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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.

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