Inspirational Teen Turns Her Life Around in Ethiopia

From Arnica Rowan, VCS President: I opened a report today, and read a story that I just had to share with you. Determined 17 year old “J”, despite overwhelming struggles and a dangerous life on the streets, has just finished our year long New Life program in Ethiopia. We couldn’t be more proud of her and her fellow grads (shown above.) J grew up in my daughters’ home city, so her success has special meaning for our family. Read on to learn J’s inspirational story.

Since it’s the holy month of Ramadan, we thought we would remind you that Vulnerable Children Society is committed to help kids of all faiths to thrive and succeed in Ethiopia. We are proud that our programs help deserving Orthodox, Protestant and Muslim kids and families. 💗 Arnica

From our partners in Ethiopia: “J” was born in the ancient city of Nekemt in the Western part of Ethiopia. J was born into a Muslim family, the first and only child. Her father passed away when J was still an infant and her mother took care of her as a single mother. J went as far as fourth grade in that town, but unfortunately, life became more and more difficult for J and her mother. They decided to move to Addis Ababa in search of a good work for the mother and a better future for the daughter. But the life they imagined would be waiting for them was only a myth. They were greeted with more poverty and unemployment.

Thank you

When J was a teen, her mother decided to go back to her hometown and her relatives. She thought it would be safer to have people who care about her around all the time. But J and her mother were not getting along well, so J decided to run away from home in Nakemt, back to Addis. She was fourteen years old at the time. She thought that she would find her old neighbors and they would take care of her. But when she got to Addis, the neighbours she knew had been displaced because of a road construction that was going on. She didn’t recognize any of the people currently living there, and was all alone. J had no choice but to become a street child.

J was on the streets for three years. During that time, she had to sell her body in exchange for food and a place to sleep at night. She says, ‘if you spend one night outside, you would know how absolutely terrible it really is.’

Fortunately, J met social workers from Hope for Children (our Ethiopian partner for the New Life program,) and after several orientation sessions, she came to the New Life Girls’ Group Home in hope for a better life. With counselling, drug rehab and medical care, her life started to come together.

Over the course of a year, J trained in cooking and has now passed the certification of competency exam for professional cooking. This enables her to work in any restaurant or hotel in Ethiopia. A recent graduate, she has just been placed in her first professional cooking job, and is living independently, off the streets.

J wants to thank all of the people who supported her and the other girls in Vulnerable Children Society’s New Life program.

This deserving, hardworking girl now has a chance at a safe and successful life, and we are so very very proud of her. If you’d like to contribute to give another girl a new life, please learn more or donate. Your contribution changes lives.

Thank you

Give a Teen Girl a New Life

Vulnerable Children Society’s New Life program enables teen girls to leave the sex trade in Addis Ababa and build a new life for themselves. Their year living in our group home, learning a trade, and receiving counselling opens a world of possibilities. It costs $2000 to give a girl a new life… a very good investment!
Learn More about our compassionate, effective program
OR Donate to Help More Girls Leave the Streets


Best Practices for International Development

We are so lucky to have our own international development expert, PhD Candidate Dacia on Vulnerable Children Society‘s board of directors. She has deep insights into East Africa, and we hope you enjoy her sage advice for best practices helping abroad!

Grammas and mamas self organize to feed the 70 kids each day at our Love & Hope Family Centre in Ethiopia.

By Dacia Douhaibi: Through my years of studying and working in the development field in Africa and at home in Canada, I’ve found that there have been two key problems with traditional development funding: donor driven priorities and inflexible funding arrangements.

Traditionally, donors who fund development projects drive programming. Priorities are set, calls for proposals that fit those specific priorities go out, and agencies and organizations around the world spend quite a lot of time painstaking filling out very detailed project proposal forms. Hopeful beneficiaries have become good at filling out boxes to get funding, ensuring that their programmes fall in line with donor priorities and plans, so good in fact that during recent conversations with staff from organizations in East Africa that routinely respond to calls for proposals, jokes were widely made about how well people are now conditioned to use key words and proper jargon in their proposals, while all the while knowing that the funding they receive can only go so far to actually promote, create or support positive change for the communities they work with. The problem with this system is that is is so backward!

For years, those of us working between donors and beneficiaries have seen the flaw in this process; should it not work in reverse? Shouldn’t community members voice their needs to project implementers, who then inform donors where their dollars would be most usefully spent? This is why many projects are so completely ineffective. A serious side effect of this model has been that those becoming conditioned to apply for funding this way – the locally grounded NGOs for example – are losing their ability to creatively devise meaningful, relevant and timely solutions to the real problems that they are addressing – and none of the interventionsthey devise to fit the funder priorities are, accordingly, actually responsive.

The second key problem is that there are also typically firm, specific guidelines for the way that funding must be spent once it is received, with little flexibility for change in programming to adapt to constantly changing local contexts and needs. In many of the locations where development projects take place, anything can happen from one month to the next, at times due topolitical crises, but increasingly now as a result of environmental crises. When funding has to strictly be applied to the programme created and proposed perhaps a year or two earlier when things looked very different, it handcuffs organizations from doing meaningful, helpful work. Further, if the money is not spent within the timeframe indicated in the terms of the funding contract, organizations lose it, which can sometimes mean pushing irrelevant programming just to make sure that funding is not lost. This is not only not helping those who could benefit from development funding and projects, but it
also means that donor money is not well spent.

Her child is active in the garden club at our Love & Hope Family Centre, and D shows off her son’s plants to Tawnya (VCS).

Fortunately, there are some organizations like Vulnerable Children Society who are blazing a new cooperative path. I’m proud that we work directly with Ethiopians to develop projects that meet the needs they identify in their communities. Although we certainly oversee budgets sent to us by partners, we let them drive the areas of focus and decide which priorities are most important for the impoverished urban kids and young women in the sex trade that we work together to help.

In the broader world of development, recipient organizations have been advocating for change, and some donors have started to realize that the traditional model may not make sense. More flexible funding arrangements that can evolve over time, particularly for multi-year projects, are becoming more commonplace, and donors that fund particular organizations more than once more regularly ask for proposals that do not follow their own prescribed formats, allowing for flexibility in programme structure and delivery models. There is more recognition that meaningful change takes time and flexibility. Priority areas are also becoming broader in some cases, allowing applications to propose a wider range of programmes.

Hopefully, over time, this will become the norm rather than the exception, and there will continue to be more ‘bottom up’ advice on how to arrange practical, responsive funding relationships. Hopefully, over time, donors will no longer drive programming, beneficiaries will. ~ Dacia

Dacia Douhaibi, Director of Vulnerable Children Society

Dacia has a passionate interest in social and political issues in East Africa. This passion has led her to pursue academic and professional work in the region through the past five years. Dacia holds a BA in Anthropology, a Masters Degree in International Relations and is currently working to complete her PhD in Geography at York University in Toronto. Professionally, Dacia works as a consultant, most recently conducting monitoring and evaluation of development projects in Kenya and documenting good peace building and reconciliation efforts or practices in South Sudan. She enjoys working with projects that thoughtfully and meaningfully engage with local communities to create and co-produce successful solutions and outcomes. Dacia is proud that Vulnerable Children Society works in partnership with grassroots organizations in Ethiopia to supporting children in precarious circumstances, is run by a volunteer board and maintains near negligible administrative overhead. Dacia has been a member of the board of Vulnerable Children Society for the past five years.


New Life program grads running business at 17!

Last year, Tawnya and Arnica paid a visit to two of the girls newly graduated from the New Life program for teen girls escaping the sex trade

The last time we had seen them, they were frightened children, just newly entering the group home, and unsure of what lay ahead. Well, what a difference a year of support and training makes. The girls shyly offered us coffee, and toured us around their little apartment and injera making workshop. The girls were only 16 at the time, but with the help of a micro loan from Vulnerable Children and an inheritance (one of the girls’ mom’s had sadly passed away,) they had secured two injera mitads for cooking the national bread, and even brokered a deal with three local hotels to provide their injera each day. When we met with them, the girls were just waiting for their business licence to come through so they could begin operations.

It’s hard to believe that just over a year before these girls were indentured in the sex trade, living day to day under the control of a brothel. Now, with a year of counselling and cooking training under their belts, they were independent. The girls still suffered for a lack of confidence, but they were making their own decisions, and relying on each other (and our partner, Hope for Children in Ethiopia,) to make a new lives for themselves. Since, they received their business licence and have been operating their business successfully, even hiring another New Life program grad to work for them. We are so incredibly proud of them.

Donate to help more teen girls escape prostitution and build a New Life for themselves!

Our Grown-Up Christmas Wish: Helping Teen Girls Escape the Sex Trade in Ethiopia

Vulnerable Children Society Christmas holiday gift donation Ethiopia
Click to download your own donation card!

The holiday season is just around the corner, you are likely wracking your brain for a gift for that adult relative who just has everything already. Well, we can help! In fact, you can help!

Our New Life program for teen girls helps 15-20 year olds escape the sex trade in Addis Ababa, with counselling, a lovingly group home, and most importantly, vocational training to embark on a new careeer. You can read two of our girls’ success stories here!  It costs $2000 to put a girl through the year long program, and we currently have secured funding for 5 girls next year. Your donation gifts, in any amount, will be put towards our $10,000 goal of giving a new life to 5 derserving young girls. Now that’s a grown-up gift that anyone would appreciate.

We are happy to make your gift giving as easy as possible. Simply donate here, and then download a gift card here, that you can fill out and send, give or email to your loved one.

Many many thanks for your generosity! We wish you all the happiest of Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Omisoka, Yule etc. seasons!

With love and hope, Arnica, Tawnya, Menbere, Nicole, Flora, Dacia and Laura!

VCS Directors land in Ethiopia and visit projects helping kids and teens

Love and Hope after school centre for poor kids in Addis Ababa, EthiopiaWarmest greetings from Ethiopia! Two days ago, Vulnerable Children Society‘s treasurer Tawnya and I arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s buzzing urban hub in Eastern Africa.   I stepped off the plane to the familiar scent of spiced chilies and diesel fumes. It’s my umpteenth trip to Ethiopia, but each time I get off the plane, it’s the same – a breeze swaying the palms, horns honking, taxi drivers jostling to get my attention, the sounds of melodic Amharic in my ear, and a feeling of coming to a second home.

Tawnya and I usually visit our society’s projects in Ethiopia every year; however, it’s been a year and a half since I’ve been able to visit the kids and teens that we serve. We are both excited to see how the gardens are growing at the Love and Hope Centre, featured above.

Our awesome volunteer Stefan spent 5 months here this spring, helping the afterschool centre guards and parents build a demonstration garden and spread food security in the community. I can’t wait to talk with the moms and neighbours, and see how their own crops are doing.

Vulnerable Children Society's adapted Harvard Healthy Plate for EthiopiaWe brought a new program with us teaching about balanced diets, using a culturally-appropriate version of Harvard’s Healthy Plate.

I can’t wait to see what the women who cook for our 70 kids think about it, especially in light of the crops they are now getting from our onsite garden.

The other project we will be spending time at involves ten special girls, who joined our Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program just a month ago. The girls are going through a year-long program, living in a group home, getting lots of counselling and intense vocational training. We heard from our partner organization, Hope for Children in Ethiopia, that the girls are learning about cooking and hairdressing right now.

raduates of Vulnerable Children Society's teen program, working in a restaurantSo Tawnya and I are hoping to do the same nutrition workshop, as well as a workshop on cooking for ferengies (foreigners,) to increase their chances of the girls getting jobs in the exploding guest house tourism industry.

Some of the program graduates are already working at hamburger restaurants and guest houses, so it’s a great chance to these 15-19 year olds another employable skill.

To the right: Zenebu and Alemtsehay with their new careers at Lemon Zest Cafeteria. We are so proud of them!

We invite you to follow along with our journey! We can’t send newsletters from Ethiopia, because the wifi is tooooo sloooowwww. But we can post to Instagram  and Facebook, and write blog entries! Please check out our social media accounts and see what we are up to.   Now out for a delicious meal of injera and tibs… oh yes, I can smell those roasted spices already!

Melkam Addis Amet from Ethiopia! Happy Ethiopian New Year!

Thanks for following along… Arnica and Tawnya

Gorgeous kids sport their school uniforms – sponsor updates soon!

Looks at those beaming smiles! So proud of their uniforms!
Looks at those beaming smiles! So proud of their uniforms!

Hello dearest supporters and sponsors;

This is just a note to thank you again for your support, especially around the beginning of the school year. This year we were able to provide all the children in our House 2 House program with uniforms to attend the local government schoools, as well as pay their registration fees.

A gift of uniforms in Ambo
A gift of uniforms in Ambo
Ambo kids in their new school uniforms.
Ambo kids in their new school uniforms.
The local media covered the story in Guder...
The local media covered the story in Guder…
Some of our House 2 House kids in Guder.
Some of our House 2 House kids in Guder.

Currently, we are working on preparing updates for all House 2 House sponsors. We haven’t received information or photos on all the kids from Faya, but the pictures we did receive show off the bright and shining faces of our VCS kids. If we have new news on your sponsored child or not, either way, you can expect a email in February. The updates we did get this time have more information for most of the kids – it’s great learning more about them and following the kids’ development.

Hello from some of the families in Wonji!
Hello from some of the families in Wonji!
The rainbow of colours - each colour is a different school.
The rainbow of colours – each colour is a different school.

Thanks again to our volunteer Rita who spends days preparing updates on all of the kids to over 100 sponsors. It’s a work of love.

Darling kids - read to learn!
Darling kids – read to learn!