One Young Man’s Journey from South Orange to Gambella, Ethiopia and Back

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This Sunday, South Orange’s Erik Douds will be leading a very singular presentation at the St. Andrew & Holy Communion Parish Hall.

After graduating from Colby College, Douds went on a three-month research trip to Gambella, Ethiopia. Gambella is usually closed off to outsiders, said Douds. However, after being granted permission by the government, he was part of a team to establish and monitor a national park.

As a preview of his presentation, Douds provided The Village Green with this glimpse into his story:

Often, we do research in school on places that will never get to travel to or see. During senior year, I was part of an international environmental policy team that studied Ethiopia as part of a collaborative research project. As one part of the overall project, I studied ‘Ecotourism’ as a way to balance development and sustainable goals simultaneously.

After graduating, I emailed my professor to ask if he needed assistance with any of the research. To my surprise, I was booking the next flight for Gambella, Ethiopia to spend three months working on establishing a national park and promoting small-scale sustainable products.

Gambella is located in the south west of Ethiopia, along the border of Sudan. It is a distinct area in Ethiopia as it still has pristine landscapes that can support a diversity of ethnic tribes, along with large scale migration of wildlife species. Large-scale development, especially in agriculture, threatens the natural habitat and the traditional livelihoods of the people.

Working with an Ethiopian environmental organization, I was set with the objective to establish the value chain for non-timber sustainable products, e.g., honey and shea butter. Honey is collected using traditional hives made minimally out of hollowed out logs and sealed with mud. Once collected, beekeepers typically have one of three types of honey: red, black, or red. In the region, shea trees grow wildly and their nuts can be collected and processed into shea butter. Lush is a popular brand here in the States that has realized the power of shea butter. Local Ethiopian women apply shea butter to reduce stretch marks during pregnancy.

With the proper processing, packaging, and distribution, sustainable products can protect and foster the livelihoods of these people, while protecting the natural resources that they rely on. Our organization is in the process of creating an ‘EcoHub’, ‘eco’ standing for ecology and environmental practices, while ‘hub’ stands for a center for people and education. This center will be a place where environmental initiatives can implemented to help create a sustainable future for this region.

As an outsider, the local people accepted me as one of their own. We have to realize, that in our globalized world, there are still some voices that are unheard. By going to these places, once you have their acceptance, the ripple effect of your words will be passed from tribal elders, to the women, and down to the children. We cannot let their voices disappear.


Read more here: The Only Diabetic In Gambella.

The event takes place Sunday, January 25, 2015, at St. Andrew & Holy Communion Parish Hall, 160 W. South Orange Avenue, South Orange, NJ, from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Buy tickets online here for a donation amount of your choice. 

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