The girl with the dirty finger nails

Don’t get me wrong. iDE has a careful hiring process.  We review resumés.  We do multiple interviews.  We check references.   Still, it’s often hard to spot the right candidate.  So when I saw the dirty fingernails, I knew we had found the candidate we were after.  Her hands looked like she had been busy with some motor oil intensive maintenance project.
We had found an engineer who was not afraid to get her hands dirty!

Ashley came to iDE from MIT in mid-2008.  She was looking for some international work
experience.  So off to Ethiopia she went to become part of iDE’s technology development team.  She said that getting a job with iDE was her dream job.  [And she explained that her fingernails were dirty because she was finishing a charcoal project].

It wasn’t always easy but Ashley was determined to fit in culturally. No foreign enclave for her.  She lived across town and took local buses to work.  She was robbed or scammed several times, but not only did she survive, she bounced back.  She enjoyed enjera, and learned traditional Ethiopia shoulder-jogging dancing.

In January 2009, I visited her in Ethiopia, and then wrote back to her parents (and now to all of you) that “You should know that Ashley is doing (has done) terrific work in Ethiopia. On the technical side, her determined drive to create a rope pump which will be affordable and viable and effective for smallholder families / farmers to help them  irrigate their crops, increase their food production and ultimately their income, will make a huge significant difference in the lives of thousands of families in the future (and already is).  On the organizational side, Ashley’s infectious laugh, her willing spirit and her cooperative helping ways, and her coordination responsibilities (as in our recent global technology meeting) is an inspiration to all of us.  On the cultural side, Ashley’s openness, curiosity, willingness to learn Amharic and respect take her a long way into fitting in and functioning effectively.  Yesterday, a bunch of us bought “coffee necklaces” from her which she was “peddling” as a fundraiser for HIV victims.  Also great.”

During her time in Ethiopia, Ashley adapted the rope pump to allow smallholder farmers (who could not use suction pumps) to have a source of irrigation water.  She created a local supply chain which would ensure that farmers in the future would continue to have access to these income-rich water devices.

In her 2½ years in Ethiopia, her rope pump project went from a standing start (no pumps available) to at least 2000 purchased by small plot farmers.  The irrigation impact of each of these is an additional $300 to $500 in food production annually.  That’s as much as $1 million annually.  That’s huge.

One farm family was so excited with the “Ashley rope pump” and treadle pump they had
received that they named their baby girl, Banchi Gizae (“in her time”).   (Her name commemorates that her birth coincided with the arrival of the pumps).

Not being quite through with Africa, Ashley moved on to Zambia and Mozambique to continue the spread of the technology.

The last time I saw her in Africa, she was engaged in a low cost well drilling exercise.  As you can see, it was dirty sludge coming out of that well drilling unit.  That didn’t matter to Ashley.  She already had dirty hands.  It was what qualified her to make an impact.

Ashley is only one of many qualified employees and volunteers who work with iDE.  They
come from around the world, many of them from the countries in which we operate.  Not all of them have dirty fingernails, but all of them are determined to make the world a better place for the smallplot farmers who are our clients.

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About Al Doerksen

I'm sort of a vocational tramp; my working career divides about evenly between non-profit and the business worlds. I have lived in Mexico, India, Germany and Canada, and now USA. I've had the good fortune to travel to 90 countries of which at least half are developing countries. The last 25 years of my "career" have involved significant (and enjoyable) international management challenges: travel industry, furniture manufacturing, food (aid) programming and ultraviolet water treatment among others. I'm now leading a development enterprise called IDE.
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4 Responses to The girl with the dirty finger nails

  1. doradueck says:

    What an inspiring story! Here’s to Ashley, and many more like her…

  2. Love this blog post! Ashley represents the next generation of changemakers who will stop at nothing to change the world. I’m constantly inspired every time I meet a young person who has incredible skills and chooses to apply them to helping the bottom of the economic pyramid. Not only helping, but empowering and unleashing an entrepreneurial spirit in low-income families in the developing world. Bravo Ashley, and many more like her as Dora says!

  3. Pingback: Link notes: Bolivia, bread, a beach story, and more | borrowing bones

  4. Melody G says:

    great story, Al, thanks for taking the time to tell it. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by all the bad news – a strong put-the-boots-to-it young woman with her hands in the muddy water is a GREAT sign of hope. Melody

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