When I travel overseas, I make it a point to visit markets. They’re the best places to see what people eat, how they dress, whether they shop quickly or slowly browse. You may even pick up a couple of useful phrases in the native language, or strike a bargain for a piece of woven cloth or packet of spices. The smells, sights and sounds are often fascinating.
Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is the home of Mercato, Africa’s largest market. It’s several miles long and employs 13,000 people.
As you can imagine, everything a person could possibly need is sold there, but Mercato was missing one key component for years: a lending library. In 2008, ChildFund Ethiopia, with a generous donation from a sponsor, built a library in the middle of the market. It’s still active, and the library has created changes for many children, who now have a place to study and read for fun.
On our website, we catch up with Rebka, a 13-year-old girl who frequents the Mercato library. Read more about this place, an oasis of quiet in the midst of the bustling market.
Reporting by ChildFund staff
Halko, 28, is the mother of 3-month-old Fentale, who is suffering from severe acute malnutrition, a condition that can lead to brain damage and death. A two-year drought in Ethiopia has caused a serious food shortage, leaving millions without enough to eat. Halko, who is married and has three more children, eats only a diet of maize flour and is unable to produce enough milk to feed Fentale.
After a health extension officer from the government of Ethiopia identified the possibility of severe malnutrition, Halko took the baby to a health post in their village, where a health worker referred them to the health center. Halko spoke to us recently about the drought and the food shortage affecting her family.
Due to the absence of rain, the conditions here are so hot and dry. It’s difficult to live in this village. The trees give no shade. The drought is really affecting us. It started two years ago. There’s been no change. It is the same. If the rain comes, the situation will be different.
We are facing a problem. The livestock are not able to produce milk. If the livestock can’t give milk and I can’t add milk to our porridge, then we face problems. We eat only maize porridge without milk. Our livestock have no pastures to graze because there’s been no rain. They don’t have grass to eat. Because of this drought, we have a food crisis. Our children also suffer because of the drought. They don’t get any curd or milk. In the past, we’d add different things like onions or rice – and we may have gotten tomato or oil sometimes. Now we eat only maize. We can’t even get oil to cook with.
The land is dry and it produces no crops. There’s been two years of no rain, and we haven’t been able to harvest crops. We planted maize and white teff [an important food grain used to make staple food injera], but since there was no moisture, the seeds did not germinate. During normal times, we used to buy cabbage and potatoes from the market, and we cooked it together with the maize, but there’s no more now.
The distance to the water point is two hours from here, one way. If we go in the morning, we return back here by noon. My, how we travel.
Fentale is 3 months old. We took him to the health center, and they measured him. They told me yesterday he will be admitted and treated there, and I have to stay there with him. It started after he was born; now he’s 3 months old. There’s been no improvement or growth, and he cries the whole night. If he’s not able to get milk, he cries all night. He cries and kicks all night.
He started coughing after he was born. After coughing, he would cry all day. Especially in the hot weather, he’d cough and cough.
If I’m able to give him some milk, he’s better. If he gets some milk, he’ll sleep. But if he can’t get milk from my breast, he won’t sleep and will just cry. When he first started crying, we took him to the health center. They identified his problem and advised me to eat different foods, not just maize, and to drink enough pure water. They said to try to breastfeed him more often.
I fear for the future. I don’t know whether Fentale will pass through this situation. We are hoping he’ll recover his health and grow to be a man. We don’t know if this will happen, and he’s not able to speak and tell us his problem. The whole night I sit with him, and this week is somewhat better.
What we need right now is teff. Wheat is not good. Maize doesn’t really have any benefits.
A balanced diet is important for my family. For their physical well-being, they need pure water and milk too.
If God gives us rain, we will try to plant crops. If our child recovers, I will be thankful. We need food. That’s our most serious problem.
You can help families like Halko’s by making a donation to our Ethiopia emergency fund.
By Tenagne Mekonnen, ChildFund Regional Communication and Administration Manager, Africa
A few years ago I traveled to the Boset Borchota woreda, or district, a place where it was very green and fertile. As we visited homes throughout the community, I took great pleasure in seeing the bountiful harvest of grains, vegetables and fruits. The livestock appeared plump and healthy. Proud farmers invited us to taste their fruits and grains.
What a different sight met me on my recent visit from our office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. There had been no harvest, and the livestock were cruelly thin. Once-fertile lands were now dry and filled with dust. The dust was everywhere — I couldn’t even see the vehicle in front of us.
I could barely take it in; the difference was so profound.
With great heaviness in my heart, I visited some homes and talked with families and children. One mother of seven, Sequare, spoke to me at length. (See pictures of Sequare and her children in the slideshow below.)
“How can we cope without rain?” she asked. “We are farmers and depend on agriculture, but life seems to have turned its face against us these years.”
I didn’t know what to say.
“Now I don’t even know what we are,” she said. “I can’t call us farmers anymore, because we are not farming. Our days are spent walking in search of water. The river is drying, and if this river dries we won’t know what we can do, as the next one is 30 kilometers [roughly 19 miles] away. There is no way we can walk 30 kilometers and come back here.”
Of her seven children, four attend school. Because she no longer can feed her children from what her farm produces, she prepares their meals from government distributions of corn and oil, and supplementary food provided by ChildFund.
“They eat less,” Sequare said. And what they do eat is not as nutritious as the varied diet of dairy, meat, vegetables and lentils they once enjoyed. One of her children tends toward sickliness and misses school at times. She worries this child’s health will worsen.
“I am tired,” Sequare said. “Every morning we wake up and look for the rain to come, but it is dry here in Borchota.” She said if the drought continued like this, they would migrate to the city in search of food.
“We can’t sit here and wait for our children to die.”
The drought and resulting food shortage in Ethiopia are expected to continue for up to a year. A strong El Niño weather phenomenon caused greatly diminished rainfall in the brief rainy season of spring, known as belg. Farmers in the Oromia region, where Sequare’s home is located, depend on the belg rains for their crops and livestock fodder. But the drought’s effects are more widespread than this region. The government of Ethiopia recently expanded its estimate of the number of people needing food assistance to 10.1 million people.
ChildFund International, which has worked here for more than 40 years and is deeply committed to the progress made for children’s rights and well-being in Ethiopia, is responding with emergency relief in the form of supplementary food — sacks of Famix, a high-protein, ready-to-eat mix of whole roasted corn and soy flour. In recent years, the Ethiopian government has worked hard to build the nation’s economy and infrastructure. We are committed to providing help now, so that Ethiopia can continue this progress in the future.
On our way back from visiting with families, we saw ChildFund staff distributing supplementary food for the children. The parents seemed happy to receive it. Yet when I’d left the homes of those I’d visited earlier in the day, their faces had been sad. They hadn’t been able to share their harvest with me as they had in times past.
May the help we provide today enable our friends to weather this crisis and enjoy many fruitful harvests in the years ahead.
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia’s local partner staff in Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region
Kefyalech, a 30-year-old mother who lives in Ethiopia, stays home to care for her six children while her husband, Derara, seeks work. But Derara often comes home without having found a job, because the coffee crop is suffering just like all the others in the two-year rainfall shortage that has gripped Ethiopia for months now, so the family remains hungry.
Three years ago, Kefyalech worked as a daily laborer and earned 10 birr ($0.47) a day, which covered some of the family’s expenses. But these days, Kefyalech and her children wait each night to see if Derara has earned enough money to buy maize flour, the only food they can afford.
Kefyalech’s family is not alone. Poor rainfall over two growing seasons has limited the number of crops, and El Niño is delaying rainfall now. Experts predict the situation will worsen over the next eight months, and it could take more than a year for Ethiopia to recover.
The drought has damaged Ethiopia’s agriculture-based economy and limited its food supply, and it’s expected to continue well into next year; the Ethiopian government estimates that 10.1 million people will need food assistance in 2016, including 5.75 million children. Save the Children, another non-governmental organization working in Ethiopia, estimates that 400,000 children will be at risk of suffering acute malnutrition next year.
Working with the Ethiopian government, ChildFund and its local partner organizations in seven districts are providing supplementary food and cooking oil for nearly 74,000 children under age 5, pregnant and lactating mothers, and elderly people.
ChildFund and its partners are also working to support the government health office, including the health center in Kefyalech’s community. At a nutrition screening recently held there, her youngest child, 3-year-old daughter Debritu, was diagnosed as moderately malnourished in a nutrition screening held there, so the supplementary food Kefyalech was able to take home — Famix, a maize-and-soybean mixture fortified with vitamins and minerals — was especially welcome.
But Kefyalech says she felt she could not give the extra food to just Debritu and deprive her other children.
“As a mother, I had no choice but to feed the whole family, because there has not been enough food in the house,” she says. “I could not feed the supplementary food to only one of my children while seeing the rest going to sleep on an empty stomach.” As a result, the supplement was gone early, and Debritu remains malnourished.
The little girl also came down with pneumonia recently — no surprise, as malnutrition undermines children’s immunities. She is improving, with the help of prescription medication she received from the health center.
Kefyalech is understandably concerned about her family’s fragile future.
“I’m afraid of tomorrow because I have nothing,” she says. “I’m worried for my daughter. I’m scared. What if I don’t get support from ChildFund? I don’t know what is waiting for me tomorrow.” Kefyalech adds that her older children are not going to school anymore because they can’t spare the expense.
ChildFund’s local partners are also working with the Ethiopian government to provide blankets, sheets and mattresses to help the health centers handle the growing demand as more and more children need treatment. These organizations also are supporting the distribution of Plumpy’Nut, a therapeutic food provided by UNICEF for treating severe acute malnutrition, to government health centers in the areas affected by the food shortage.
By Christine Ennulat, ChildFund Content Manager
Happy World Food Day! There are starving children in Africa.
At how many dinner tables in how many homes have finicky children been scolded that way to get them to eat their dinners?
Or maybe it was India — “There are starving children in India. Eat your meatloaf.”
And how many children have rolled their eyes at their admonishing parents? How many of those parents really were speaking from a place of gut knowledge about what it means for a child to starve?
Clichés come to be clichés because they’re true. There are, and ever have been, starving children in Asia and in Africa. They are also in South America and in North America — right here in our back yard. All over the world.
A truth devolves into a cliché through overuse. We become numb to the idea.
The whole world has become numb to the idea of starving children. That’s why fundraising for a slow-onset crisis like a drought is so challenging, much more so than for a splashy, sudden typhoon or a devastating earthquake.
But 5-year-old Selamawit is not a cliché. She’s a little girl who lives in Ethiopia, where 8.2 million people right now are suffering through a food crisis.
Selamawit became so malnourished that her condition tipped into kwashiorkor, or protein-energy malnutrition, which causes loss of muscle mass, irritation, fatigue, skin issues, diarrhea, liver damage, failure to grow and more. Kwashiorkor is behind the round bellies we see in the now-clichéd photos of starving children in developing countries; the lack of protein causes fluid to collect in the abdomen and elsewhere.
Selamawit is in treatment now, but she will likely never reach her full height. Her brain development may have been irreparably disrupted — time will tell. (Another cliché.)
And time will tell for Ethiopia, but we know what to expect for the coming months: The drought that has decimated the harvest nationwide is expected to continue well into 2016, thanks to what some are calling the strongest El Niño event on record. In a country where 86 percent of the population depends on subsistence farming, the failed harvest means that families must instead purchase all their food, and prices are rising. Poorer families can’t afford the food they need, so they reduce their intake dangerously.
It happens slowly and quietly. And it silences children.
You can help by donating to our Ethiopia food crisis response here.
And you can take the opportunity of this World Food Day to tell your friends and networks what’s happening in Ethiopia. Tell them about Selamawit, and about her brother, 7-year-old Temesgen.
Every day after that, keep an eye on the crisis, and encourage those around you to do so, too. You’ll have to look for it in the media, because it’s not a typhoon or an earthquake. We’ll keep you posted here.
By Kate Andrews, ChildFund Staff Writer
Oct. 11 is the International Day of the Girl Child, a day set aside by the United Nations to recognize girls’ rights and the special challenges they face. This year’s theme for the day is The Power of the Adolescent Girl: Vision for 2030, so ChildFund’s blog will focus this week on girls who are working to achieve great things now and in the future.
Thinking about girls — especially those who are entering adolescence — reminded me of some favorite stories from past blog posts, featuring girls raising their voices to advocate for themselves and other young people. In March, Maria Antônia, a 14-year-old girl from Brazil, spoke about violence against children at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York. “It is very important to improve child-friendly services within the child protection network, so that children feel confident and safe,” she said. It was her first time in the United States, as well as the first time she’d seen snow.
In a post from 2014, this one from Indonesia, we met Stefanie and Irma, teenagers who were youth facilitators in a large, multi-age forum about dating violence, which has grown more prevalent there in recent years. It’s impressive how open children and youth can be about such sensitive issues, and it’s thanks to young people like Irma and Stefanie that Indonesian communities are making progress in stopping domestic violence.
Finally, in Ethiopia, four young women spoke out about children’s right to a complete education, during 2014’s Day of the African Child, an annual, Africa-wide event that marks the deaths of young protesters who marched for better educational access in Soweto, South Africa, in 1976. Eden, Helen, Aziza and Bemnet, all in their teens, addressed the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. You can read their words, which reflect the struggles they and other young people in their communities face.
At the U.N.’s Day of the Girl website, read about the special challenges girls face, including early marriage, gender-based violence and poor access to education and job opportunities. Also, if you’re on social media, use the hashtag #dayofthegirl to learn more and discuss these issues.
Photos from ChildFund’s offices in Bolivia, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Mexico and Timor-Leste
In the lobby of ChildFund’s international headquarters, we don’t have your typical office décor. Instead, we have a sparsely furnished Kenyan classroom, a world map mural with paper dolls holding hands, and homemade toys collected from around the world. A lot of the toys are made with what some people might call trash: used plastic bottles, twine and bits of rubber and metal. But the toys themselves are not junk and are often prized by the children who made and played with them.
In these pictures below, you’ll see the ingenuity and creativity of children who play with what they have — animals, traditional games and toys made from available materials.
In August, we’ll be focusing on play — here on the blog and on ChildFund’s social media — and what it means to children’s physical, mental and social development. We asked our staff in Asia, Africa and the Americas to share pictures and quotes from children about their favorite sports, games and toys. One thing that’s striking is that some games are common to many children, regardless of age group, country and continent. As you’d expect, many of the children ChildFund works with are fans of soccer, but you’ll also see them playing with marbles or jumping rope. Many make their own toys out of materials found around their homes and communities. It takes a lot to keep children from playing, even when they don’t have toy stores around the corner.
Below is a slideshow of photos from Brazil, Ecuador and Ethiopia, all of girls jumping rope, a skill that requires good balance, stamina and high energy. Stay tuned throughout this month for more play!
By Julien Anseau, Global Communications Manager
Adanech has never lacked ambition — just opportunity. Before ChildFund started working in her community, her family, like many others, scraped every day to make ends meet. Today, the Ethiopian mother owns a business, employs five people and is looking to grow her enterprise further. “More importantly, my children are healthy and in school,” she says.
Adanech first learned of ChildFund’s Yekokeb Berhan program a little over a year ago and signed up for training in business development and micro-enterprise. “Before, we had no money,” she says. “It was a real struggle to make just enough money to live. I had a small weaving business, and I wanted to learn how to make a success of it.” She became involved in a savings group and was able to access a small loan on favorable terms.
The PEPFAR/USAID-funded Yekokeb Berhan program has worked in Ethiopia since May 2011 to put in place a child-focused social welfare network that allows all children, including the most vulnerable, to thrive. Focusing on HIV-affected communities, Yekokeb Berhan aims to reach 500,000 highly vulnerable children throughout the country and is a collaboration among Pact, Family Health International (FHI360) and ChildFund International, along with many local partner organizations.
Adanech took out a loan of 10,000 Birr (USD $500) to get started and has not looked back since. Now, after household expenses such as rent and food, staff wages and loan repayments, Adanech and her husband, Meteke, still have 3,000 Birr (USD $150) at the end of the month that they can save or invest in the business.
“Life is so much better now,” says Meteke. “We live for our children. We can send them to school. And they are healthy.” He adds, proudly, that their 9-year-old daughter, Bizuayhue, dreams of becoming a doctor and helping the family, and that 2-year-old Yohannes is “happy running around for now.”
Adanech’s community of Zenebework is one of the poorest in Addis Ababa. Most residents are migrants from poor rural areas, attracted to Ethiopia’s rapidly growing capital city by better job prospects. The city dump is nearby, and families scavenge for food and anything they can resell. The HIV infection rate is among the highest in the country, and a high proportion of children grow up in broken homes.
Yet Adanech is upbeat: “Life is also changing in the community. Life can change if you are given the opportunity. People here have never been scared of hard work. From the moment they wake to the moment they sleep, people here are working. They just need the opportunity to work smarter.”
At 28, Adanech is full of ambition. “I am looking to hire five more employees and buy a singeing machine to make more elaborate patterns on my fabrics, which I would then sell at a higher profit. The machine costs 10,500 Birr [USD $510], which is a lot.” For now, she sells her textiles at the local market, but she aspires to sell to merchants at Merkato, Africa’s largest open-air market, and in Bole, an upscale area in Addis Ababa.
“Sometimes, all people need is an opportunity,” says Meteke, 31. “Before, we did not have the money to grow our business. No one would give us a loan other than loan sharks, who asked for 100 percent interest. Now our loan repayment, including interest, is 450 Birr [USD $22] every month, which is manageable.”
Yekokeb Berhan’s livelihood support is important, says Abraham, a program officer for ChildFund’s local partner called Love for Children and Family Development Charitable Organization, which implements the program. “Giving families opportunities to earn a decent living is the most sustainable approach to helping them meet the needs of their children.”
He adds, “Ethiopia is seeing rapid economic growth, which is great. But with growth comes increasing inequality. I am proud of being part of this program, because I can see the changes in the lives of children who would otherwise have been left behind.”