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My Visit with Two ERA-UK Projects in Eritrea July 2010

I have only recently joined ERA-UK as a trustee. What attracted me the most was its long standing reputation and its grass roots approach with people in need living in Eritrea. I wanted to be involved in front line work – simple as.

My trip this summer to Eritrea brought with it a great opportunity to see first hand those being helped by ERA-UK. I wanted to see with my own eyes the impact of efforts such as the 10k Runs, Marathon, Seminars, events, donations e.t.c. in support of people in Eritrea.

Our first visit was to the National Bidho Association based in Asmara. ERA-UK has sent vast quantities of powdered baby milk for children and babies affected by HIV and AIDS. Together with Seble we visited the offices there and touch base with a team of dedicated and passionate workers. As they were preparing for their trip to Sawa, the staff took time out to talk to us about the work that they have been doing. Not only raising awareness in the community but supporting families all over Eritrea affected by HIV and AIDS, one of the staff in particular gave us detailed accounts of the challenges they face encouraging and giving the mothers options other than breast feeding, i.e. bottle feeding with the milk provided by ERA-UK Some of the workers are themselves HIV positive and bravely share their experience with their clients.

When discussing ERA-UK’s contribution to the cause, members gave us a series of places that benefited from the donations such as Asab, Debub, Gash Barka, Maakel Zobas It was a great feeling to know how far our contributions from the UK had gone.

Some of the National Bidho Association staff and Seble in Asmara. July 2010

The second project I was really interested in touching base with was that of the autistic children in Eritrea. ERA-UK has raised funds to help buy resources for autistic children and aimed to send a qualified person to help in the diagnosis and support parents and children affected by autism

Although the centre was closed for the summer, both I and Seble were fortunate enough to meet one of the autistic children from the centre alongside his father. A very bright child (picture above) indicating typical autistic symptoms, we were told by the father how much of a help it has been to find such a centre – a scarcity currently in Eritrea.

Two specialists from Italy who had currently been working with the centre and autistic children in Eritrea since 2006 were also on a routine visit. Dr Lucio Moderato and Irene Fusaro visit Eritrea twice a year to help create and maintain training programs for young autistic children with the aim of ensuring a more independent and fulfilled life.

Dr Lucio, autistic himself is (in) himself a ray of hope for the desperate parents he meets as an example of how successful such training programs have been.

I later arranged a meeting with Dr Lucio and Irene to further investigate the type of work they have done in Eritrea since 2006. I was shown recorded accounts of the autistic children within their programs, from the point of first meeting, to regular tapes of the progression and development made. To say that the differences were staggering would be an understatement.

I was then invited to Keren to accompany them on a routine visit to check on a couple of their patients, I was amazed and grateful to meet first hand the children who have gained from the work by Dr Lucio and Irene and the families who are forever grateful. A young boy with motor deficiencies in both his hands and leg had been following the program set by the specialists for the last four years. I watched as he underwent a series of tests and practices (very successfully I might add) from running, fine motor skill games and finally writing as can be seen in the photo (below) before the treatment, holding a pen was in itself not a possibility.

Another of the children I witnessed came in very quietly, sat down and answered questions about school, football, his favourite colour e.t.c. and also underwent various tasks as stated by Dr Lucio, again leading to writing various sentences. His mother

later told me that before the treatment given this young boy did not talk at all, could not maintain eye contact or generally respond to his environment- a familiar trait amongst the autistic. She described how he would continuously bang his head against the walls until he would bleed, again with no real awareness. It seemed almost impossible to me that this could be the same young boy sitting with us now. Their work is invaluable to these children and their families, I was not aware as to the level of success possible, but from what I have seen with my own eyes, it is nothing short of a miracle. Meeting the mothers of these particular boys highlights for me the importance of what it is we do here at ERA-UK, their faces upon seeing the specialists and the joy and pride on showing the visitors how far their sons have come is such a pleasure in itself. Their description and accounts of how desperate they had once been and how unbelievably grateful they are for the progress so far can only truly be described by the mother themselves it was an amazing experience and has given me a peace of mind that the work we do here at ERA-UK has far more impact and depth than I originally conceived possible.

Dr. Lucio with some of the kids and mothers