Tag Archives: ethiopia

Holding up a Mirror to the Hopeful Children of Rural Ethiopia

Mirror images

Most of us don’t remember the first time we ever saw ourselves. In the West, babies encounter mirrors, camera lenses and video cameras from birth. And the self-imagery just becomes part of our life, for the rest of our lives. But in rural Ethiopia, seeing yourself is a rare experience.

We discovered just how magical it is to see your own face when we entered the Kids Hope compound outside Shashamane, Ethiopia.

We discovered just how magical it is to see your own face when we entered the Kids Hope compound outside Shashamane, Ethiopia. We had brought along our smartphones and tablets, and the children were entranced when we turned the screens to let them see themselves as we took videos and pictures.

It was, I discovered, a great way to break the ice and make friends. The kids called us “Fringey,” slang for foreigner, and clamored to see themselves on screen over and over again. They giggled intensely, smiled, made faces and waved, following us around and crowding into each shot to make sure they were captured on screen.

It was one of the few truly bright moments we had on our trip through Africa’s most impoverished communities.

 

A place called Hope

The city of Shashamane is about four hours from the metropolis of Addis Ababa. The road between the two cities is decent, and the landscape is, in places, beautiful. Flowers and grain grow along the roadside and often, the view becomes verdant and serene, with cows and donkeys grazing in pastures.

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Agriculture is some of the only work in rural Ethiopia.

Outside of the largest cities, most Ethiopians use these donkeys for transportation—they pull carts full of water, sticks used for construction, and anything else that needs to be hauled. The lack of modern transportation, as I would discover, is one of the largest obstacles for anyone living on the outskirts of town.

Shashamane itself has a small city center, but we’re headed to the rural area about three miles from it. Our destination is Kids Hope Ethiopia, a five-acre compound supported by Canadian Humanitarian,  a child sponsorship organization based in Canada.

There are currently 17 Children Incorporated sponsored children who attend Kids Hope programs. Since school isn’t free in Ethiopia, Kids Hope registers the children for school, pays their tuition and provides uniforms, school supplies and transportation to school.

One of the many benefits of the program is that it does the legal legwork to make Kids Hope administrators the official co-guardians of the children. That gives the children extra legal protection, which is often vital for those who have been orphaned or abandoned.

It was one of the few truly bright moments we had on our trip through Africa’s most impoverished communities.

Beyond providing education, Kids Hope gives the children, ages 3 to 12, hot meals, showers, musical instruction, a place to do their laundry and get help from their peers so that they can learn to take care of themselves. Their guardians (very few children here have parents) are also provided with training to learn skills or start businesses. On top of that, health and dental care are provided, and Kids Hope has big plans for the future, too.

Beating the famine

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Children wash their hands before having lunch.

The Kids Hope compound sits on a comparatively large piece of land. It’s good, viable land, perfect for cultivating food. Bisrat Sime, who oversees the program, is working on starting a learning garden so that the children can have hands-on experience with agriculture—a skill that could change the course of their lives.

Anyone who remembers the 1980s Ethiopian Famine understands how important agriculture is here. Good soil isn’t enough—effective farming practices are vital to making the crops grow and supply a nation of 94 million people.

The obstacles begin at even the most basic level: there aren’t any seeds, tools or fertilizers available in Shashamane. So we talked to Bisrat about getting Children Incorporated’s help in funding and supplying the project.

It starts with a small garden, but if these children can learn the principles of sustainable agriculture, they will grow into adults who can help a nation feed itself. It’s a laudable goal, and thinking about it gives me hope as we continue through Shashamane.

Isolation

The poverty here is more obvious than what we saw in Bolivia and Kentucky. Families use wells or boreholes in the ground to pump water, which is still in short supply—clean water, even more so. The children who aren’t lucky enough to be in the Kids Hope program had tattered clothes and worn shoes.

They’re also isolated. Because of the distance between homes and facilities, most of the children at Kids Hope live in small group homes so they can get to school and attend the center. Not only are they without parents, but most of the time they’re away from any other family as well, choosing to go to school – and eat – or to stay at home and slowly deteriorate. These children go home to their families on the weekends; only five of the 17 sponsored children live close enough to stay at home all week. The others stay in group homes, rather than making the long journey to school every day.

While the countryside is lovely from the front seat of a truck, it’s intimidating on foot. And the residents here feel far more isolated than those we met in Kentucky, who lived farther away but had access to both cars and paved roads, or even those living in the mountains of Bolivia.

Moving on

While poverty hits harder in Shashamane than it does in the city slums, life is easier in certain ways. There’s more land, more freedom and independence, less crowding and less of the disease that comes with overpopulation.

The flipside is that there are fewer services available. What the children here need most is an education, and most of Children Incorporated’s funds in Shashamane go directly towards sending children to school. Getting them motivated—and healthy—enough to study and succeed is secondary to just finding the money to get them through the school’s door. Every time we accomplish that, we increase the chances of Ethiopia’s economic stability in the near future.

That’s how I’ve been seeing these children as a whole —individuals, yes, but also the collective future leaders of their nation. As we prepare to move on to Nairobi in Kenya, I find myself wondering how they see themselves. Peering into my tablet screen, seeing their own faces in action for the first time, do they see what I see? Making sure they do may be the key to victory in the fight against poverty here.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN ETHIOPIA?

You can sponsor a child in Ethiopia in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Ethiopia that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

Ready for Takeoff

It’s a long way from Kentucky to Ethiopia – 7,432 miles to be exact; twice as far as the Bolivia-to-Kentucky trip we just made.

One would think the differences in the three locales are profound, but other than the climates, they are strikingly similar.

Children play in the roads near dilapidated homes and other signs of obvious poverty. But they laugh and sing, clad in pants and t-shirts and sneakers, pretending to be sports stars as they play ball on makeshift fields by the roads.

From Kentucky to Kenya, Children Incorporated supports children all over the world.

At least that’s what I’ve been told – I won’t arrive in Ethiopia for a few more hours, but I’ve just finished a whirlwind tour of Bolivia and rural Kentucky, and my colleague, Luis Bourdet, assures me that Ethiopia will be the same.

Luis, who’s visited Children Incorporated’s sponsored children and their families in Africa every couple of years for the last decade, says the issues are similar as well – child poverty is an endemic due to fractured families and parents who can’t make ends meet. 

Our first stop is Addis Ababa, and I have no doubt we’ll see the same things there that we saw in Jackson County, Kentucky and in Montero, Bolivia: a combination of devastating poverty, the simple happiness of children and the lifesaving efforts of volunteers.

We’ll likely see the same on our next stop in rural Shashamane and then in Kenya’s communities of Nairobi and Materi.

So far, the big difference between our last trip to Kentucky and our current trip to Africa is the special packages we bring. In Kentucky, it was bicycles. In Africa, it’s mosquito nets. The environmental needs between 8,000 miles are different, but children everywhere are much the same, and so our goal is too: to give children not only food and medicine, but also hope, determination, and especially education.

Children play in the roads near dilapidated homes and other signs of obvious poverty. But they laugh and sing, clad in pants and t-shirts and sneakers, pretending to be sports stars as they play ball on makeshift fields by the roads.

Ethiopia’s mass migration

One of the differences between Kentucky and Ethiopia is the reasons why families are poor. In Kentucky, it was a lack of jobs. But Ethiopia is a country on the rise – in Addis Ababa, buildings and roads are being built everywhere, so labor jobs are plentiful. The problem is housing; the government has been relocating (often forcibly) Ethiopians from rural land into the cities where the cost of housing can be 20 times what they’d been paying.

There are also no social services there. In Kentucky, families live in rundown trailers and often don’t have enough money for food or school supplies, but they do have access to school buses, health clinics and social workers.

In Ethiopia, organizations like Children Incorporated are the only ones who provide these services so we’re coming to visit some of the Children Incorporated affiliated projects that provide children and their families with education, medical aid and a future.

Our first stop will be at the Rainbow Center, where children of relocated families get support. We’re also going to visit some of the families and talk to them about their experiences and needs.

The rural poor

From there, we’ll head out to the smaller city of Shashamane, where the Kids Hope Ethiopia center supports after-school programs for children. Shashamane residents are worse off than their Addis Ababa countrymen because there isn’t enough clean water or food here and there’s almost no transportation. We’ll meet with some of the families there too before leaving for Nairobi in Kenya, about 1,500 miles away.

Kenya on $1.25 per day

Kenya is a developing nation but the poverty there is much deeper; half of all Kenyans live below the poverty level and about 17 percent live on less than $1.25 per day.

In Kenya, sponsorship often means the difference between children going to school or not.

Some of the poverty in Kenya is due to disease – malaria, diarrhea, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and pneumonia take a huge toll so healthcare will be one of our major issues when we head toward Nairobi.

The capital city is home to one of the world’s largest slums but it’s also home to several Children Incorporated schools and community centers. The facilities provide medical aid, HIV/AIDS counseling and day-to-day necessities, in addition to education for children.

We’re planning to visit the schools and the homes of the children who attend them before heading to Materi, where Children Incorporated sponsors a boarding school for girls.

A common goal

Each stop on our itinerary will mean some differences, of course. The rural children of Shashamane, with no transportation and little food, face different issues than those in the overpopulated crime-filled slums of Nairobi — at least on the surface. At its core, their issue is all the same: they need food, clothes, shoes, medicine and an education, just like the children we saw in Kentucky and in Bolivia.

So the 11,600 miles between La Paz, Bolivia and Materi, Kenya, do little to change our goal: to give children with the basics so they have a chance to rise above poverty. But, it’s more than that, really. On the heels of our recent site visits in Bolivia and Kentucky, I can see that sponsorships provides something intangible, but visible in their young faces: love.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD IN AFRICA?

You can sponsor a child in Africa in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child in Africa that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD

From Kentucky to Kenya

“I don’t know who gave us these bikes, but tell her I love her!”

The boy’s words keep echoing in my mind as we make the eight-hour trek from Kentucky back to Richmond, Va. Over the course of the last several weeks, we’ve met with so many children I’ve nearly lost count, but their faces and words stand out in my memory.

Kentucky and Bolivia are worlds apart, but there are many similarities between the two.

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View from La Paz, Bolivia

Eastern Kentucky is one of the poorest regions in the United States. Unemployment is high and children grow up in run-down trailers, far from main roads and more importantly, social services and public facilities like libraries and community centers.

It’s not unlike the mountain towns of Bolivia, which have a much larger population but a similar situation for impoverished children who live in dilapidated homes on the outskirts of town with no transportation and no access to public services.

There are other parallels, including the songs,  hobbies and games children play. Separated by 4,000 miles, the children of Bolivia probably never realize that their counterparts in Kentucky are also playing soccer behind the school in the afternoon. Their cartoon-character t-shirts and tennis shoes, gifts from sponsors, are interchangeable — even their pets.

Cats and kittens

Three days ago, I met Allison in Jackson County, Kentucky. The 7-year-old lives down a logging road with her underemployed parents, her sisters and her cats. When her sponsor asked her what kind of gifts she’d like, her main request was for cat food.

Just like Efrain. The Bolivian fourth-grader lives in a one-bedroom home with his mother, two siblings and three kittens. Efrain politely answered our questions about his schoolwork, his home and his new donated shoes, but it was the kittens that he really wanted to talk about; he couldn’t wait to show us the spot where they sleep next to the bed he shares with his brother.

Kentucky and Bolivia are worlds apart, but there are many similarities between the two.

Constructing a better life

The construction projects aren’t that much different either. In Bolivia, Children Incorporated donated materials and volunteers helped renovate an entire school about 25 kilometers outside Montero. In Kentucky, we didn’t have to build the schools but we did build a ramp at the home of 11-year-old Dennis.

The fifth-grader and his two siblings live with their elderly great-grandparents, who are struggling to care for three children while their own health is failing. Gail, Dennis’ great-grandmother, couldn’t climb the front steps anymore so Children Incorporated donated building materials and the local high school vocational students all got together to build her a ramp.

Skipping a generation

That underprivileged children live with aging grandparents is another ubiquitous truth across nations. In Kentucky, it’s largely caused by the rampant drug use that has swept the region, leaving parents dead, incarcerated or incapable of raising children.

In Bolivia, parents often depart for other countries to find work, leaving children with their grandparents. Regardless of the reasons, this missing generation is especially hard on families as the already-impoverished elderly struggle to care for growing, hungry children.

And in both countries, Children Incorporated sponsors send in food, clothes, shoes and school supplies — and cat food.

Next stop: Kenya

As we near Richmond, it’s time to turn our attention to the next trip – it’s 8,000 miles to Kenya and we’ve got several days before we begin. I have no doubt that once we arrive, we’ll find that just like in Bolivia and Kentucky, the children there need clothes and food but love sports and cats.

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HOW DO I SPONSOR A CHILD?

You can sponsor a child with Children Incorporated in one of three ways – call our office and speak with one of our sponsorship specialists at 1-800-538-5381, email us at sponsorship@children-inc.org, or go online to our donation portal, create an account, and search for a child that is available for sponsorship.

SPONSOR A CHILD