By Capt. Jennifer Pearson, Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa Public Affairs
NEGELE, Ethiopia, Sept. 16, 2011 -- The people of Negele, Ethiopia, celebrated the hard work between the governments of Ethiopia and the United States recently, during a ground breaking ceremony signifying the start of construction for a much-needed bridge that will connect two local villages and ultimately improve commerce while saving lives.
The bridge will span a 22-foot wide river bed that during the rainy season can be as deep as seven meters and presents significant challenges for anyone trying to cross.
"I farm on one side of the river and live on the other," said Mohammed Abadi, a local villager. "During the rainy season, if the river is full I cannot make it to farm and our kids have to either stay at the school or stay at home and miss school because it is too dangerous to cross."
Abadi has lost livestock while trying to cross the river and has seen fellow community members drown in attempts to cross the river.
The river crossing is used by 17,000 people and the bridge will benefit villages on both sides of the river, giving them safe access to school, markets and medical services. Additionally, the livestock will be able to cross safely, maintaining the livelihood of many villagers.
"So may this bridge tie together the two communities, so may it tie together Ethiopia and the United States," said LT j.g. Brandon Gosch, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion Negele detachment officer-in-charge, said during the dedication ceremony. The event included traditional dance specific to the community, a bread cutting ceremony and the ritual coffee ceremony.
Many village elders and leaders thanked the Ethiopian government for inviting America to help make this bridge happen together. They continued by welcoming the Civil Affairs team and the Navy Seabee team to their community and expressed that the Negele community is now their home.
"This is a day of beginning," said Mata Muelea, a local community elder. "We all feel bad because we have lost livestock and our children because there was no bridge. Kids couldn't go to school and our women couldn't make it to the hospitals to give birth. We are glad our government invited you and we will make this bridge happen together."
Another village elder continued the sentiment by adding his thanks to the civil affairs team and Seabees for coming to Negele and working with their government. He emphasized, "this is the construction of a bridge and of friendship. Members of CJTF-HOA kept meeting with us and keeping us informed on the progress. We have gratitude for this and we don't forget the other CA teams who helped to make today happen. We all say 'yes' for development and friendship."
Denke Tefra, the Vice Chief of Gujii zone, committed his people in the community to work with the U.S. on this project.
"This bridge is for everyone," he said. "This is the commitment of everyone who knows Negele."
"Ethiopia and America have a long story of relationship and this bridge is part of that," Tefra continued. "This shows us your commitment and this bridge links two governments to keep the relationship."
Maj. Antonio Gonzalez, civil affairs team chief, noted that Ethiopia and the United States have been working on many projects together to include mosquito bed net distribution, Veterinary Civic Action Program, or VETCAP, and the bridge project.
"Today is a day to remember. Give thanks to your government, to your community leaders, to the bridge committee leaders and to the elders." Gonzalez said during the dedication. "Thanks to them, this is happening today."