A couple with Steamboat Springs roots have been working on some of East Africa's most pressing problems for the past two years.
In late March, Paul and Mayling Hebert came back to their home in Steamboat, taking a few days rest from their humanitarian work in Ethiopia.
They moved to Steamboat in 1985 after visiting their friends Paul and Arianthe Stettner. The couples met while working in Iran in the mid-1970s. The Heberts have lived here off and on as they do international work.
The couple, who have spent some of the past decade working in the Balkans and Switzerland, now are based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Paul is the director of the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia and coordinates famine relief. Mayling works with Catholic Relief Services' East African office on health and environmental education.
Paul calls the famine in Ethiopia the silent tsunami. In a country of about 70 million people, he said, 5 million to 6 million people are chronically unable to feed themselves, and about 3 million to 5 million are acutely affected by drought, environmental degradation and localized fighting.
Paul said the famine is caused by a combination of rapid population growth, severe drought, deforestation, soil erosion, drop in coffee prices, lack of employment and restrictions on government-owned land.
Paul works with coordinating government and U.N. agencies' assistance efforts and delivering that assistance.
"We are trying to find long-term solutions," Paul said.
Under Catholic Relief Services, Mayling works with eight East African countries. She is the regional health adviser and helps with with AIDS, environmental health, water, sanitation and hygiene efforts.
The AIDS infection rate in Ethiopia is 4.4 percent, which is much less than other nearby African countries, where rates can be in the 10- to 20-percent range. Still, AIDS is affecting the country, killing people in the prime years of their lives and leaving behind the elderly and orphans.
"The productive capability of a country is very negatively affected," Mayling said.
Part of her work is education in preventing the spread of HIV, trying to reduce the stigma of AIDS and building acceptance for people left behind by the disease.
Mayling said a dominant factor in her work is improving the status of women. In many tribes, women gather the firewood and water, take care of the children, do household chores and tend the fields.
"In everything we do, we try to uplift the status of women, which tends to be very low in Africa," she said.
Another of her projects is working to find nearby water springs for villagers. Springs can bring in clean water and allow women not to travel so far to carry water, which can be an all-day chore. Mayling also is working to introduce environment-friendly latrines that can provide desperately needed fertilizer, she said.
Paul has been in Ethiopia for two years, and Mayling has been there for one. The couple's 22-year-old daughter, Katherine, joined them last year as an intern for the United Nations. She is working on voter education for the upcoming Ethiopian elections.
"It really does grow on you," Paul said about Ethiopia. "It is a beautiful country."
-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org