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Inverness minister hopes to raise funds for Christian Aid with exhibition of photographs from Ethiopia at Ness Bank Church

By Alasdair Fraser

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Rev Penelope Smirthwaite met the King of Konso's daughter in south-west Ethiopia.
Rev Penelope Smirthwaite met the King of Konso's daughter in south-west Ethiopia.

When Reverend Penelope Smirthwaite ventured to Ethiopia with husband Steve, the couple fully expected to gain a thought-provoking insight into impoverished lives.

What the Ness Bank church locum was less prepared for was how moving and poignant the little details of people’s daily experiences and hardship would prove.

A good many of those details, as well as the warmth, friendliness and humour of the local people, were captured on camera on the March 2020 visit.

Now, in an effort to raise funds for the worldwide work of Christian Aid, Rev Smirthwaite has created a colourful exhibition of photographs taken on the trip.

The snaps vividly illuminate the lives of the local people they met, mainly in rural south-west Ethiopia among the tribes of the Omo valley.

The couple also journeyed to the very different environs of the city of Hara, east of Addis Ababa.

“The photographs in this exhibition were taken by myself and my husband Steve while on a photographic workshop with the professional photographer Bryan Peterson in Ethiopia in January 2020,” Rev Smirthwaite explained.

“One of my most poignant memories is of photographing a very beautiful pregnant girl who asked me for soap.

“It is a struggle to put yourself in the shoes of others whose lives are so different from our own but her simple request brought it home.”

The exhibition at the church will open on Monday and run daily from 11 am until 3pm until Saturday, May 21. There will also be an evening session from 6-8pm on Wednesday.

Rev Smirthwaite worked alongside Rev Fiona Smith for two years before the latter’s recent departure, working part-time to support her.

She has now accepted the caretaker role on a part-time basis at Ness Bank, one of the city’s biggest and most socially-active churches.

“We had a fantastic week with some wonderful and very colourful people,” Rev Smirthwaite said.

“In the south-west it was very poor and people are still living in quite mediaeval ways. There are huge unemployment problems.

“There was a drought and I remember how one evening, sitting by a campsite where we stayed a couple of nights with one of the tribes, a great big insect sat on my hand.

“I realised it was a locust and they have since had a terrible famine due to locusts, on top of Covid and now civil war.”

Christian Aid’s work now has a strong focus on sustainable aid such as creation of crops and safe water supplies.

From hundreds of pictures taken by the couple, 40 photographs will be on display at the exhibition.

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