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Friday, January 27, 2012

Ethiopia: A Long Walk Together

A few HOPE supporters were recently traveling in Ethiopia to see the work that we do with villagers in the country’s poorest districts. On the drive back from a tiny village up in the mountains, their jeep slowed to navigate around a group of people walking down the road in single file. At the head of the procession was a woman on a stretcher, wrapped in white linen. Her mouth was moving; she was alive.

What these visitors saw is the quintessence of why our work in Ethiopia remains, over thirty years later, as successful and worthwhile as it is. The goals we set — clean water for entire districts, care for the HIV/AIDS orphans in Addis, livelihoods for poor illiterate women — are truly ambitious. By all rights we should not be able to accomplish what we do with the funds that are available to us.

But the tenacity and devotion of Ethiopian people make everything possible. For every dollar we send to this country, they match us with an inestimable contribution of service. For the people in Ethiopia’s remote and neglected villages, helping one another is an absolute fact of existence. They do not sit back and received aid passively.

The same spirit that inspires poor, hungry, and ill people to dig out roads by hand so that our trucks can reach their villages was perfectly expressed in the scene these Canadian visitors witnessed from their jeep. Their driver explained that the group was clearly making their way home from a clinic he knew to be in the area. It would have taken them all day long to reach the clinic, and so many people—nearly the entire community—had made the journey together so that they could take turns carrying the woman on the stretcher. It would have been the only way the woman could have received medical care. Her neighbors did not count the cost: the incredibly long walk in full sun, an entire day of work lost. As the driver put it, “This would have been their agenda for the day."

We often talk about walking with the poor, and in our mind’s eye perhaps we see ourselves leading the way, with the weakest leaning on us, inspired to go anywhere at all by our presence. The truth is that the poor have long been walking together, and it’s our choice to join the procession or not.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ethiopia: Supporting Orphans, Minus the Cookie Cutters

People who participate in our Building Family Ties program understand this, but those who are unfamiliar with our work with Ethiopian orphans might not realize just how unique our approach with every young person’s is. That means our support for children and young adults has to be customized in every instance. Although we work with orphans, there is no orphanage where we house our kids and dole out standardized care — although we in no way disparage the practice of caring for children in institutional settings. However, we’ve found that supporting children to live with their families (if extended family members are willing) or otherwise be a more integrated part of the community is a good way to go. It honours the individual, rather than imposing a cookie-cutter model of care.

Helen is a good example of how we do this. Here is her story:

“My name is Helen. I am 16 years old and living in the Gotera area of Addis Ababa. I am one of 7 children. We had been living off the pension of our retired father, but since my mother was an asthmatic she was not able to support us and medical care for her was expensive. Though our living standards were very low, my parents were happy. To increase the family’s income, my father started working as a guard in one organization. However, after some time my father became ill with Tuberculosis. When the case became serious, he was admitted at Zewditu Hospital. Shortly after, he passed away.

“So as not to be a burden on our family, four of my brothers married. My brother who remained at home was forced to put his education on hold because the tuition fees were too high. When my mother’s asthma became worse, I too dropped out of school to care for her. After being hospitalized for quite some time, she passed away.

It was at that time that a [HOPE] employee introduced me to the organization. When I shared my story with them, the organization was very willing to support me. Like a mother and a father, [they] supported me to continue my education [by giving me] the necessary school materials. The organization also has been providing me wheat, oil, and [medicine] monthly. With the support of the Almighty God and [HOPE], I am studying the 11th grade. If it is God’s will, I want to support children who have lost parents like myself to complete their education.”

So our support for Helen amounts to practical assistance in terms of schooling, food, and medicine, so that she can keep living — as much as possible — a normal life, which for her means continuing to be, principally, a 11th grade student. We don’t institutionalize her — we find out how to help her make her dreams come true. We don’t want Helen to be an ‘orphan’; we want her to be a success, on her own terms.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Philippines - Ensuring that the homeless do not remain helpless

In the early morning hours, while people were sleeping, the Cagayan, Agus, and Madulong rivers in Mindanao, swollen by typhoon Washi’s torrential rains, breached their banks.

Within minutes, massive flows of debris-filled water from the rivers raged through villages and towns, submerging or sweeping away everything in their path.

Many families didn’t stand a chance and were killed as they slept or awoke amidst the roar of the water. In one place, an entire village was swept away in just minutes, killing hundreds of people.

Our partners in Mindanao tell us that the destruction is on a scale beyond anything they’ve ever seen. In one small area alone, on the outskirts of flood-ravaged Cagayon de Oro, we’ve identified hundreds of families who remain in desperate need. And there are hundreds, in fact, thousands more just like them.

Help us ensure that families left homeless by the disaster do not remain helpless.