FAQ: What is happening with the House 2 House program and Educational Centre?

One of our values at Vulnerable Children Society is transparency – so even when we don’t have complete answers, we want to keep you fully informed about recent developments in our programs. We would like to assure you that we are wisely stewarding your donated funds, and working diligently to help vulnerable children in Ethiopia.

To begin with, I feel some back-story is necessary.

Back in April, we announced that we had partnered with Canadian Humanitarian, so they could operate our House 2 House program, in the place of Faya Orphanage. Most of you know that three directors from Vulnerable Children Society, including myself, spent a gruelling three weeks in Ethiopia in May working on the transition from one operator to another.

Our House 2 House program has operated in essentially four communities, with roughly 20 kids each in Ambo, Guder and Wonji, and a handful of kids in Adama.

While in Ethiopia, we met with government officials in Guder, and via the phone, in Ambo. The program in those communities is governed by an agreement between Faya Orphanage and the Ambo zone level of government. The purpose of our visit was to introduce the government to our new program operator; however, when we met, it was obvious that Faya Orphanage was continuing to operate the program using residual funding.

We also met with a local politician in Wonji, and were able to visit with and support the families, who had not heard from Faya Orphanage in a couple of months. We reassured them that we had every intention of continuing the support of their families via Canadian Humanitarian. This program, we learned, never had a formal agreement in place, and we confirmed that we would approach the government to make a formal agreement and set up an official program to support the kids and their families.

We also met with Faya Orphanage – six times over the three weeks. We asked them about their capacity to continue the program without our financial support, and what their intentions were moving forward. If they had the ability, we were content to let them continue to operate the House 2 House program without us, as the kids would be cared for, and that is the main thing. However, they told us very clearly that they did not have the financial capacity to continue the House 2 House program. Finally, Faya Orphanage agreed to the transfer of operational responsibility to Canadian Humanitarian, and promised to write a letter releasing the responsibility of the children in Ambo and Guder, so that Canadian Humanitarian could move forward with their proposal to start a new program and assume responsibility for the children.

As soon as we left Ethiopia, Faya Orphanage changed their minds and chose not to follow through on the commitments they made. We are telling you this, because we want you to know that we at Vulnerable Children Society, and the rep at Canadian Humanitarian, bent over backwards to work with Faya Orphanage, and to ensure the continuing support of the children. We have done everything in our power, but Faya has broken every agreement and has blocked our attempts to continue support.

So where are we at?

As of this week, the government in Ambo (that governs Ambo and Guder) told us that Faya Orphanage will not release responsibility of the children and is continuing to operate in those communities. So until they are seriously in arrears with payments, the children are not available to support.

In Wonji, we are still working on setting up an agreement to start an educational centre, and are cautiously optimistic about our ability to continue work in that community. Our intention is to continue support of the same Wonji children with the full capacity of an educational centre and a formal agreement between the government and Canadian Humanitarian. We are hoping to open an educational centre in another community in Oromia, to help more children. We’ll tell you more about the other community as we soon as we determine if it is an appropriate fit.

In essence, our House 2 House program and our educational centre program are in a time of transition. 
We are working hard with Canadian Humanitarian to get them back up and running. We are hoping to support both the children in Wonji, as well as children in an additional community, with complete educational centres that will provide for their learning, health and social needs.

In the meanwhile, I can assure you that your monthly sponsorship funds are not being squandered or wasted. In fact, we are very careful fiscal managers. As soon as the educational centres are up and running (this may be as soon as a couple of months from now!) every sponsor will be reassigned to a child at one of the two educational centres. Wonji sponsors will, of course, stay with the same children. Ambo and Guder sponsors, as well as educational centre sponsors, will be assigned to new children in one of the two centres. It will take approximately three sponsors to support each child at this level of care, so working together, we are able to start two centres at the same time! Your sponsorship dollars are essential to start these centres and support all these children.

You may also be interested to know that we are also working on another project to help vulnerable children with our one-time project funds, and you can expect to hear more about that in the near future!

We promise to keep you up to date with the development of our educational centre and House 2 House programs, even when we don’t have complete information. I hope this communication reassures you that your funds are being stewarded responsibly, and will indeed go to the intended purpose: giving vulnerable children in Ethiopia a chance to not only survive, but thrive.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email us at info(at)vulnerablechildren.ca We will do our best to reply back within a week, or post the reply to your question as an FAQ post.

Our sincere appreciation for your continuing support!
Arnica and the other five directors of Vulnerable Children Society

A thousand meetings: Slow and steady progress for our programs

20130502-120526.jpg
Our last few days have been full of meeting and meetings. Tawnya, Nicole (when she was here) and I (Arnica) have met many times with Bisrat from Canadian Humanitarian, and our consultant, Birhan, to develop plans for our programs and new partnership. We have also met with Meseret and Sintayehu from Faya Orphanage three times, including one joint meeting with Faya Orphanage and Canadian Humanitarian.

It’s obvious that we all have the children’s best interests at heart, and we are making plans in cooperation to move our programs forward. Transitions like this are difficult, because they involve many levels of government, as well as agreements and organizations. But we are committed to coming up with a plan that takes care of the children, no matter what.

I know as sponsors, you have been hanging in there with us through this transition time. Thank you so much to all of you. It takes a while to navigate all the government processes and agreements. I can assure you that Tawnya, Bisrat, Birhan and I have been working very hard to get everything in order. Right now, we are working with Faya Orphanage to determine whose responsibilities will be whose and and what the final program is going to look like. We expect to have a firm plan, involving all the players, by the end of May.

20130502-120428.jpg

20130502-120412.jpg

Site Visit – Canadian Humanitarian’s Education Center in Gindo

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.

Visiting Canadian Humanitarian's Education Center in Gindo
Visiting Canadian Humanitarian’s Education Center in Gindo
Income Generating Project: Market Garden
Income Generating Project: Market Garden
Income Generating Project: Bed Made of Recycled Tires
Income Generating Project: Bed made of recycled tires
Income Generating Project: Future Site of Market Restaurant
Income Generating Project: Site of future market restaurant
Library Stocked by Vulnerable Children Society
Library stocked by the Vulnerable Children Society
Kids taking a break from their after-school program
Kids taking a break from their after-school program
Kids enjoying a hot meal
Kids enjoying a hot meal after school
Classroom furnished by the Vulnerable Children Society
Classroom furnished by the Vulnerable Children Society

Shopping Expedition

Update From Nicole Bellefleur

It’s just after midnight on Monday, and the power is out in Addis Ababa. I’m typing this blog entry on my little netbook by the light of my upturned mini-maglite. I’ll write until the battery on my laptop dies (soon); hopefully I’ll find a place to upload this to the VCS blog at some point this week (if you’re reading this, you’ll know I did!).

Today, I met Bisrat, who is Canadian Humanitarian’s Country Representative for Ethiopia. He came to my guest house, where we sorted all the school supplies I brought with me. He recommended that we take only some of the supplies to Canadian Humanitarian’s education center in Gindo tomorrow, and save most of them to take with us to Guder later this week, to stock the soon-to-be-constructed education center there.

Afterwards, Bisrat and I walked to a little courtyard restaurant nearby, and shared a pizza for lunch.  He told me about Canadian Humanitarian’s current projects, and his vision for the future. He and his colleagues are doing such important work, and I’m thrilled about our new partnership.

Later in the afternoon, Solomon – yes, THE Solomon – came to fetch me for a shopping expedition (he’s every bit as awesome as everyone always said he was!). All of us on this trip will be filling the space left vacant in our suitcases by the distribution of school supplies with handicrafts and other items produced in Ethiopia, to stock our little VCS online shop (another fundraising venture).

First, we made a quick stop at Alert Handicraft Shop, where the Berhan Taye Leprosy Disabled Persons Work Group produces (among other things) the cutest wooden toys (all proceeds from the sale of products sold in the gift shop are reinvested into the center). I didn’t purchase anything, as Arnica will be shopping there later this week, but I loved the brightly coloured wooden toys.

Next, we visited the Addis Ababa Former Women Fuel Wood Carriers Association Project, where women (and men) weave the most beautiful scarves. This cooperative was formed as an alternate income generating activity for women who previously climbed up and down the hillsides fetching firewood to sell at the local market (I still see them doing this – it’s backbreaking work).  I bought a dozen colourful scarves – everything from rich, earthy tones to bright purples and indigos. When I was admiring them at my guesthouse afterwards, I realized that these are going to sell fast, and that I probably should have bought many more, so I’m going to try to return and pick up at least a dozen more before I leave.

Our last stop was at a coffee shop, where Solomon and I enjoyed little cups of coffee and I picked up ten bags of Ethiopia’s famous Tomoca coffee (my room at the guesthouse smells like a coffee warehouse now!). This is good stuff, so I know it will sell fast too.

We have a few more things to pick up for the VCS online shop before we leave. What I love about our merchandise is that for the most part,  we’re purchasing it from projects that reinvest proceeds from sales into the cooperatives or assocations that produced them. So, when you shop from us, you’ll not only supporting our work, you’ll also helping people in Ethiopia become economically independent.

Good All Around

From director Nicole Bellefleur, on her way to Ethiopia:

We always hear about all the bad in the world, but every time I’ve walked by my spare room over the last couple of weeks and caught a glimpse of all of the school supplies and toys people have given me to give to kids in Ethiopia, I’ve been reminded that there is a whole lot more good out there.

Quite simply, I’ve been overwhelmed by your generosity.

Parents asked their children to go through their own toys and pick out things they wanted to share with less fortunate kids half a world away. Teachers took up collections at school, and brought decorated boxes and overstuffed bags of treats to me. Entire office divisions enthusiastically filled book bags with school supplies.

Some friends left things in my mailbox and at my backdoor when I wasn’t home, while others sent packages in the mail. Complete strangers drove across the Island to deliver supplies. People donated money online, and sent cheques (these funds will be spent in Ethiopia, on larger items and/or supplies).

I packed all of these things into my two biggest suitcases, and set off for Charlottetown Airport on Friday afternoon. My suitcases were heavy… so heavy I could hardly lift them onto the scale at the check-in counter. Needless to say, I was worried about exceeding Air Canada’s baggage allowance – and I soon found out that I had, by a long shot. But when I explained to the check-in attendant that I was taking donations to Ethiopia, she cheerfully dismissed my concerns and tagged my overweight bags without hesitation. I smiled with relief and gratitude, because it felt like the universe had just tied a big shiny bow around all this generosity and sent it on its way.

Positive change: new partnership and new educational centre

IMPORTANT UPDATE

Please read the information below, for important information about our partnership with Faya Orphanage, and changes to our operations in Ethiopia.

We started Vulnerable Children Society in 2010, our intent was to help vulnerable children in Ethiopia. Our first partner was Faya Orphanage. We covered the costs of the orphanage and they ran our successful and growing House 2 House program. Since, we have also started working with other partners, including Canadian Humanitarian for their educational centre in Gindo.

Regrettably, we have experienced significant challenges getting comprehensive financial reports, complete sponsor child updates and other information from Faya Orphanage. The financial reporting is especially crucial to our status as a registered Canadian charity. The board of directors has worked closely with Faya Orphanage for a year on these issues. Despite this, we have been unable to achieve the level of financial reporting and child sponsorship updates we require to continue our relationship with Faya Orphanage.

Meanwhile, Faya Orphanage’s operations have changed as well. What was once a small group home for 12-15 kids is now a very large home for three or four kids. Approximately half of our monthly budget has been going to run the orphanage; whereas the other half has supported 70 children in the community. Several factors, including increased community support, more health workers, and the adoption slowdown, have all contributed to smaller numbers at the orphanage. In the larger picture, this is a good thing – more kids are staying with their families, and fewer are going into institutional care.

Not continuing contract with Faya Orphanage

As a responsible board of directors who care deeply about being accountable to our donors, we have decided not to renew our contract with Faya Orphanage.

We want to help vulnerable children in Ethiopia grow and thrive, and we need partners who can meet our reporting requirements. To be fully accountable to both our donors and the Canada Revenue Agency, we must work with partners who can provide comprehensive information on both the financials and all the children in the House 2 House program.

This has been a very difficult decision to make as a board of directors. We would like to extend our warmest thanks to Meseret and Sintayehu for working with us for the last 2.5 years to support the well-being of dozens of children and families living with HIV/AIDS or other serious health challenges. We believe the partnership between Faya Orphanage and Vulnerable Children Society has brought help and hope to many families in Adama, Wonji, Guder and Ambo. Without the tireless efforts of the directors of Faya Orphanage, none of this would have been possible.

Plan B – great news ahead!

All this said, the board is now actually feeling very positive about the future. Plan B is on the horizon, and we are very excited to roll it out.

The stress and strain of managing this partner relationship definitely took its toll in the summer/fall, but when we started looking at other options, we saw hope. Our first commitment was to the 70+/- children in our House 2 House program. We wanted to find a partner in Ethiopia willing to support these same children. Along the way, we also started looking at the possibilities to expand our programming and deepen our impact on our House 2 House families. These were board goals that we had already – to make a life-changing impact on a child’s life, and break them out of the cycle of poverty.

After months of planning, we are happy to announce that we have a new partner to continue the support of our house 2 House kids, and develop innovative programming to support them more than we could before.

Continued support for House 2 House kids

Our plan with the new partner is to continue the House 2 House program for all the current families that wish to take part.

Children in Ambo, Adama, Wonji and Mojo will be offered continuing support as follows (children in Guder will be offered a place at the new educational centre. Please see further below).

When Faya Orphanage was running our House 2 House program, we sent a cash stipend to the families, and paid for school registration fees and uniforms as a separate project. The revised program will include registration fees and uniforms for school each year, as well as an equivalent food credit at the local mill or store. A coordinator will visit each family quarterly: the food credit is conditional upon the coordinator meeting with the family and child. The coordinator will also be tasked with preparing bi-annual updates on the children. We are currently working with our partner to hire an appropriate coordinator, and get this program up and running in the next few months.

Arnica will be travelling with other directors and volunteers to Ethiopia in April. They plan to meet with many of the families, to connect with them and explain the revised program.

A new opportunity for Faya Orphanage sponsors: NEW educational centre!

We understand that most of the Faya Orphanage sponsors simply want to help children in Ethiopia struggling with poverty and HIV. We are very excited to announce an amazing opportunity to do just that. We hope that each and every one of our sponsors will maintain their monthly sponsorship, so that they can become founding supporters of our new educational centre to support our House 2 House families in Guder.

We are pleased to announce that we will be rolling out our first supportive educational centre for the House 2 House children in the town of Guder, west of Addis Ababa.

This fantastic educational centre will provide hot meals for the children each day, school registration fees and uniforms, a safe place for the kids to go after school and a support network for the guardians of the children.  As we expand our sponsor base, we also will be offering programming such as a community health worker, HIV educational workshops for guardians and children, a community garden, and after school tutoring. This centre is modeled after other very successful programs we have visited in Ethiopia, and we know that it will effect deep transformational change in these children’s lives.

We decided to begin our first educational centre in Guder, since the government officials were very receptive to or previous visits, the House 2 House program participants also have a real sense of community, there are existing ties to the HIV Association, and the town has less support from NGOs than other communities.

We will start with the current approximately 20 children in the House 2 House program, but plan to expand the centre to 30 children over time. When the Guder centre is full and we have the support to do so, we will roll out another centre, in another House 2 House community, to help the next group of kids. Eventually, we hope to have a centre in each of the communities we serve.

If you have any questions, please email info@vulnerablechildren.ca

FAQs

How does Vulnerable Children safeguard our funds?

Please refer to “Safeguarding our donors’ funds: How VCS oversees our projects to be effective and accountable”. The added component is that if our partner cannot account for funds in a timely fashion, and cannot give complete reports, then we cannot continue the relationship.

What if we still want to support Faya Orphanage?

Of course, you are welcome to support any cause you see fit in Ethiopia or anywhere. We simply will no longer be facilitating funds for Faya Orphanage.

What is happening to our donated funds now?

Faya Orphanage sponsorships will be converted to Education Centre sponsorships and applied toward the quick start-up, and soon, operation of that program. House 2 House sponsorships will support the same program, and the same children.