Local BBC Sites

Page last updated at 06:31 GMT, Tuesday, 13 July 2010 07:31 UK
Nurse who inspired 'Live Aid' recalls Ethiopian famine
Child affected by the Ethiopia famine in 1985
Images of starvation prompted worldwide action and Live Aid concert

A nurse whose story inspired Live Aid 25-years-ago has been recalling her experiences in Ethopia during its devastating famine.

Dame Claire Bertschinger, who lives in Sheering, featured in a BBC news report in 1984 as she worked at a Red Cross feeding centre outside Korem.

It was this footage that moved Bob Geldof to begin his fundraising.

"Without any aid, Live Aid or anybody sending money, thousands, millions more people would have died," she said.

"What Live Aid did was to support them long enough for the rains to come, for them to grow crops.

"We, as the Red Cross, gave seeds and hoes so they could start growing crops again and gradually they managed to have small stores of food.

"So that when a drought came along they could go back to their stores and not have a similar famine," she added.

Dame Claire spoke to BBC Essex to mark 25-years since the Live Aid concerts at Wembley and Philadelphia on 13, July 1985.

In Michael Buerk's famous report on the millions of people facing starvation the previous year, Dame Claire talked about how she had to decide which children would be fed, and who would not.

She admitted she had been "scarred" by those experiences.

"I can remember one time when I had children needing to come in," she said.

"They just had skin dripping off their bones, they had no fat or muscle left at all and I counted 10 rows of children and in each row there were a 100 children and I only had 60 places.

Dame Claire Bertschinger
Claire Bertschinger was made a Dame in the 2010 New Year Honours

"It was a horrendous situation where I had to choose who could come in and who couldn't."

For 20 years after her return in 1985, she did not talk about her experiences.

"I found that people just thought I did a fantastic job and I was telling them that actually I hadn't done a good job," she said.

"There was thousands of children who died and I felt responsible for those children who died."

Dame Claire, who now teaches at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, explained she still "had a small piece of my heart in Ethiopia".

As well as continuing to help with fundraising, she is also a trustee and volunteer with the African Children's Education Trust.

Despite its past, she is adamant the country is heading in the right direction.

"What I see now is a wonderful future for east Africa and particularly Ethiopia," she said.

"They've got new hospitals, new roads, new universities and a whole new generation who are determined to make sure that a famine similar to 25-years-ago will never happen again.

"[The new generation] know they had a dreadful famine, they know that from their history," she added.

"But it's something that's not dwelled upon and prefer to think of the new Ethiopia moving forward, because they're a very dynamic country."

In pictures: Live Aid
03 Mar 10 |  Front Page
Michael Buerk on Ethiopia famine
23 Oct 09 |  Africa
1985: Live Aid raises millions
10 May 07 |  On This Day
Face of Live Aid appeal graduates
03 Aug 06 |  Education
The nurse who inspired Live Aid
01 Jul 05 |  Health
Stars recall Live Aid spectacular
31 May 05 |  Music

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific