Praying for rain: Sustainable strategies deliver water, hope to East Africa

How one man's faith is helping end famine with help from LDS Church

Published: Saturday, April 14 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

Abdulahi Muse, a director for International Relief and Development in Ethiopia, coordinates aid to 22 villages.

E.W. Ristau

Read Part 2: Building hope: How the LDS Church is helping thousands fleeing war and drought

Report on KSL: Famined Africans build water tanks, aided by LDS Church

Editorial: Water of life

View video at left: "Reporter's Notebook: Inside Ethiopia with staff writer Jesse Hyde"

DOLO ADO, Ethiopia — In the darkness just before dawn, Abdulahi Muse rises from the cement floor where he sleeps and slips his feet into his black plastic sandals. It is 5 a.m., just across the border from Somalia, and before long this entire city of mud huts and dusty dirt roads will begin shuddering to life.

But now it is time to pray.

There is no way to ignore the call to prayer in a place like this, where there is a mosque on nearly every corner with its own cheap loudspeaker affixed to the roof, blaring into the night. Not that Abdulahi needs any reminder. He's been waking up to pray for as long as he can remember.

In the darkness, he slips through the fence of thistles and brambles that separate his compound from the mosque next door and quietly finds a place among the other men to kneel and pray. In America, these prayers are viewed with suspicion, as a preamble to violence. But Abdulahi knows Islam has nothing to do with that. His prayers are as universal and as old as the Quran itself: this morning he prays for rain.

The Horn of Africa is in the midst of its worst drought in 60 years and Abdulahi is on the front lines of fighting it. He has heard the stories of the refugees who cross the dry riverbank not far from here, leaving Somalia and entering Ethiopia, their tattered clothing shredded by desert winds, their feet raw and blistered from the long walk, which can take a week or more.

As a child of this region, he is well acquainted with drought, but he has never seen anything like this. In the past year alone, 150,000 people have fled Ethiopia from Somalia, looking for water and food. They flee not only the drought, which has turned green pastures into golden fields of dust, but also the militant terrorist group Al Shabab, which seeks to impose its own version of Islamic law through unspeakable violence and terror.

He thinks of all this as he prays. He is a handsome man, careful in his speech and meticulous in his dress. He wears a gold watch and snakeskin shoes that say: "I am educated. I have money and status." But he has seen suffering in his 32 years, and he knows it first hand.

When prayers are over he leaves the mosque and slips back through the fence of sticks and twigs to the compound. As the sun begins to rise over the city, he thinks of the task before him.

His people are starving, his children are far from here, and he has left a comfortable life in the Ethiopian capital to come here to the border of Ethiopia and Somalia to see what he can do to help. At times, it seems insane and impossible. This problem is so big, the suffering so vast and deep, what difference can one man really make? And so he prays, hoping for divine intervention.

What he doesn't realize is that he is the answer to his own prayer.

A plea for rain

Fifty miles to the north of Abdulahi's compound, down a crooked desert road, the land opens up into a flat plane of red dirt and scrub brush. There are no stores for miles, and other than the braying of goats and the wind whistling softly through the trees, almost no sound. This is the southern low-lands region of Ethiopia, a land virtually untouched by the modern world.

When the rain comes, the hard and rocky soil fills with grass, but it's been three years since Ahamd Issaq has seen any rain out here. When the wind blows the dust tears at his eyes.

He is the chief of a village called Sala-Jama, named for the dun-colored mountain not far from here.

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