshops, volunteering and organized activities. In recent times, participants have enjoyed everything from carolling to photography to respite breaks. Each of these activities offers more than merely the opportunity to develop new skills; it gives people the chance to develop confidence, self-worth, friends and regain the dignity poverty diminishes.

Inspired to find out more? Visit ATD Fourth World’s website or email to find out about volunteer opportunities.

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