Crafting, reading and meeting at the Love and Hope Centre

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On March 10, I had the delight of spending the day at Vulnerable Children Society’s Love and Hope Centre in Kality, on the outskirts of Addis. In fact, a whole gaggle of us met at the centre. My family came along with me to teach crafts, and my kids ran around with the other Ethiopian children their age. I had a meetings with staff from Canadian Humanitarian, our partner organization that operates the centre, as well as Deb, the expedition coordinator from Canada. We were also joined by other Vulnerable Children reps: our project consultant Birhan, as well Nicole, one of our directors from Canada. It was a merry, busy day!
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Now, as the president of Vulnerable Children, I spend most of my time in Ethiopia in meetings, strategy sessions, and project evaluations. But this time, I got to interact with the kids, reading them stories and leading a craft.
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My mother, a retired school teacher, prepared a fantastic but very involved craft, that helped the kids practice their English. Counting, colours… My husband father, mother and I all lead groups of 15-20 kids, making beaded frogs and lizards. My hats off to my family… I had the benefit of rudimentary Amharic on my side; but they operated their groups with humour, determination, and a lot of hands on help. At the end of two hours, two hours! all the kids went home with an incredibly special, durable, and fun toy to show their families.
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On a personal note, my seven year old daughters visited and participated too. Most of huge children at the centre are right around their age, so even though they were shy at first, once their daddy got involved in chasing around the kids, they were in their like dirty shirts. My husband Jason only knows a few words of Amharic, but all he needed to start that game was by yelling “Anbassa!” (Lion!) at the top of his lungs. Then he had a crowd of kids, including ours, after him!
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The children usually come to the centre for lunch, then return to school until the end of the school day. Then they return for after school tutoring, games, art club, showers, teeth brushing, etc. but since it was the first day back for them after “spring break,” the kids came for lunch, and stayed until the end of the day.

I was really impressed by how the ideas concocted between Canadian Humanitarian’s former executive director and I, those months ago, have transformed into reality. It’s amazing to see. For example, we asked the caregivers to be involved in cooking… So far, five groups of female guardians have rotated through the kitchen, making lunch every day. The guardians are paid as cooks usually would be, and then the next month, they are replaced by new guardians. It’s a pretty awesome, legitimate way to financially involved them in the centre, as well as being involved and supportive.
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The centre’s coordinator, an amazing young woman, came with the children from the former program, so she knows and understands their individual needs well. Also on staff are a social worker, and an accountant. In reality, they all help with the day to day operations, and it’s an extremely efficient and effective operation.

We did have meetings after the children went home (what’s a visit without a meeting?) to discuss the needs and new developments at the centre. I’ll share those with you all after I have a chance to discuss them with Vulnerable Children Society’s directors. But the punch line is that both our project consultant (who is doing formal evaluation work for us,) Nicole and I… We were all extremely happy with the project!
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If you are currently a Love and Hope sponsor, you should be really proud of your support. It’s money extremely well spent! With an incredible well run centre. Hats off to our partner, Canadian Humanitarian, for operating a fantastic project. And hats off to you, for funding it!
Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!
We hope you will ask a friend to join us as a Love and Hope sponsor, so that we can enrich this program, and open another centre in the near future!
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Coffee with 10 Lovely Teenage Girls

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On our first day in Ethiopia, we braved the effects of jet lag, and spent most of the day at Hope for Children’s training centre, with the ten former teenage sex trade workers that Vulnerable Children Society supports. After watching a cooking lesson, we went the new compound where the girls are housed, and enjoyed a pleasant coffee ceremony with the girls.

When Tawnya and I (Arnica) visited the second cohort of girls last year, we knew that we wanted to enable a group of girls to go through the vocational training program, and have a chance at another, better life. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the VCS directors and support from donors, we sponsored 10 young girls to go through Hope for Children’s program.

When we arrived, my family got the short story about the program from the Hope for Children director, Yonas, and I visited with some of the staff. Then we stepped into the side of the girls’ first cooking lesson. They were all sitting dutifully quietly in chairs, decked out in all white with white hats, listening to a lecture on measurement. Their teacher is a trained chef, and he really explained everything so clearly, that we could follow, even without the benefit of Amharic fluency. The girls were quiet and nervous with us watching, so we left after twenty minutes, and then had a good meeting with our respective staff.

I was pleased to receive a written report, including a budget, and I had a good chat with our consultant, Hope for Children’s director. This is the third cohort of girls from the sex trade that have gone through this program, and they are still making adjustments to tweek the program. The first cohort was 25 girls, and they soon realized that with their high needs, that was way too much. So then narrowed the group down to ten. Last time, they had a graduate of the program start working as a mentor, and she now serves as the program coordinator. It’s amazing to see what a positive effect she has on the other girls.

This cohort, the need that emerged was a change in housing. Of the seven girls Nicole visited with a couple of months ago, only four remain. The others found it impossible to not accept work, because they were still living in the same neighbourhood, independently, as they were before. So now the ten girls, including four of the original, have moved in together into a compound, a reasonable walk from the training centre. They have three house mothers who stay with them, including the program coordinator.

The compound is simple, but the girls really love it. It’s a nicer place than they have lived for the 1-3 years they have been working in the sex trade, and for many of them who come form a rural area, it’s the nicest ace they have every lived. The girls are inspired, motivated, and driven to change their lives. You can tell they selected the right girls for the program.

As a group, they decided that cooking offers the best employment opportunities. So the girls decided to forgo the sewing and hairstyling lessons, and focus exclusively on cooking for the next seven months. The vocational training lasts seven months, but the support, including living at the house, hygene and personal care training, etc lasts a year. Because some of the girls joined the program in the last month, they aren’t getting the full twelve months of support, but eight instead. Both our consultant and I expressed concern at this, but that’s just the way it will end up this time. Next time, they will learn again, and hopefully keep the same girls from the start.

The highlight of our visit, of course, was going to the girls’ house for coffee. They quietly sat in a row, while we chatted. We asked them about where they came from, and we were surprised to hear that the majority came from a rural area north of Bahir Dar. Most of the girls were tricked and lured into the city by the promise of a job, but didn’t know what it was until they got here. Poor kids. They are so young… Most don’t know their ages, but I would guess they are between sixteen to twenty one years old.

When we offered to answer any questions they might have, we were surprised. “What are the natural resources and revenues in Canada?” “What kind of foods do you like best?” This of course, was a market research questions 🙂 Some smart questions from some smart girls.

In summary, I was very pleased with the outcomes so far of the program. There have been a few glitches, but they were forthcoming about them, and transparent in their approach to solving the issues. We may have to do a little campaign to help them with the additional housing costs… The ten girls are sleeping on five mattresses now, which is all they have been able to afford. But the program is obviously putting the girls’ needs first.

On a personal note, my young seven year old daughters accompanied us to the house to visit. We are very open with our children, and they know, in an age appropriate way, what the teenagers have been through. So far in our many days, one of their highlights was visiting with the teen girls… They were so kind, sweet, and welcoming to us and our kids. I can’t wait to go and have coffee with them again, hopefully before they graduate. Maybe I’ll even get to taste some of their cooking!

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Field Report: Humbled and Inspired

From Communication Director Nicole, December 2013, from the Love and Hope Centre in Addis Ababa:

The kids who are participating in this program are among the most at-risk in Kality, meaning they have lost one of both parents, are touched by HIV (either they and/or their parents are HIV+), and/or are very poor. They range in age from 5 to 13 years.

One might think that with so many challenges before them, they’d be down-in-the-dumps, but nothing could be farther from the truth. I was greeted with unbridled excitement and enthusiasm – these kids know how to make a gal feel welcome! They were eager to play games with me and show me around, and they just loved watching videos of themselves on my iPhone.

As someone who spent three years teaching English in Japan, I was impressed by how well the kids could speak English. They were all eager to introduce themselves to me, tell me their ages and shake my hand.

Before I left, they sang a joyful song. As I watched them, I couldn’t help but marvel at their resilience. These kids have experienced more hardship than most of us will ever know, but they aren’t dwelling on it. Instead, they are meeting life’s challenges head on, smiling all the way. It was both humbling, and inspiring.

A thousand meetings: Slow and steady progress for our programs

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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.

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Seeing our Wonji House 2 House Kids

Finally today, we went and saw the kids in Wonji. It was wonderful to reconnect with the children and their guardians. We met at a school, out in the courtyard, it he hot Ethiopian sun.

We were able to sit and talk to each family that arrived, and to ask the children and guardians questions. For sponsors of these families, there will be a wonderful update in the fall! Thanks to S, the local kebele contact, we not only got to see the majority of the kids, but we also got to give the sponsorship support to all of the Wonji families through our new partner Canadian Humanitarian.

It seems like such slow going in each location, but there are many meetings to have and connections to make. We are basically starting from scratch in each community, depending on the agreements and structure. We have had so many meetings in each community, it was very gratifying to get as far as connecting with the children in at least location! For those of you that sponsor children in other communities, rest assured that your gifts will eventually get to the children. It will just take a few more meetings…!

I think all of us Canadians are learning a lot about doing business in Ethiopia this trip. You can’t get right to the goal or purpose of the meeting. First, you have to build a relationship, then introduce the topic, then answer and ask questions, and eventually get to what you want to do. But this all takes time, tact, and a deft ear for the clues in between the lines. Luckily we’ve had two great Ethiopian culture coaches along the way.

Things seem reasonably on their way in Wonji now… The next week, we will be working on moving everything forward in Guder and Ambo as well. All we need is a little luck and a lot of patience as we navigate due process. Well keep you posted!

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Success in Wonji/ Adama

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Today was very successful.. We drove to Adama as early as possible in the morning to avoid the traffic. The traffic was still horrible, but we managed to get to Adama in the early morning, even with a breakfast break in Debre Zeit.

We had a simple mission in Adama: meet with the official from Wonji and start our new relationship off on the right foot. We had a very fast and pleasant meeting with S, who works at the HIV clinic as well as at the kebele and woreda levels. We recognized each other from our last visit, but somehow the tone this visit was very different from the professional distance of the first meeting last year. We found him extremely warm, reassuring and welcoming… Such a pleasant person. And we are quite confident in our ability to work together on behalf of the kids in Wonji and Adama.

Sponsors would like to know that we received confirmation that until 2 months ago, the 21 families in Wonji were receiving their monthly stipend. The kids also received the uniforms and drought assistance we sent. This was all confirmed by the government, so it is extra nice to have that reassurance. We were clear that we respect Faya Orphanage’s work so far, but it was simply a matter of reporting that we could not continue. S seemed to understand perfectly. “Reports are the backbone of Ethiopian society!” He exclaimed. We had a good laugh at that.

We discussed formal agreements, but also interim care for the kids. And we also talked about seeing the kids and delivering gifts. Wonderfully, he is coming on his day off and arranging for us to meet them all on Sunday. Yeah! We are so very happy about that! And can’t wait to see our kids and post pictures.

Now off to bed after another exceedingly long day! Bon voyage to our dear friend (and director) Nicole, who was trying to think of every excuse not to fly out tonight. She had a wonderful time… Especially handing out some toys to kids at the bean factory today.

Good night!
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