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Crippling drought followed by flash floods and a life of poverty complicated by HIV can lead people to despair.

Elly Dalmaijer (center) with two women from Tore, Ethiopia.

But Elly Dalmaijer, from St. Albert, Alberta, discovered that women in Tore, Ethiopia, were finding reasons for praise even in the face of hardship. She also discovered that sometimes being a friend can be a great ministry.

Located south of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Tore sits in the mountains above the Great Rift Valley. It is surrounded by trees that shelter coffee plants.

Some of the trees that make the area look so lush have survived for centuries, resisting drought and flood. But not so the soil and crops.

“People told me they call it the ‘Green Hunger,’” says Dalmaijer, International Relief Manager in Ethiopia with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee (CRWRC).

After bad weather destroyed the fall 2010 harvest and the spring harvest in 2011, people needed help. Through a local partner, the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church, CRWRC provided food supplies as part of its response to drought throughout the area.

With access to food, the residents planted their crops again, hoping for a plentiful fall harvest. But the drought-baked soil could not absorb late-season rains.

“The rain ran down the mountainside, beating down the soft stalks of teff—a local plant that is used to make a bread-like staple,” said Dalmaijer.

Following this disaster, Dalmaijer came to Tore to assess needs. Many people thanked her for the gift of food.

One group was especially enthusiastic. Five women embraced Dalmaijer in a group hug, touching her hands and shoulders, speaking excitedly.

Through a translator, they said that all of them have AIDS. One woman recounted giving the little food she has to her six children, and then sleeping to quell the hunger. Others survived by selling or eating their few animals. The CRWRC food rations came just in time.

“They were so very thankful for the rations and for the special food blend that they qualify for because of their HIV status,” says Dalmaijer.

Despite losing their most recent harvest and the damage to their homes because of flooding, the women had hope, trusting they could rebuild their lives now that they had food aid.

“I felt so proud and honored that these women trusted me with their stories and with their hugs and kisses,” said Dalmaijer.

“Then, as I thought about that group hug and our conversation, I realized that that’s really what it means to ‘embrace AIDS.’ To be present with them and help them feel loved.”

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