Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
When Mekdes was just 3 years old, her father passed away and her mother was unable to take care of her daughter on her own. So Mekdes went to live with her grandmother in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Today, 14 years later, Mekdes should be enrolled in grade 10 at Ketchene Secondary School, but times have been tough in recent years.
Mekdes was making good grades and enjoying her classes. Then her grandmother lost her job—their only source of income. Mekdes was forced to drop out of school and start working before she completed the national high school leaving examination that would open the door to advanced education.
Fighting back tears, she explains her situation: “We have no income at this time for our living. We have no one to help us. Our lives [have] become strange and gloomy. We are passing the day without food and go to bed with hunger.”
Since dropping out of school, Mekdes worked as a hairdresser and a day laborer for a small company, but her real dream is to finish school and become a doctor.
In March, we asked our Twitter followers to post 200 tweets and retweets focused on girls and women during a four-day time period culminating on International Women’s Day. As an incentive for the awareness-building campaign, we would honor our Twitter followers by awarding a one-year scholarship to a deserving Ethiopian girl (one of the items available in ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog).
ChildFund’s Twitter followers surpassed the goal, unleashing 275 tweets like: “Secure girls = strong women,” and “Being a student makes a girl unavailable for marriage.”
Mekdes is the recipient of the scholarship gift. She plans to work during the day and take evening classes so that she can complete her secondary education.
“Now with the help I got from ChildFund, I will start to train in hair dressing and make money,” she says of her near-term goals. “For me, ChildFund is my life. My grandmom is also so happy with the chance I got. She cried first when she heard the news, delighted with the hope we get from ChildFund.”
Thank you, ChildFund Tweeps!
Over the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we listen in on the dreams expressed by a youth in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
“If he succeeded in doing it, why not me?” asks 15-year-old Frehiwot, her face serious. “I believe nothing is impossible as long as one decides to do it.”
It’s an expansive dream for a child growing up in the slums of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. But her dream is not without precedent.
Frehiwot dreams of becoming like Kitaw Ejigu. “Kitaw was a famous astronomer,” she explains. “He worked hard in school, went abroad through a state scholarship to pursue higher education, completed his degree and became a great person in the world. I will study hard, and when I get scholarship to enter university, I will study and become famous, too.”
While it is true that sometimes unbelievable things can happen, it is even harder to imagine when you look at the living standard in the Arada slum, where Frehiwot lives with her parents and two siblings in a mud-and-wood house covered by a rusted metal roof. The family uses an open, overfull mud latrine, right next to their house. Big green flies from there buzz outside their door and through the living space. The family’s water comes from a public well.
Frehiwot is fortunate, however, to be enrolled with ChildFund Ethiopia, through which she regularly receives school supplies. She will soon enter grade 10.
“I like school,” she says. “For me, school is everything, the place where one can be prepared to become the person he or she dreams of becoming in the future. I will even say that school is like my parents, because when I am educated and start to work in a country other than my own, what I have learned from school will take care of me like my own parents do, and even better. The government often provides scholarships to good students to do further studies, and I think that is a good opportunity. So all I need to do is to study hard and make good grades.”
Frehiwot’s highest grades are in her favorite subjects, physics and mathematics. She is also a member of the school media and science clubs, and she enjoys participating in school debates.
When asked how she would advise other children of her age about school given the chance, Frehiwot pauses, then speaks gravely. “I will tell them that school is a good place to be, and that if they want to be great people they should go to school and take their lessons seriously,” she says. “I will also tell them that if one is not educated, he or she is like a domestic animal. They obey anything the owner orders, whether good or not. So if you are not educated, you can be used by educated people any kind of way, for better or for worse. You are not able to read anything written against you.”
After a long silence and a deep breath, she concludes, in a soft voice, “My only hope is that I will secure a government scholarship and accommodation at the university. Otherwise I have nowhere to turn to for help.”
by Mesfin Agonafir, ChildFund Ethiopia
In Ethiopia’s poorest communities, many unemployed youth are struggling to obtain the basics of survival – food, shelter, clothing.
Mister, an energetic young woman of 21, knows the struggle well. Yet, she refuses to give up on her dream of becoming self-reliant.
Although Mister and her close friends successfully passed Ethiopia’s national examination in grade ten, they lacked the resources to enter technical or vocational schools. Instead, they became jobless.
“Because I am from a poor family background, I was disappointed and was helpless and dependent on my sister,” Mister recalls of that difficult time in her life.
Then she and her friends learned that ChildFund was offering training in hair dressing and beauty salon operations. After completing training and being equipped with necessary materials, Mister and six friends started work in a beauty salon of their own, constructed with assistance from ChildFund in 2008.
“God has helped me, bringing ChildFund to my assistance to open this beauty salon,” she says. “I have made lots of progress in my life since then. My fate would have been a house maid, but ChildFund enables me to be self-reliant.”
Mister and her friends are now assessing the market to expand their “Sisters Beauty Salon” business to a second location on the other corner of Debre Berhan Town.
One day, soon, Mister plans to open a hairdressing training center. “My vision is to live a better life than this. I am planning to open my own business and employ many disadvantaged girls in the town.”
Reporting by ChildFund Ethiopia
Just by walking the streets of Ayertena village, Addis Ababa, one can easily observe the poverty situation in which many Ethiopians live. It is also common to see many people with disabilities due to leprosy.
Tizita, a 13-year-old girl, lives with her grandmother in the village. Her grandmother is unable to work because she is extremely affected by leprosy to the point of physical deformity.
The traditional belief that leprosy is a curse or punishment has aggravated the stigma and discrimination. When Tizita’s grandmother was young, leprosy sufferers often were forced to leave their homes. Her family was among those forced to migrate, and they settled around ALERT (All Africa Leprosy, Tuberculosis and Rehabilitation Training Centre), a medical facility in Addis Ababa, specializing in leprosy disease. ChildFund Ethiopia is also implementing a child and family development project in this area.
HIV/AIDS is another devastating health, economic and social problem in Ayertena. Ethiopia is home to a large and increasing population of orphans: 13 percent of children throughout the country are missing one or both parents. Among the estimated 5.4 million orphans (from newborn to age17), 900,000 lost parents to HIV/AIDS.
Tizita lost both her father and mother HIV/AIDS. Worse, she inherited the disease, as well as the responsibility of caring for her grandmother.
Being HIV-positive initially made Tizita’s life full of anxiety and trouble. She worried about her health condition and the stigma of having the disease. “I often was seriously sick,” she says, tears flowing down her cheeks. “I don’t know why I am given the worst situation. I was worried what would happen to me and my grandmother in the future.” She also lived in fear of discrimination when she went to school and the market.
Yet, Tizita has found help through one of ChildFund’s affiliated projects in Ayertena, which assists orphans and vulnerable children. “I recently started ART (antiretroviral drug therapy), which has helped me to improve my health condition. Now I feel healthy and am attending to my education,” she says.
“I’m getting psychological support from the ChildFund project and my teachers,” she adds. Because she now has a support network, she also worries less about discrimination due to HIV/AIDS. “My hope has been revived,” she says.
by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager
Happy Ethiopian New Year! In case you’re not following the Orthodox Julian calendar, which is seven years and eight months behind the Gregorian calendar, it’s 2004. The New Year began Sept. 11 and celebrations continue for about two weeks. Thus, my colleagues and I who’ve met in Addis Ababa this week for ChildFund’s Africa region communications training are feeling younger than we’ve felt in years. It’s going to make a great story when we return home.
In fact, that’s the reason the communications officers from ChildFund’s national offices in Africa have come together this week — to talk about storytelling.
Bernardo from Angola. Joan from Kenya. Arcenio from Mozambique. Ya Sainey from the Gambia, Emmanuel from Liberia, Priscilla from Zambia, Arthur from Guinea, Selamawit from Ethiopia and Monica from Uganda.
“It’s the first time we’ve had nine members of our communications staff together for training,” says Tenagne Mekonnen, regional communications manager for Africa. “I am happy and excited. I’m sure it will help all of us to improve our storytelling and our news reporting.”
Led by Christine Ennulat, ChildFund’s Communications & Public Affairs writer, with assistance from Julien Anseau, Asia regional communications manager, this week-long session is the first of three. Monica Planas, regional communications manager for the Americas also has joined us in Addis, as she will be hosting a similar session next month in Honduras. Julien will be hosting the Asia region training in Indonesia.
I’m along to assist with the training and also gain more hand’s-on experience in talking with children and families in our projects and then telling their stories to ChildFund’s supporters.
This week we’ve been exploring key elements of memorable stories, the art of observation, news values, interviewing techniques, photography, video and social media.
We’ve tackled some challenging issues that arise when reporting from the field. What are the most relevant stories for our supporters? How do you capture concrete details? How do you get shy children talking? How do you work effectively with translators? What steps can you take to improve photos shot in a family’s poorly lighted home?
These last two days of the week are being spent in the field, visiting ChildFund projects in urban slums near Addis. We’re interviewing children, youth and community members in Arada and Semen Ber to learn about their daily lives.
One thing we all know as we walk the rock-strewn back alleys of Addis, teeming with livestock, litter, mothers cooking on outdoor stoves and children scuffling in the dirt — these are stories that need to be told.
Anne Lynam Goddard, ChildFund president and CEO, recalls her work in East Africa during a drought in the 1980s. Accompanying her husband on a trip to a refugee camp, she took her healthy infant son, who was a stark contrast to the Ethiopian children near starvation. It was an experience she will never forget.
by Tenagne Mekonnen, Africa Region Communications Manager
Ethiopia’s Oromo region has been hard-hit by the drought. Last year’s crops failed, leaving hundreds of thousands hungry. Although the rains have now come to some areas, the months between now and the November harvest remain dire due to dwindling food supplies. ChildFund is working with its local association partner to distribute relief food in the Siraro area, where ChildFund’s regional communications manager met 12-year-old Derartu.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Derartu, and I live in Siraro District. I’m in fifth grade and attend Damine Gadana primary school. My father died when I was young, so my mother raises our family. I have seven siblings.
Tell me more about your family’s situation and how the drought has affected you.
My mom has a half hectare [1.2 acres], and we get food from our farm. Although the land is small, before the drought we could get enough food from this land for the whole family. We ate three times a day and were never hungry. I was going to school with a full stomach, attending class and actively involved.
This year I am not happy. I am struggling due to the absence of rain. My mom could not harvest maize, and we started to see a food shortage in our home. We started looking for food near the house, but it was not easy like before. My mother started going to market three days a week, walking 5 km [3.2 miles] away from our village for petty trade.
She bought maize and local cabbage to feed us. But it was not enough to feed all of us. The little food I ate wasn’t enough to keep me in my school. I love to study, but without regular food it was not easy.
Skipping lunch or dinner and still continuing school is just too hard — how to walk to school without food? How to study? I become hungry in the middle of the class and have no concentration. Due to lack of food, my academic performance is very low this year.
How has the support from ChildFund helped you and your family?
You just don’t know how happy I am — words can’t explain enough. The distribution of food from the organization will enable me to eat. I will not be hungry. I don’t want to be hungry again, and not have food at home to eat.
With this rain we are finally getting, we hope our crop will mature for harvest and we will start producing enough food again. Our life will hopefully get back to normal, and I will continue my education.
Based in Ethiopia, Isam Ghanim, ChildFund’s executive vice president for Global Programs, answers questions about the cause and impact of the drought in East Africa. Read the full interview with Isam on ChildFund’s website.
What has led to this food crisis?
It’s a situation that we refer to as a slow-onset emergency. This was caused by two consecutive rainy seasons failing, and the short rainy seasons in Kenya and Ethiopia also failed. This has led to an increase in food prices. There is also high inflation in all of these countries. And there is violence in Somalia. A significant number of Somalians have moved to established camps in Ethiopia and Kenya.
Families entered this crisis with depleted assets and very poor physical conditions. For almost two years now, they have been affected by food shortages. They are suffering from nutritional stress. There is only so long you can cope before you fall into acute malnutrition. The environmental conditions and the health conditions take their toll.
What is the current situation?
More than 11.5 million people are affected. In the areas where ChildFund works, we estimate 660,000 people are affected, with 7,000 children facing life-threatening conditions. This is a very serious situation. Stress indicators are reaching the levels that you see in the middle of a famine. Without immediate intervention, children will die.
What impacts of the drought are we seeing?
Children and their parents are malnourished and at increased risk of disease due to poor hygiene because of the shortage of water. They are suffering from physical and emotional stress. People are moving from their homes.
The most grievously affected are women and children. They have less capability to move. For young children, there is a permanent impact on their health — stunting, wasting, mental development. If the mother is breastfeeding, she won’t have enough milk. When parents are under significant stress, the normal care and support for children will be minimized.
What is ChildFund doing to help?
ChildFund is addressing the immediate life-threatening conditions affecting children — providing food, water and basic health services, as well as supplemental feeding through early childhood care and development centers to ensure babies and young children will not fall into acute malnutrition.
In addition, ChildFund is working to help families stay in their own communities so that when the rains come in September they are there to plant crops and cultivate their farms. If they don’t plant, they will lose another harvest and experience another year without food.
There is also a need to address child protection issues. Parents are too weak to care for their children. They have no roof over their head. Providing support is critical so that families don’t deplete their resources as part of their coping mechanism.
Guest post by Seble
Sponsored as a child in Ethiopia, Seble, now 22, reflects on how far she has traveled.
Since my childhood, ChildFund has been walking beside me, helping me be all that I wanted to be. I completed my education because of the support of the organization. I can’t also ignore the extra support coming on an occasional basis from my sponsor — it helped me to fill in the gap.
Today I am a teacher at a primary school earning 841Birr (US$49) a month. Now I am able to stand on my feet; I can support myself and my family.
The other thing that touches my heart very much when I think about ChildFund is its effort in the development of not just the individual but also the community. The school built in my village, with the support of ChildFund, is now benefiting the community in general. The water scheme [system], again through the support of ChildFund, gave the community access to safe drinking water.
What can I say? ChildFund’s good work will stay painted in my heart forever!
by ChildFund Ethiopia
Five years ago, Selfnesh lived in a one-room house with her family about 65 miles outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. That single room served many purposes — kitchen, bedroom, living space and covered shelter for the family’s cattle.
Like many others in the Sodo Buee Child and Family Development Association, with whom ChildFund partners, Selfnesh’s family are subsistence farmers. On their small parcel of land, they grow false banana trees, which provide the family’s main source of food. The false banana is a common source of nourishment for this area, and community members prepare bread and porridge from the root part of the tree. Because this meager farming is not enough for Selfnesh’s family’s basic needs, her father has sometimes found work as a guard, earning 400 birr, or about $23.50, a month.
But life changed for Selfnesh five years ago when her family learned about ChildFund and enrolled Selfnesh in community programs. Before long, Selfnesh had a sponsor.
Now 12, Selfnesh is attending school and making new discoveries every day. Even better, she gets to share these learning experiences with her elder sister, Meselu, who got the opportunity to attend school for the first time when Selfnesh became enrolled — ChildFund programs benefit the entire family.
And with extra financial support from Selfnesh’s sponsor, the family has built a sheet metal house. “Now I can say we have a house, which is built from better materials, and has three rooms: bedroom, kitchen and living room,” exclaims Selfnesh. “Now we are not in the same room with our livestock.”
ChildFund also provided the family with an ox, two cows and an expectant goat. “Now we also drink milk and sell some to get income out of it,” Selfnesh says. “Our goats are multiplied from one to three,” she adds gleefully.
Selfnesh also has something else she’s happy about — a nest egg. Using some of the money sent by her sponsor for special occasions through the years, Selfnesh opened a savings account, and proudly reports a tidy sum. She plans to use the money only when she and her family have an urgent need. She adds: “Thanks to my sponsor and ChildFund — who made us different today.”