‘Life saving dust’ to help drought-striken Ethiopia

Project Mercy founders express thanks for Church aid, visit Welfare Square

From the production line at the Church's Welfare Square milk plant, Marta Gabre-Tsadick worked to produce an Ethiopian porridge that will eventually reach the starving children of her nation.

The executive director and founder of Project Mercy, Mrs. Gabre-Tsadick visited Salt Lake City Oct. 24 for one purpose: to express gratitude to the Church whose production of the porridge, called Atmit, is helping children and the elderly in Ethiopia.

Severe drought in Ethiopia has caused what some experts believe to be the worst hunger crisis in history; agriculture constitutes 80 percent of the total Ethiopian economy.

The Church is the only organization producing Atmit. The porridge, made of oat flour, sugar, powdered milk, and a vitamin/mineral mix verified by nutritionists at BYU, is helping those so malnourished that they cannot digest whole grains and food made with coarse flour.

While working on the production of Atmit at Welfare Square, Mrs. Gabre-Tsadick watched as some of the errant dust from the substance filled the room. "In our case we know what every cup of that flour is going to do," she said. "Each speck of that dust is going to save lives."

Mrs. Gabre-Tsadick, the first woman senator to serve in Ethiopia, started Project Mercy with her husband, Demeke Tekle-Wold, more than 25 years ago. During the past two decades the organization has not only provided emergency relief aid but has also provided educational assistance, community development and self-help programs in Ethiopia. The nongovernmental organization is operating feeding stations in some of the nation's most affected areas of drought.

"When people are starving for a long time they spit food out of their mouths," said Mrs. Gabre-Tsadick. "Their bodies have given up. Their mental ability to get stronger has given up."

But Atmit, which she said tastes much like cream soup, changes all that. The proof can been seen in children who have been eating Atmit for as little as three days. "They start smiling," she said.

Two pounds of Atmit, fed as a warm beverage for up to a week in five to seven daily feedings, will save a person's life, she said.

During her brief visit to Salt Lake City, Mrs. Gabre-Tsadick spoke with Presiding Bishop H. David Burton, talked to reporters and addressed volunteers at Welfare Square.

Bishop Burton said Mrs. Gabre-Tsadick has "such a commitment level to assist the poor that it exuded from her."

"She has a quiet power that seems very obvious as you visit with her," he said. "She was eloquent and appreciative and even emotional about the assistance the Church was able to render because of the generosity of members across the world."

Bishop Burton said the Church will continue to help children in Ethiopia; Mrs. Gabre-Tsadick helped package some of the 160 tons of Atmit that will be sent by the Church to Ethiopia for famine relief.

In partnership with Project Mercy, the Church has already distributed 400 tons of the porridge in Ethiopia. This is possible, in part, because the Church's Deseret Dairy powdered products facility at Welfare Square is ideally suited to produce Atmit, Bishop Burton explained.

"These children are in great need," he said. "We have some special skills and some special abilities to put together the Atmit to start the feeding program for these undernourished children. . . . We have the wherewithal to do it. We have the people who are committed to it. We have the facilities to do it."

In response to the deepening drought in Ethiopia, the Church has provided more than 5,700 tons of food since March.

In addition to Atmit, the remainder of the Church aid is in the form of Unimix; the Church, in cooperation with Catholic Relief Service, contracted with an Ethiopian supplier to produce the corn-soya mixture.

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