New Wilson Center Film Explores Integrated Development in Ethiopia

The New Security Beat

By Sean Peoples

On a warm January afternoon, Tesema Merga, a village elder in Endibir, Ethiopia, surveyed the latest improvements to the long dirt road just outside his house. Eventually this road will be paved, which will bring significant changes to the community.

Long ago Tesema helped bring the very first paved roads to Ethiopia’s Gurage zone, a few hours outside of Addis Ababa. Roughly 90 percent of the Gurage’s people live in rural areas. “If you had to get someone to the hospital, it could take up to eight hours,” he told me. “Many patients died on the way.”

Understanding the transformative power of connecting communities, Tesema was part of a vanguard of young Ethiopians who brought road construction to this region in the 1960s. The group of industrious upstarts formed the Gurage People’s Self-help Development Organization, or GPSDO, today one of the oldest NGOs in the country.

The new roads not only improved access to health services but also provided new livelihood opportunities. Yet today many communities face entrenched challenges that roads alone cannot fix. A combination of deforestation, localized population pressure, and rural poverty is preventing the region from continuing to grow in a healthy and sustainable way.

Videographer Michael T. Miller and I went to Gurage to document how GPSDO is addressing these compound vulnerabilities for the latest short film in our Healthy People, Healthy Environment series (see previous films on Tanzania and Nepal). Paving the Way: Ethiopia’s Youth on the Road to Sustainability explores GPSDO’s efforts to expand access to reproductive health services, encourage healthy land management, and empower young people through an integrated population, health, and environment (PHE) program.