Barefoot Initiative - Lexi Keneally
I have found there is a common link throughout most health care professionals, especially those who feel drawn to working in the rural and remote context. There is a passion for working with and supporting marginalised communities whilst advocating for change. I always envisaged my nursing career to be both in the remote Australian context and internationally within the community development context. That is why I became involved with Barefoot Initiative.
Barefoot Initiative was founded in 2004 and has been working in the remote Afar region of Ethiopia assisting with community lead development projects. The founders themselves were three, optimistic, Adelaide hills based young people who were passionate about humanitarian issues and had a desire to give back to their global community.
After completing year 12, Co – Founder, Kyra Marwaha, travelled for a year through Ethiopia, the Middle East and Asia. Her time was spent working as a volunteer in a variety of settings, which included living and working in a remote Afar village in Ethiopia. Kyra was deeply moved by the difficulties the Afar people faced daily, she was determined to return to Australia and study nursing, with the ambition to assist people in developing countries.
It was then that Kyra, her brother Aidan Glasby, and her Husband Sunil Marwaha, collaborated to create Barefoot Initiative. Both Aidan and Sunil also continued on to pursue nursing careers working alongside marginalised and remote communities.
Since 2004, Barefoot Initiative has continued to work with the Afar people on community lead development projects. The approach is to listen and support the community members to become their own change makers. To do this Barefoot Initiative provide the community with skills, networking opportunities, training, infrastructure, and finances, which enables them to put their development ideas into action.
The Afar region lies in North Eastern Ethiopia and it is the hottest inhabited place in the world. The Afar people of Ethiopia are nomadic pastorlists. Their livelihood is primarily herding camels, cows and goats. They live a harsh existence faced by constant drought, violent tribal rivalry, and extreme weather conditions.
The Afar has fewer hospitals, schools or social services than almost any other region in Ethiopia. Although under-five mortality rates are declining in general in Ethiopia, in the Afar they are increasing (EDHS 2011).
Afar women are faced with additional difficulties, including female genital cutting (FGC), increased maternal and infant mortality, early marriage, and a significant workload burden.
Barefoot Initiative Projects:
- A medical centre in the community to provide health services, which is now entirely run and supported by the regional government.
- Agriculture farm of approximately 15 hectares (38 acres), providing food and income for the 97 members of the agriculture co-operative and their families and supporting the wider community. Individual garden plot per member equals 1500 square meters (producers 750kg of corn per year in 3x crops)
- 47 water carts to lighten the burden of carrying water on the 2km journey from the river to the home.
- 6 students are currently living in Addis Ababa completing their Tertiary education within the health and medical fields. 1 student graduated with a degree in Clinical Nursing in September 2015. 1 Student recently graduating also with a degree in Clinical Nursing in October 2016.
- A women’s co-operative in the community, providing work and income to 9 women and their families.
Education scholarship program 2010-current:
In 2010, community leaders in Yooren requested that Barefoot Initiative support Afar students who had completed high school to study at a tertiary level.
‘Members of the community expressed an interest in further education. In particular, they expressed interest in education in the health sector, where skills gained could be used to improve their village and surrounding communities.’
Barefoot Initiative now provides Afar students with the opportunity to pursue Tertiary education through their established scholarship program. Females are strongly encouraged to join the program. Due to cultural barriers, it is very difficult to find Afar females who have completed high school, whilst also receiving permission from their families and village leaders to move to the city for study. This is a challenge that Barefoot Initiative are committed to working with.
The total number of students sponsored by the project to date is 8, two of whom have graduated successfully. The remaining 6 students are studying Nursing and Public Health.
Barefoot Initiative’s only female student, Fatuma Mohammed graduated with a degree in Clinical Nursing in September 2015.
‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’ – Nelson Mandela
For me, supporting the journey of Fatima from beginning of her studies, to her graduation has been monumental. I knew that Fatima was swimming against the current of her culture. She is a female, whose family supported her choice not to marry and complete her tertiary studies. Despite the odds that she was born into, she made a change for her future and that of her community. Fatima is now employed by Rooci Wade, a local Afar run NGO that works to improve the maternal child health in the Afar region.
We welcome your interest in supporting students like Fatima and to find out more about the team and all the work they do, please visit;
All photography on this website is provided by Anna Fawcus.
This image is of Fatima. Not only was Fatima the first student in the Student Scholarship Program to Graduate, she was also the first female.
Amina is a member of the Women’s Cooperative, which has helped generate income for the women and their families through a bakery, community shop and sewing skills.
Mormina pours hot Afar ‘bouna’. Made from boiling the husks of coffee beans with water, milk and salt this unusual drink is welcomed after sweating in the heat of the day.
The Community Chief, Hummed Ishka, proudly shows Aidan and Kyra the Award presented to the Agricultural Cooperative by the Regional Government for the best Afar agricultural initiative.
Askeri intricately weaves a traditional Afar basket. These baskets can take up to two weeks to complete and are used to collect and store fresh milk from goats, cows and camels. Each basketis a work of art and is as unique as the artisan weaving it
All photography on this website is provided by Anna Fawcus. All photos are © Anna Fawcus / Barefoot Initiative.