From Hardship to Leadership in Ethiopia

Establishing IDP management committees in Mekele, Tigray

As we walked into ‘Kesanet’, one of 15 shelters established in Mekele city to house internally displaced people, everything was already set up. A large room was cleared out, popcorn and coffee were being prepared and people were already seated around small school desks. Some were talking to each other; some were reviewing the notes they prepared. They knew how important the meeting would be, that the responsibility rests on their shoulders. They are there to represent their community. And they are proud to do so.

Millions are currently affected by a severe humanitarian crisis in Tigray, the northern region of Ethiopia. Tens of thousands are finding their way to the region’s capital city of Mekele, where they find refuge in school compounds temporarily converted into shelters.

Our team on the ground has been responding to the crisis since December and was one of the first to offer support to the influx of internally displaced people (IDPs) into Mekele. This included distributions of water, food, and personal items. But beyond providing materials to the displaced community, our team has been able to provide space for something much more significant: a voice.

In early January we set out to establish management committees in each of the IDP shelters in town. These committees are made up of the IDPs themselves who live in the shelters. The concept began because we needed a point person to provide accurate data about the residents of the shelter. But quickly, it turned into something much more significant: returning the power these individuals lost since the humanitarian crisis began. The power to speak about their needs, the power to express their desires, the power to mobilize their community’s resources to better their day-to-day lives. The community slowly began claiming back what it had lost.

Siye Solomon, the leader of one of the 15 shelters in Mekele, shared his perspective: “Before we started this structure, every shelter was fending for themselves. There was no organized way to raise and discuss our concerns, no way of knowing how things are being done elsewhere. We were struggling to get by. I was also not sure which information I should be collecting in my shelter.

Our team member on the ground, Yirga Gebregziahber, added: “Our goal was to empower the IDPs to take leadership, to give them a sense of control, to allow for experience sharing between shelters and to have a well-structured way of both collecting comprehensive data about the shelter population and – more importantly – knowing what their most pressing needs are and how we can best help.

Management committee meetings take place weekly, facilitated by our team on the ground. Other partners and relevant government bureaus also attend regularly. Every week, a different shelter hosts the meeting, thus allowing them the opportunity to see firsthand what other shelters look like and how they are managing their challenges. During the meetings, every leader gets the chance to share the challenges they faced in the past week, their plans for improvement, and a list of their most urgent needs. Meeting minutes are documented and shared with relevant organizations to inform action plans.

Siye explained how this structure has affected the support received by partners and government. “There are still big gaps in provision of basic necessities. But since we began gathering weekly, I am much better able to advocate for my people and convey our needs. This way I know I am at least being heard, and support has increased,” he said.

Looking forward, we’re committed to continuing to facilitate and strengthen this structure. But still, we’re facing immense gaps in providing basic amenities and services to IDPs living in shelters. Creating a space to share information is a first step—but we also need to ensure we can follow up and provide the supplies to respond to the information we hear.

Please help us in supporting these committed leaders, and make a tangible, immediate difference in the lives of the communities they represent. Click here to donate.

Liat Rennert is leading humanitarian efforts on the ground in Tigray for IsraAID, NALA, and CultivAID.