Ethiopia is enormous, extremely diverse and is one of the least explored countries of the world. Ethiopia is not a country of everlasting famine and war as some may think and, although many of its residents are well below the poverty line, it is quite possibly one of the most amazing places to experience on this planet.
It has a magnificent natural beauty, rich history and fascinating culture. If you choose to volunteer in Ethiopia you’ll find that it actually feels like a handful of different countries in one. It’s quite incredible how distinct the people and landscapes are across one nation.
This country has been an independent nation since 3000 B.C. making it around 5,000 years old and apart from a short occupation by Italy in the 1930’s, it’s the only African country that has never been colonised. Very few foreigners have managed to leave any cultural influence on Ethiopia and it’s one of the oldest centres of human habitation meaning it has a unique and distinctive identity.
Ethiopia lies in the tropical zone between the Equator and the Tropic of Cancer and has three different climate zones. The country has 83 different languages, with up to 200 dialects spoken. Its tradition of self-governance, ability to produce effective leaders, cultural pride and the deep-seated sense of history give it a real advantage for the future. If you volunteer in Ethiopia you’ll discover that its people are genuine, generous and extremely interesting.
Our volunteer projects in Ethiopia lie in the south. The Big Beyond Ethiopia volunteer base is off the main tourist trails and nestled deep in the breath-taking Omo Valley, a dream for many, as it’s one of the world’s most remote tribal areas.
Big Beyond in the Omo Valley
Big Beyond volunteer projects in Ethiopia are based in the South Omo… a forgotten corner of Africa and a glimpse of the continent as the early explorers found it. The Omo Valley, situated in the corner of southwest Ethiopia, is without a doubt one of the most unique places on Earth.more
Big Beyond volunteer projects in Ethiopia are based in the South Omo… a forgotten corner of Africa and a glimpse of the continent as the early explorers found it. The Omo Valley, situated in the corner of southwest Ethiopia, is without a doubt one of the most unique places on Earth.
Far from any city, within Africa’s Great Rift Valley, it is home to about 200,000 ancient tribal people living as they have for centuries. It’s so steeped in history that the discovery of fossils there has been of fundamental importance to the study of evolution. Meeting the people of the South Omo is an enriching and illuminating experience. They have a very different cultural background from other Ethiopians. There are around 15 semi-nomadic tribes in the area and they’re truly among the most fascinating people in the world. These guys have rebuffed most of the modernising efforts of the outside world for more than a century now.
The landscape is beautiful, with sweeping views across the bush, desert and forests to far away horizons, dusty red roads, hot sun and quite simply a feeling that you’re right in the middle of the real Africa. The Omo River runs through the valley and empties into Lake Turkana, in Kenya, and the Omo Valley national parks are home to a wide variety of stunning wildlife.less
Live and volunteer with the ancient Hamer tribe
Big Beyond volunteers in Ethiopia will be working closely with the Hamer tribe, perhaps one of the better known tribes of Southern Ethiopia.more
Big Beyond volunteers in Ethiopia will be working closely with the Hamer tribe, perhaps one of the better known tribes of Southern Ethiopia.
The Hamer wear colourful bracelets and beads and dress in animal skins. Married women have red braided hair plastered in animal fat and ochre. The men and boys usually stroll behind cattle and a man’s wealth is judged by the size of his cattle herds. The Hamer tribe are known particularly for their ritualistic ‘bull jumping‘ or ‘ukuli’ ceremonies. This is a rite of passage for men coming of age, where they have to leap naked, four times without falling, over a line of 10 to 30 bulls to become a grown-up man or ‘donza’. It’s a ceremony with very powerful symbolism and is a real part of the Hamer cultural identity. Within a Hamer settlement area there are a number of homesteads with unique huts made of mud, wood and straw in small enclosures. The women constitute the static element in their society (fields and home) while the men constitute the dynamic element (herding and travelling). The tribe is both pastoral and agricultural, and keeping cattle is an increasingly important component of tribal life here, but they shift more to the former due to a number of external factors.less
Help to conserve Mago National Park
Mago National Park is on the remote eastern bank of the Omo River and it is a wild area of 2,162 square kms of acacia scrubs, rolling grassland and wild animals. It’s a reminder of what the famous East Africa parks were like before the advent of mass tourism.more
Mago National Park is on the remote eastern bank of the Omo River and it is a wild area of 2,162 square kms of acacia scrubs, rolling grassland and wild animals. It’s a reminder of what the famous East Africa parks were like before the advent of mass tourism.
Mago is one of Ethiopia’s newest parks, established in 1979. Big Beyond Ethiopia volunteers will find many animals here, some of the common ones are buffalo, elephant, cheetah, giraffe, hartebeest, topi, leopard, lion and zebra. However, although huge herds once roamed here, their numbers are diminishing and they’re still being driven away as pressures mount on the park from the bordering communities of pastoralists in search of grass. On the other side of the coin, tribes have effectively become illegal squatters on their own land and the loss of key dry-season pastures has had a particularly disastrous impact on some of the people.less
Big Beyond Ethiopia: The Story
Big Beyond Ethiopia volunteers will work to help the Hamer people look beyond today for a better quality of life and also to give Mago National Park and its animals a future.more
Big Beyond Ethiopia volunteers will work to help the Hamer people look beyond today for a better quality of life and also to give Mago National Park and its animals a future.
The protected area of Mago National Park, which Big Beyond volunteers in Ethiopia will be working to support, has nine key communities surrounding it. The larger communities are the Mursi, Ari, Karo and Hamer tribes.
The ecosystem of Mago has been greatly affected and is still under threat from the surrounding communities. Our research identified the Hamer tribe as one of the main threats to the future of the park because of growing populations and larger cattle herds; they travel long distances on foot for much of the year in search of grass and water. Mago has been overgrazed, not only depleting grass available for wild animals but has created the invasion of bush land and led to a large migration of wildlife. The domestic animals of the Hamer tribe are also bringing disease to the area. The Hamer are known to be a key source of poaching as a result of their existence within the park for part of the year. Law enforcement is relatively undeveloped in comparison to other protected areas and authorities that established the park back then didn’t consult the community, so incentives and understanding about their impact on its survival are really minimal.
Big Beyond Ethiopia volunteers will discover how the nomadic life of the Hamer male pastoralist population has also led to a variety of knock-on effects in the communities. Boys begin managing cattle from an early age and many don’t ever go to school. There are a few mobile schools set up in the attempt to tackle the issue and fit in with their way of life, but it’s not necessarily addressing the cause of the issue. The Hamer don’t choose to walk long distances to graze, it’s borne of necessity because of the lack of available water and grass in their home villages.
Whilst there are cultural reasons attached to the ownership of large herds of cattle, such as nuptial payments and general status, the cattle are predominantly the only form of currency used to trade for other goods. Cows are only occasionally used for meat rather only for milk, especially to feed children. The fact that the men leave the village for a large part of the year means the milk is regularly unavailable for the family left in the villages. There’s very little modern agriculture amongst this tribe and extremely limited income-generating activities to replace this need, but our research says there’s certainly a desire within the communities to shift the situation. Many would prefer to stay in their villages if the opportunity was there. Those who do farm crops are reliant on the rainy season, so if there’s no rain there are no crops. As people farm for subsistence with no income generating activities this can put many families into obvious difficulties.
Big Beyond are working together with local projects that are tackling these issues. All tasks assigned within volunteer placements in Ethiopia contribute to improved livelihoods of the Hamer tribe, and chosen by the tribe themselves, as well as support the future of Mago National Park and its threatened wildlife.less