Ein Mann lächelt in die Kamera

Banishing the evil spirits

Pioneering work in the Balla valley

Zitatbild Muhammed
“My father used to employ a goatherd, Muhe, who one day heard a voice behind him say, ‘Muhe, take this sickle!’ But when he turned around, no one was there. A little while later, he became very ill and died.” Awestruck, farmer Asan tells the story of the man who allegedly fell victim to the “evil spirit” of the Balla valley.

More than just superstition

His colleague Muhammed also knows these legends which spread like vines through the inhospitable lowlands in Derra. “They used to say that you’d go deaf or mad if you even spent just one night here.” But the evil spirit of the Balla valley is actually far more than just some superstition. The area used to be avoided mainly because of the risk of malaria. “This devil was caught with a malaria net,” says a triumphant Sharifu, another settler of the Balla valley and a member of one of the most successful farming families in the region.
Ein Mann steht vor einem Haus.
“The devil of the Balla valley was caught with a malaria net,” says Sharifu, standing here in front of one of the stone houses that was built for pioneers over 20 years ago.

The dream of a settlement

The origins of the settlement go back to a brave idea of Karlheinz Böhm, which was implemented over 20 years ago together with a number of courageous pioneers. In the Balla valley, what appears at first glance to be a dry, desolate area in the still young project region of Derra, the cultivation of fruit and vegetables was to be enabled with the aid of irrigation channels. Stone houses were built nearby for their families in order to recruit farmers in the region who were brave enough to take on this project. Initially, 12 families settled in the sparse region, where the sun burns relentlessly in the sky.
Ein Mann steht vor einem Baum.
Shafi was one of the first to have followed Karlheinz Böhm’s idea 20 years ago to create an irrigation system in the Balla valley.

A community project

One of the first was Shafi, today the chairman of the community project, which has developed into a major success story over the years. On our visit, Shafi has a brief meeting with other members of the project to discuss any issues such as how much each member should contribute to pay the guards. Who will take care of cleaning the irrigation channel or maintaining the access road, and when?

Neither deaf nor mad, but rich

About 50 families live in the Balla valley today and generate a good income from growing papayas, mangoes, cabbage, coffee, tomatoes, and much more besides. Muhammed also dared to return to the Balla valley at some point to find his fortune. “When I spent the first night here, I was so scared that I left the candle burning. But instead of becoming deaf or mad, I grew rich in Balla.”
Ein Mann erntet Mangos.
The branches of Muhammed’s extremely tall mango trees droop under the weight of their fruit.

Ethiopia to Saudi Arabia and back

Muhammed is now one of the old settlers of the Balla valley, but he too needed a little persuading at first. “I used to grow only teff and sorghum. Every year, I had to borrow extra grain from relatives because I couldn’t feed my children.” Muhammed eventually left Ethiopia to seek his fortune in Saudi Arabia. But other than a lot of hard work for very low pay, he found nothing there.

No looking back

This chapter in Muhammed’s life happened 10 years ago and he doesn’t miss a thing about it. “When I returned home, I had hardly any money. But I stuck at it and worked hard to create a foothold for my family.” The plot of land in the community project in the Balla valley now generates so much income that Muhammed earns up to 50,000 birr (around 2,000 euros in April 2017, at the time of the conversation) a year just from selling fruit, vegetables and coffee. That is almost as much as the highest pay an experienced teacher earns in Ethiopia.
Ein Mann erzählt anderen Menschen etwas.
Berhanu Bedass, today a project leader in Abune Ginde Beret and Ginde Beret, used to work in Derra and has followed the success story of the Balla valley.

Investing in the future

But Muhammed doesn’t depend solely on the harvest. He has built a little house in Gudo Meskel, the capital of Derra, in order to generate an income away from his successful farm. Two others will follow soon not far from his home village. He can probably earn 1,000 birr a month by renting out the rooms. And the hardworking man has another investment in his sights. “I’d like to get a truck for my son to drive. He could then take on the delivery runs – from the farmers in the Balla valley, but also from others.” In this way, the success created by mangoes and papayas can be passed on to the next generation.
Kinder lachen in die Kamera.
The next generation is ready. The children of the Balla valley look forward not only to sweet mangoes, but also to a better future, thanks to the better income.

At the end – paradise

Muhammed isn’t the only one to build a future for his family with the help of the irrigation project in Balla, and to drive forward development in the region with his success. Many of the farmers here, who used to hire themselves out as day laborers, now themselves employ people from the region and are driving the development of their district forward. “In the past, nobody wanted to live in the valley,” Shafi recalls. “The area had a bad reputation and malaria was a big problem. But we’ve taken the risk and created a little paradise.”
Ein Mann telefoniert

From day laborer to juice producer

“I feel reborn,” laughs Shafi when asked about his age. “We used to be very poor. We didn’t have any proper clothes, no shoes – not even for the children. We’re currently planning to process our fruit right here in the region. For example, we could produce mango juice and supply it to the big cities.”
Ein Mann verkauft Mangos am Markt.
Fruit from the Balla valley is in big demand on the market. The community wants to get a truck to transport it there.

No more evil spirits

Shafi was one of the first people to get involved in Menschen für Menschen’s project to create the seemingly impossible here in the Balla valley, and did a lot to get others involved in it at the time. Today, he lives happily with his wife in Balla, the little village that only came about through the irrigation project. The people are proud of what they have created here in the valley: a little paradise in an inhospitable area. Free from evil spirits and poverty.


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