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Creating a sustainable community in Ethiopia Sasiga Lowlands, Ethiopia

  • Darren Kanwischer owner of Fifth Avenue Club in Calgary, Alberta standing next to a new water well in the Belo region of Ethiopia -
  • Two young smiling children from the Belo region of Ethiopia. The girl who is around 10 is holding a younger boy -
  • A farmer from the Belo region of Ethiopia is standing amongt his crop with a big smile -
  • A large group of people living in the Belo region of Ethiopia are waving at the camera –
  • Darren Kanwischer owner of Fifth Avenue Club Calgary taking part in a community run on a visit to the Belo region Ethiopia. The run has both children and adults who are smiling at the camera –
  • A man and and two women are pumping water from a new well constructed in the Belo region of Ethiopia. The clean water is being pumped into platic yellow jerry can –
  • A young girl from the Belo region of Ethiopia is smiling. She is dressed in a long olive coloured dress and standing next to a mud wall which creates a lovely contrast –
  • A group of three adults and a teenage boy from the Belo region of Ethiopia are sitting on a cart pulled by a mule. The two adult women are waving and smiling at the camera –

Since Fifth Avenue Club opened in Calgary, Alberta, Canada in 1996, it has developed a local reputation for setting the standard for “friendly, personalized service”. On the other side of the world in Ethiopia, it has become known for supporting a sustainable development project that has changed the lives of over 40,000 people, in nine villages, in the Belo region of Ethiopia. The club, owned by Darren Kanwischer, has been involved with Food for the Hungry (FH) since June of 2007. Three dollars of each member’s dues are donated to Belo each month. Fifth Avenue Club has also donated proceeds from the sale of old equipment, held a 10k fundraising run (“Run for Belo”),  had members fund raise among themselves and are currently involved with “Run for Water” in Calgary, Alberta.

How did it start?

Fifth Avenue Club’s involvement with Belo began when the owner, Darren Kanwischer, became aware of Belo through a business associate at Fratello Coffee, who were supplying coffee to his in-club smoothie bar at the time. Darren had heard of other health clubs getting involved with fundraising, but it was typically a one event commitment. What appealed to Darren about the Belo project was its ongoing charitable support through adopting the community as a sustainable development project through Food for the Hungry.


The main objective of the Fifth Avenue Club’s project through Food for the Hungry (FH), is the support of sustainable development in Belo, to improve health/sanitation, food security, education and leadership within the area. However, rather than just providing support, the project aims to create a sustainable and self-sufficient community that will soon no longer need support from Food for the Hungry.

Health and nutrition was an area that wanted to be targeted through improved access to clean water, sanitation and community health through the use of latrines, medical training, improved knowledge on safe cooking techniques and nutrition, HIV/ AIDS awareness and hygiene. The main objective of increasing agricultural production through methods such as crop rotation, irrigation, animal husbandry, and sustainable farming practices were to provide food security, improved nutrition, and economic independence, in particular for women. Gender equality was another objective targeted at to be improved, through training that focused on both genders’ access to and control over resources, increased education for girls, and ensuring participation of women in the development of the community.

The most important objective of the project was the involvement of local members of the community, such as community leaders, church leaders and governmental officials. The purpose of this was to create a high level of community commitment, with the idea that Food for the Hungry were helping this community to help themselves. If these changes were implemented by the community themselves, and the knowledge and skills were passed and retained by them, then Belo could eventually become a self-sufficient and sustainable community which would no longer require outside help.

Why is this project important?

What made the project really important to Fifth Avenue Club, and its owner Darren, was that Food for the Hungry ‘walk’s alongside’ vulnerable communities as they strive toward sustainability. On personal level, Food for the Hungry’s Christian values are important to Darren as he knows that the work they are doing aligns with his values on a spiritual level. Having been able to visit Belo four times, Darren was able to create meaningful relationships with the Food the Hungry Staff and also with the child that his family have been sponsoring for years now. As Darren puts it: “I believe that life is made much more meaningful through helping others and giving to those in need. I love that Fifth Avenue Club is not only making a difference here in Calgary; we’re also changing lives on the other side of the globe in Belo.”

Recognizing that each community faces unique challenges is an important principle of Food for the Hungry, committing themselves to an integrated, holistic approach. What differentiates the Belo project from others is that it seeks to make these communities sustainable, with a defined target when these communities no longer require support from Food for the Hungry. The affect that this project is having on these communities makes a genuine difference to their lives and will continue do so long after their graduation.

Project resources

The main resources that Fifth Avenue Club provide are in the form of financial aid through the donation of three dollars of each member’s dues every month, and fundraising amongst members and staff, through the sale of old gym equipment, and charity events such as their 10k run. Over the years, Fifth Avenue club has been able to donate well over $250,000 Canadian dollars through their three dollar, per member, per month commitment. In addition to financial support, the club’s owner and staff have continuously dedicated themselves to supporting Belo through their voluntary work and fundraising efforts. Recently, one of the club’s staff has committed themselves to organize the promotion of a local charity event, “Run for Water”, in which the money raised will be donated to Belo. Fifth Avenue Club is dedicated to supporting the Community Development Program in Belo, Ethiopia, until the completion of the project in 2016.

Project results

The community of Belo will be supported through the sustainable development program until the “graduation” of the community scheduled for December 2016. The results of the project through the support of Fifth Avenue Club have been vast. Through Child Sponsorship, children have been supplied with learning materials, physical education materials, and school uniforms. Community workers now regularly check with teachers and monitor child attendance, performance and active participation in school. Due to the Food for the Hungry community workers’ relationship with sponsored children, children like Kero’s performance has steadily improved to make him the top ranked student in his class. Education for girls is now part of the training for government leaders, and many more girls are now permitted to learn alongside their male peers.

Nearly all the communities in the Belo region now have water points, hand-dug wells, and hand pumps, allowing access to clean water less than 1.5km from their homes. It was with the community’s support and participation that this task was accomplished. Water Committees have been established to steward these new resources and forward the communities’ efforts for clean water development. Through the provision of clean water and sanitary latrines, the number of people with waterborne diseases has significantly decreased, as well as relieving the burden of many women who were previously forced to travel long distances to collect water. Health has also been significantly impacted through the training of health professionals and midwives on prenatal care and child delivery practices, as well as training for the community on cooking, nutrition and personal hygiene.
Food for the Hungry has also been able to cover many of the costs of health expenses of children and de-worming medication. Counseling on HIV/ AIDS awareness, food nutrition, women’s rights, child marriages and family business was conducted for families in many community and faith based organizations. Training has taken place on making and applying organic fertilizer, as well as putting into effect more efficient and effective farming practices for Belo’s farmers. This method of bio-intensive farming has ensured sustainable farming for future generations. Food security in the region has been achieved through practices such as irrigation, tree nurseries, seed distribution and veterinarian posts, with farmers producing 2-3 times more than previous. In addition to creating sustainable and secure crop yields, economic independence has been achieved for many women, and farmers have been able to afford to send their children to school.

One of the most meaningful signs of Belo’s success has been the high level of community commitment. Whenever a school needs to be built, or a water point established, there is always a significant turnout of individuals from the community to provide local materials and their labor free of charge. The knowledge that has been transferred to the communities is now being applied by its members to make their community into a sustainable, community driven area that will eventually no longer require the support and help from organizations like Fifth Avenue Club. In December 2016, this community will join 30 other communities who have all graduated over the years through Food for the Hungry’s sustainable development project.

Gymtopia Comment

It is the long-term nature of this project that appeals to us. Also, we know that the Canadian fitness industry has been affected by the global economic crisis and more recently adverse changes in the oil industry. However, Fifth Avenue Club is committed to following through the commitment made to Food for the Hungry in 2007.

Project by:Fifth Avenue Club

Fifth Avenue Club

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Location: Sasiga Lowlands, Ethiopia
Start date: June 2007
Status: Ongoing
Impact: Local
Submitted: 9 March 2016
Charity: Food for the Hungry