The crisis in Ethiopian is a personal tragedy for a Canadian couple. My name is Amie Boucher and my husband Patrick also goes by Justin. We traveled to Ethiopia as part of a fundraising initiative for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) called Water for Life. For the past year, all of our waking hours have been spent trying to understand why Ethiopia now has one of the highest rates of infant mortality in the world, after years of progress. There was no higher priority than saving the lives of babies and children. When MSF told us the incubator van had a serious motor failure, we’re guessing it was pretty late at night and we were at the clinic trying to work out a new schedule. We’re all pretty good at working on teams, but the MSF clinic had just been down for nearly six weeks and nobody knew how the next few days would pan out.
The van, with its spare parts, finally arrived on 24 September, just hours before our third baby, Amal, was born. Now our only concern is having the equipment needed to treat new babies and their mothers as emergency vehicles return from cities.
Whether Ethiopia’s problems stem from power outages, food shortages or corruption is hard to say. But our repeated attempts to understand the cause from public health professionals is met with resounding silence in Ethiopia. Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland gave an enormous amount of attention to our trip, particularly her actions to address reports of male child marriage. Chrystia insisted that being called a “great feminist” was a great label for our trip, and extended it to all of us, but her focus on women was about one thing – there are great women who help at MSF, but we need resources and we need more time. It was not enough, and there was nothing we could do to force it. When we went to the airport, just waiting for the plane to leave, we felt completely humbled and shocked. The culture of Canada, the safe environment we were seeking, was not even close to realizing its potential.
Everyone is working incredibly hard to be heard. Chrystia’s fight for greater access to health care for women and girls by speaking out forcefully against child marriage and second-class citizenship was fundamental to galvanizing a community like ours. And I think a lot of the Canadian government – her officials, MPs, and global health experts – shares her goal.
It remains to be seen whether she will have the opportunity to articulate a Canadian view, one that stresses resilience, and not dependence. While representatives from MSF, UNICEF, the Canadian embassy and so many others welcomed us with open arms, the conditions are fragile. We’re still waiting for cholera cases to spike again. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to overcome the abject lack of health infrastructure and the incredible lack of resources.
The reality is that many of our fellow citizens have had plenty of opportunities to say something, and they’ve said nothing. The only way we’re going to be able to engage our government and other world leaders to end this crisis and start saving lives is if we start talking loudly. It’s time to demand answers from the people who have the money and access to power to do something, but instead are saying nothing. It’s time to publicly demand that our government speak up.
Our first child is just five months old. She is eating at home on her own and gradually regaining strength. But by next summer her parents will still be raising money in search of solutions. As my husband said: “I can feel my soul slipping away as we’re never going to solve this problem.” Even more so for my husband, who stands ready to do anything and everything, as a Canadian, he can, to help the most vulnerable. What else could I ask for?