Being there for those who need it most
Welkete – three hours away from the capital inside the Gurage Zone, in the Southern Regional State is a booming town. It is a multicultural society with Muslims and Christians, and Gurages and Oromos and even a Gumuz speaker’s – Nilo-Saharan people tracing their roots to Sudan – and others co-existing peacefully, showing the possibility of co-existence that is becoming rare in the world. It’s population of 28,666 at last official count from 2007 has increased considerably.
In the city of few skyscrapers that are partially finished and partially occupied by tenants selling coffee and fast and cheap food, its downtown street is crowded with young people wandering aimlessly.
There, a middle aged woman stood among many inside a government building waiting for the generosity of a landmark company in the area, OK Bottling and Beverage Share Company which is currently involved in embracing its corporate social responsibility mantra in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I am here hoping to be provided daily necessities, such as oil, wheat and anything that I can receive,” 64 years old, Etsegenet Girma, said awaiting among hundreds, who had come to take part in the generosity of the company, joined by the local mayor who had witnessed an increasing interest from the corporate sector who have increasingly gotten involved in the unique challenge of the time.
Etsegenet had moved from Waliso, a nearby city known as the hometown of the late music legend, Tilahun Gessesse to be near her children but the current pandemic having seen her children be laid off from work, forcing her to rely on a combination of charity and goodwill from OK Bottling and Beverage Share Company as part of its new campaign – “To those Who Need Love, We Share Love – in the city.”
“Such help is welcome. I take to heart that Feker water is an important fabric of the local community, almost like the social safety net of many people. Everyone who lives in this town has someone who either has worked for them or is working for them and I am grateful for the current support,” she said as she bundled her gift and headed home.
“I see this as a hand-up, not as a hand-out,” she whispered to the ear of the company’s executive, smiling gleefully wiping tears from her face.
The company is noted to produce bottled water, under the brand ‘Feker’, is credited for hiring more than 300 people from the local area since its founding in 2014 at a paid up capital of 284.8 million birr with a vision of having a regional presence. It started with a promise to donate partial income from each bottle sold to support charitable gestures, making it unique among a growing bottled water sector that is now nearing 100 within Ethiopia.
The mayor of Welkete, Girum Wenlesembet has seen the impact of OK Bottling has had, not just from the perspective of an important institution that has created needed jobs, but of its charitable gestures.
“With the company, we have come to rely on them for various initiatives, they have always helped, assisted and we see them as partners for its development. The help we are seeing from them during the virus scarce is how we know them to act in the neighbourhood and that is whether its charity, or environmental initiatives and civic engagement. We always call them when we lack resources to help or perform our duty and I have never seen them be negative, be tired of us and they always responded positively. They have been a great addition to the city, a real partner and wonderful friend,” Mayor Girum told The Reporter.
Yonas Tadesse was one of the hundreds who stopped his bajaj to see what the gathering was and was overwhelmed by what he came out with. The 28 years old driver had seen his business dwindle and he is forced to mend a family of four who rely on him to feed them and provide them shelter.
He was invited to come inside and meet with representatives of the company. He was elated when the mayor greeted him inside and personally handed him a bag full of perishable goods that are ever becoming unaffordable for a young man with many responsibilities.
“I did not expect such hospitality. The bag is full of things that are becoming hard to attain, including rice, oil and others and it means my family will be fed for at least fed without worries and if there is anything COVID-19 has shown us is that we have all become (government officials, business and neighbours) more receptive to our needs and worries,” he said as he jumped of his bajaj.
Another woman, who refused to give her name, frail and supported by others, was pushed to the front of the line to be served ahead of the pack. She thanked the mayor and the company, as her small body frame brought her to their attention. On top, she was offered a drive home.
“I cannot say thank you. I am too poor and too weak to mend for myself. Their generosity is something that I never expected and with a daughter at home, we will use what is given to us and expend it for as long as we can,” she said.
The mayor, in his maiden speech, reminded his neighbours the value of charity and support that he expects would be ongoing.
“Be reminded of who we are as human beings”, he said, holding a bottle of Feker Water adding, “Like OK Bottling & Beverage Share Company, we have to demonstrate the value of hard work and charity as we face one of our biggest challenges and that the fight cannot be fought alone and needs the hands of all of us. Remember, we have to become exemplary, hear our health authorities and help slow the virus from reaching more people as we have seen in faraway places and always be there for one another,” he concluded.