Around the Globe with ChildFund in 31 Days: Reaching for the Stars in Ethiopia

31 in 31 logoby Arthur Tokpah, on assignment from ChildFund Guinea

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.

girl in front of homeFrehiwot 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.

youth with ChildFund staff

Frehiwot talks with Arthur.

“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.”

Discover more about ChildFund’s programs in Ethiopia and how you can sponsor a child.

A Youth Full of Dreams

by Mesfin Agonafir, ChildFund Ethiopia

In Ethiopia’s poorest communities, many unemployed youth are struggling to obtain the basics of survival – food, shelter, clothing.

Ethiopian youth

Mister dreams of self-reliance.

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.

Hair stylist with client

Mister's goal is to provide other young women with jobs.

“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.”

Reviving Hope

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.

Teen girl and grandmother

Tizita prepares coffee for her grandmother.

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.

Girl pours coffee

Now that she has a support network, Tizita is seeing a future for herself.

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.

Telling the Stories of Children

New Year signby 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.

woman and man

Monica Rukundo of Uganda and Emmanuel Ford of Liberia

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.

three women at table

Tenagne Mekonnen, Ethiopia; Ya Sainey Gaye, Gambia; Monica Planas, Americas region

“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?

mother, child and neighbors

Neighbors in the Arada community.

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.

Drought’s Terrible Toll

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.

Child Eagerly Awaits Respite from Drought

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.
Photo of Derartu in EthiopiaMy 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.

A Close-up Look at the East Africa Drought

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.

Photo of Isam Ghanim

Isam Ghanim, ChildFund's executive vice president for Global Programs

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.

Read the complete interview and learn more about ChildFund’s response in the Horn of Africa.

ChildFund Will Stay Painted in My Heart

Guest post by Seble

Sponsored as a child in Ethiopia, Seble, now 22, reflects on how far she has traveled.

Photo of Seble smiling


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!

Sponsorship Made Selfnesh ‘Different Today’

by ChildFund Ethiopia

Photo of Selfnesh in Ethiopia

Selfnesh, 12, stands outside her family's house. (Jake Lyell Photography)

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.”

Selfnesh holds one of her family's goats. (Jake Lyell Photography)

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.”

Facilitating a Culture of Learning within ChildFund

by Manal Durri, ChildFund Ethiopia Child Protection and Gender Coordinator

Sarah Bouchie, ChildFund’s new vice president of Program Development, spent her second week on the job visiting two projects for children in Ethiopia. Our staff  in Ethiopia caught up with Sarah as she prepared to return to the U.S., where she will be based in ChildFund’s Washington, D.C., office.

Would you please tell us your opinion on the interventions you have seen in our urban and rural areas?

Photo of young girl presenting flowers to Sarah Bouchie

A young girl presents a bouquet of flowers to Sarah upon her arrival at Ayer Tena community-based organization.

I was very impressed with the dedication of the staff in both sites. The work that has gone into building local affiliates to carry out ChildFund’s work is admirable. Staff and board members in the CBOs [community-based organizations] could articulate clearly what they were trying to achieve and the activities they have undertaken to make them happen. It appeared as if careful consideration had been given to how we collaborate with local governments as well.

Photo of children  in Feto ECD

Children at the ECD Centre in Feto.

It was also nice to see how spaces for children had been created in schools and ECD [early childhood development] centers in both sites. I was pleased to hear community members, board members and staff talk about their efforts to address child-protection issues, and it is clear that there are compelling stories about how ChildFund’s support has changed the lives of individuals in both sites.

Have you observed anything unique in our interventions from what you have experienced before?

Photo of children with Sarah Bouchie

Meeting with children from Feto.

A couple of things struck me as unique results, or ways of working, that ChildFund has in the two sites I visited.

In the community that we visited in Boset, the pass rate of students — and of girls in particular — was very impressive. It sounds like the school is doing some things very well that might deserve a good look.

I also heard that communities were changing practice around harmful traditional practices. It might be worthwhile to dig into this deeper and find out how deep this perception translates to people’s daily practice and to try to identify some of the things that make the approach so successful. For sure, I was pleased to see that both sites had worked to ensure that referrals to government systems for child protection were in place.

Finally, I think that ChildFund might be in a unique position to be able to advocate about the most cost-effective way to provide services for OVC [orphans and vulnerable children]. Through the sponsorship program, focused on vulnerable children using the DEV framework [deprived, excluded and vulnerable children], and through SCSN [Strengthening Community Safety Nets], ChildFund has experimented with two very different models of delivering support to children in greatest need. With some investigation, we might be able to help shape policies about how to best deliver support to these children in the most cost-effective way. If we can track some of the children who participated in both programs over time, we could help to determine if higher cost per child programming gives deeper, more lasting benefits to communities and children in the long run.

In addition to positive things you saw, could you address any areas for improvement that you may have observed?

Some of the things that I think the national office seems to be doing well include community mobilization, working with CBOs and capacity building, improving educational outcomes, creating child-friendly spaces and networking to referral systems for child protection cases.

Some things to keep working on might be around analyzing high-cost and low- cost models of programming to reach OVC; conducting staff reflections about gender and harmful traditional practices — particularly with CBO staff; and thinking about some common protocols that we might use in communities to ensure we model the behavior we seek in others around upholding children’s rights and dignity in everything we do.

As the Vice President of Program Development, what will be your focus and how will you support national offices like Ethiopia in your new position?

Photo of Boset board with Sarah Bouchie

Meeting with members of the board of Boset CBO.

I play many roles in ChildFund. In my role on the executive team, I have a responsibility to ensure that resources are allocated in the most efficient and effective way possible to ensure better outcomes for children. To do that effectively, I need and want input about what we can do to make our operations more efficient and our programs more impactful.

I hope that in my position as the head of the program development team, I can help to facilitate a culture of learning in the organization that contributes to those ends. I think my team and I exist to help the organization learn from what it has done well (and not so well), and share that across the development community. We also help raise resources that facilitate innovation and high standards for our work globally.

I look forward to working with national offices to see how we can do this most effectively, and how my team and I can help bring voice to the lessons that are being learned around the ChildFund world.

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