Update by Nicole Bellefleur
On Tuesday, Bisrat, Canadian Humanitarian’s Country Representative for Ethiopia, took Tawnya and me to their newly constructed education center in Gindo. Last year, the Vulnerable Children Society made a one-time contribution of $10,000 to furnish the center, and stock the library.
The town of Gindo is about four hours west of Addis Ababa. The road was bumpy at times, especially the last leg of the trip: 36 km along a windy, hilly dirt road. The further we got away from the city, the more I was captivated by the sheer beauty of rural Ethiopia. There were lush rolling hills off in the distance, and magnificent trees along the roadside; the soil was rusty-red against a bright blue sky. Crammed urban shantytown dwellings made of corrugated metal and other scrap materials eventually gave way to well-kept circular mud huts with pointy thatched roofs, and large fenced-in yards.
“Getting there is half the fun” – This is especially true in Ethiopia, where cars, buses and trucks share roads and highways with cows, donkeys and goats. The animals are clearly in command here, as they leisurely criss-cross roads and highways knowing everyone and everything will maneuver around them. From a western perspective, this might seem like a recipe for disaster, but somehow, it all works here. It’s like a complex puzzle of constantly moving pieces – everyone seems to know where to go at just the right moment. Once you’ve been here a couple of days, this seems perfectly normal… and even safe.
Gindo is remote, and there are no major industries there. Many of its residents are subsistence farmers, while others scratch out a living through petty commerce. Few families can afford to send their kids to school. HIV infection rates are high, but medical services are limited. People barely survive from one day to the next; women and children are particularly vulnerable.
Canadian Humanitarian’s education center opened in Gindo last year. It serves 50 of the town’s most at-risk kids, and their parents/guardians. Here, the children receive one hot meal per day. Their school fees are covered, and they receive after-school tutoring (even the youngest kids I met could tell me their names in English, count to ten and recite the alphabet -impressive!). They have access to medical services on a regular basis, and they receive medication as needed.
The center also offers an innovative mandatory program for parents/guardians designed to break the cycle of poverty. It’s based on a three-pronged approach toward self-reliance focusing on education, health care and skills training.
At the heart of this program are the center’s income-generating projects. These include selling produce grown in the center’s market garden, operating a small restaurant on market days, and building furniture to sell locally. Canadian Humanitarian’s staff provide training and ongoing consultation, as well as start-up capital for material and supplies, but the parents/guardians manage all operational and investment activities associated with their projects.
By the time they exit the two-year program, parents/guardians are expected to have the skills required to replicate their income generating activities on their own, and be able to provide for their children independently – thereby breaking the cycle of poverty.