Clare Wood had passed dried-up river beds, mud huts and all the signs of poverty to reach a dusty village in rural Ethiopia.
So the last things she expected to find in this remote place were reminders of home.
A visit to a hairdressing business and a chat with a football fan about Pompey later and she was feeling the effects of a small world.
The 29-year-old from Southsea was visiting a project area of several villages in the East African country to see the help being given by charity World Vision.
Clare, who works for the charity in the UK as a strategy and research manager, met children being supported by World Vision, saw a water pump that had been installed and visited a school and health centre.
And she also met a man who said he was a Portsmouth fan.
‘It was like a lot of African villages, children with no shoes kicking a football around in the dirt,’ says Clare.
‘There was little lad with a Man United scarf and then I met this man who asked me if I was from London.
‘I always like to tell people a bit about where I live. When I said Portsmouth he knew the club and said he supported them.
‘I could have said anywhere so he knew what he was talking about. I couldn’t believe it.’
Not far away, Hana the hairdresser was waiting to give Clare another surprise.
The 20-year-old’s entrepreneurial skills would be enough to put Sir Alan Sugar’s potential business partners on The Apprentice to shame.
Hana, who has been sponsored by World Vision since childhood, has built up a thriving business from next to nothing.
‘It was amazing, it was in this small mud with a corrugated iron roof. We almost went past it because it was just off this dusty track,’ says Clare.
‘But she gets at least five customers a day and that goes up to about 25 in holidays.
‘There were pictures on the walls of all these wonderful hairstyles, all the complicated braiding and things like that.’
Hana told Clare how she was proud of her business because it allowed her to support her family, not an easy task in the difficult conditions of rural Ethiopia.
People in this region live in the most basic circumstances. Before the pump was installed, families would have to walk all day for water.
Clare had travelled in several African countries, including Zambia and Mozambique, but the poverty of Ethiopia was an immediate shock. After working for World Vision for 18 months in Milton Keynes, she flew to the capital Addis Ababa to work on strategy with the staff there, before visiting the projects.
She explains: ‘Even though I’ve travelled it was still a culture shock. My experience of African capital cities had been that they were reasonably well built and not too poverty stricken until you reached the outskirts. But here, it was as soon as you arrived.
‘And driving out to the rural areas, I couldn’t believe how arid the region was.
‘It was all this very pale green country and I noticed a lot of river beds had completely dried up. We’ve been talking a lot about drought in the UK but we don’t know what that is.‘
Although the area visited by Clare hasn’t been the worst affected by headline-grabbing natural disasters (see panel), villagers have suffered from the challenging climate.
But communities still thrive as people make the absolute best of their circumstances.
Clare met 15-year-old Sintayehu, who was providing for her family after the death of her father.
World Vision provided her with three sheep, which became six and then she sold some for a cow. Now her family has plenty of milk and butter.
‘She came running up to meet me, she was really excited.
‘She wanted to show me her home which she’d painted blue. It was lovely. If I had a mud hut I think I’d like it to be bright blue,’ says Clare.
But there were also upsetting moments during the trip, particularly when Clare visited a health centre.
‘There was this little girl hooked up to drips. She was tiny, she looked so helpless.
‘She had typhoid but because she was being treated I think she was going to be okay.
‘But it really upset me because I’d had my injections before I went out there, and something that was so easy and available for me could have helped her. ‘
That is why the work of World Vision and other charities to ensure the availability of clean drinking water is so important.
Supporters of the charity sponsor individual children but the money is used to ensure the youngsters’ environments are as clean, healthy and happy as possible. In this way donations help whole communities.
‘I saw a lot that inspired me,’ says Clare.
Then she points to the success of the region’s school.
‘There didn’t used to be a school.
‘World Vision worked with the local Ministry of Education to set up one and now there are 2,300 students and 65 teachers.’
Ethiopia has been in the headlines over the past few decades, most notably with the famine of the 1980s and the recent severe drought that hit the Horn of Africa.
The 2011 drought wiped out many cattle and crops and left at least 10 million people in Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and the Republic of South Sudan in desperate need of food, water and emergency healthcare.
In Ethiopia, World Vision helped 485,000 people, providing food, water, sanitation programmes, therapeutic feeding for malnourished children and medical treatment.
The area hit was the east of the country and the 1980s famine devastated populations in the north.
But all areas are vulnerable to natural disaster and rural communities continue to struggle with poverty and lack of available water.
The climate veers between long, dry periods and sudden heavy rain, making it difficult to make a living from the land and harvests often fail.
World Vision has worked in the country for nearly 40 years operating 68 development programmes in different areas.
Issues affecting Ethiopia include malnutrition and disease.
About 2.4 per cent of the country’s population are living with HIV or AIDS and 500,000 children have been orphaned as a result of the disease.
WAYS TO HELP
World Vision helps communities in some of the world’s poorest countries. The charity’s aim is to tackle the causes and effects of poverty particularly where they impact on the lives of children.
World Vision carries out life-giving and enhancing projects. These include installing water pumps and building schools and health centres.
The charity wants to help people in communities support each other and eventually take on the running of the new facilities.
Another area of World Vision’s work is organising campaigns for justice, addressing the policies of governments and international bodies in an attempt to tackle underlying causes of poverty.
Many of World Vision’s donors help by sponsoring a child. This costs from 75p a day and funds community based projects that aid child protection, health care, education and nutrition.
The idea is to help a child by changing the world in which they live.
Another way to help is giving a World Vision gift for a birthday or other event. Visit musthavegifts.org/
Or you can donate to the organisation’s Raw Hope programme to save and protect children in some of the world’s most dangerous places.