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Standing her ground and springing back

Ethiopia, September 10, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Zesino Mohamed Shiro, 50, lives in the drought-stricken village of Lakole, Ethiopia. Photo: Thatcher Cook for Mercy Corps

In many places around the world, drought withers lawns. In Ethiopia, drought withers lives.

"When I was young, I was beautiful," says 50-year-old Zesino Mohamed Shiro. "But years of drought and not having enough to eat makes you old."

I tell her that she's still very pretty. She scoots closer.

"I've had 10 children. Six of them are still living," she continues. It's a story that I will hear several more times today.

Zesino lives in the tiny village of Lakole, Ethiopia, a place where no cars come and the nearest market is three hours away on foot. Lakole — and hundreds of other villages in the country's easternmost reaches — has withered under unending waves of drought. And even when feeble crops survived to produce meager grains, they were mostly stolen by swarms of birds.

But, even faced with such an overwhelming challenge, Zesino and her neighbors weren't about to give in. They're digging in and fighting to save the only place they've ever known as home.

Mercy Corps' RAIN program is helping villages like Lakole improve their farmland — and their odds — through innovative agricultural techniques, erosion control, better livestock care and crop seeds that yield a better harvest, even in times of drought.

"Since Mercy Corps came here, we're protecting our farmland," Zesino says. "We've tackled the challenge, rehabilitating our fields, vaccinating our livestock and planting forage for our animals.

"Even through the hard times, I've always been happy living here," she proudly states. "With help like this, we will soon turn this small village into a town."

That's one thing that drought hasn't withered in Lakole: the spirit of women like Zesino.