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.


Nicole’s bottles: how one adoptive mom found her way to help teen girls in Ethiopia

It’s amazing what a determined woman, ample garage space and a generous community can do! Check out Vulnerable Children Society director Nicole’s story below of how she fundraisers for the New Life program. Her small community enables one Ethiopian teen girl escape the sex trade each year… all by collecting cans! Thanks Nicole!! with Love and appreciation from the other directors: Arnica, Tawnya, Menbere, Dacia, Flora and Laura

In the summer of 2008, I embarked on the long journey to adopt a child from Ethiopia. I expected the process to be relatively straightforward, but by the fall of 2009, my adoption agency had gone bankrupt and I didn’t know if I’d ever bring a child home from Ethiopia. There was very little I could do at that point to affect the outcome of the adoption, and I was feeling helpless and defeated. I craved a connection to Ethiopia, so I decided to do the one thing I could: raise money, to help kids there.

I explored the many different ways that I could go about fundraising for kids in Ethiopia – everything from asking people for donations, to organizing events. I hate asking people for money, and the event space was already crowded with fundraisers for local causes. At some point, the idea of an ongoing bottle drive hit me: people could donate their recyclables to me, and I could convert them to cash. Sorting through other people’s garbage wasn’t going to be the sexiest way to fundraise, but for me, it was perfect: it would bring in a steady trickle of cash, and it would be just the kind of busy work I needed to take my mind off the adoption.

Friends and family were skeptical at first (“You really want my trash?”), but they went along with it, and soon my little fundraiser took off. I found myself spending evenings and weekends in my garage, counting and sorting bottles and cans. It was sticky, stinky work… sometimes it was downright nasty, like the time I found a decomposing mouse inside a plastic pop bottle. In spite of all that, it felt purposeful, and that made it rewarding.

Over the last eight years, I’ve raised thousands of dollars for deserving kids in Ethiopia, one bottle and can at a time. All of the proceeds are directed to the Vulnerable Children Society, to fund programs delivered by our in-country NGO partners. I’m grateful to the people, community organizations and businesses on Prince Edward Island who have contributed to this initiative, and to a friend who now transports truckloads of recyclables to the depot for me.

I’m looking forward to continuing my bottle and can drive in the years to come, especially now that I have an assistant: my three-year-old Ethiopian-born daughter, Ayanna! I hope you will consider joining me with your own unique fundraising ideas, to support the amazing work of Vulnerable Children Society. – Nicole

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!

Melkam Bal! Happy New Year from Meskel Square

Happy New Year! this post was written by Vulnerable Children Society President Arnica Rowan in September 2015 from Addis Ababa. Arnica and VCS Treasurer Tawnya Pattie’s took a break on their annual volunteer trip to check VCS projects to celebrate one of Ethiopia’s grandest holidays.

There are certain places that are famous for their celebrations. Last night, my friend Tawnya (VCS Treasurer) and I experienced the wonderment of the crowds, blaring music and smoky pyres of Meskel in Addis Ababa.

If you aren’t aware, Meskel is the celebration of the True Cross. It’s an Orothodox Christian holiday, celebrated across Ethiopia. The holiday is named after the Meskel flower, or maybe the Meskel flower is named after the holiday. In any case, the fields of yellow flowers only bloom this time of year, at the very end of the big rains. This is a picture of Mekel flowers from my Ethiopian art collection at home.


After a quiet morning of walking on the eve of Meskel, we took a cab up to our next guest house, on the north side of Addis Ababa. Vulnerable Children Society’s Teenage Sex Trade Worker Project is located on the far north west part of Addis Ababa, an hours drive from our former guest house (which was as close as we could get to the Love and Hope Centre in Kality.) We had picked the guest house for its location and recommendations, but when we arrived, we were less than impressed. The whole little place was surrounded by barred windows. But 5 minute later, we were off again, taxiing as close as we could to Meskel Square. We got dropped off just south of the Hilton out on the street, and joined the throngs walking down towards Meskel Square.

People were walking from all across the city. There were constant streams of families, young people with their friends, and couples decked out in fine clothes and natellas, the white scarves. Rich and poor, everyone had donned their best clothes for the occasion. We reached the square, and after being frisked by the military, climbed with the throng up onto the grassy slopes of the massive amphitheater. The usually busy traffic square was full of white robed priests, with expanses of pavement in between the groups from different churches. Tawnya and I had expected more milling about in the square, not an amphitheatre setup. After climbing up into the sloped grassy hills, we picked our way down a foot wide dirt path between sitting participants. After many minutes of stumbling walking, trying desperately not to step on anyone’s feet, we found two open spots next to the path, about a quarter of the way across the back. We sat down, much to the amusement of our fellow spectators. Amongst the thousands and thousands of people in the crowd, we only saw one ferengi (foreigner) family pass by, and a handful of ferengi individuals.

Our neighbours that we were squished into made us feel at home. The boy next to Tawnya kept taking cell phone pictures of the side of her head, shouting random English words he could think of. Rounds of shared laughter from the people nearby made us feel welcome. The sweet older lady beside me tried to strike up a conversation about the crowds. I couldn’t understand a word, despite my novice Amharic skills. I said “tinish Amharinga” (I only speak a little Amharic) and she laughed and replied the same. I don’t know where she was from, but her language wasn’t Amharic. I’m guessing she is Gurege, the tribe that is especially celebratory of Meskel. So we smiled and made little waving jokes with each other.

The crowds thickened and thickened. Whenever someone would stop on the little path in front of us, standing, a lady three spots down would hit them with her candle and tell them to move along. But after an hour of people filtering and filtering into the sitting crowd, the path was completely stopped up. I’ve never been so squished in my life. Even Tawnya, who once lived in India, said she’d never been in such a sitting jumble. There was one man with rough curly hair and a pressed dress shirt sitting on my boot toes in front of my knees, which were bunched up to my chest. He was leaning against my knees. Tawnya was glued to my left side, and I was sitting on a lady’s bare toes, that she had slipped out of her flip flops. I never saw her face, but my back was pressed to her knees. There was a twenty year old boy to my back right, whose knee up against my right shoulder. He softly and kindly asked about my Ethiopian and Meskel experience, encouraging me that soon we would be listening to some of the best “church music” in the world. I asked him if there was dancing. He laughs, and other laughed around us. “Priests don’t dance!” He guffawed. The lady to my right kept shooting me sidewise smiles. Both Tawyna and I felt so welcomed and included, despite not really knowing the details of what was happening.

After several hours of sitting, but still an hour or so from the huge pyre in the middle of the Meskel Square being lit, we had had enough. People were still picking their way, step by step, in between the seated crowd. I was starting to feel claustrophobic, and the trampled crowds on Mecca last week kept creeping into the periphery of my mind. The main event hadn’t even really started, and both of us had to go to the bathroom something terrible. So I asked Tawnya to leave. We speculated if it was even possible, then stood with difficulty. We said goodbye, and started picking our way, step by step, through the seated spectators. Once we reached the side, there was standing room only, and people were pressed so tightly against each other, it was impossible to move. I started using my Canadian charm, and with no care for personal space, switched spots with people, thanking them profusely in Amharic. I dragged Tawnya forward by the hand. She later said the crowds reminded her indeed of India.

At one point I flushed red with panic. We were trying to crawl uphill towards the entrance. The entire crowd was pushing and started to sway together, exclaiming in that communal tone “ohhh!” Panic raced through my mind, and then I saw a kind man several feet above me offering his hand. “Here sister!” He yelled. I grabbed his hand, grabbed Tawnya’s with my other hand, and hauled ourselves up towards the back wall.

It was easier after that, and we managed to break free of the throng as we hit the street. Much to our amazement, people were still flooding towards the square. We walked up and out against the crowds. Once and a while, a young man would shout exuberantly, “wrong way!” But we had had enough of being packed like sardines. We took in the rich cultural mood: absorbed the outfits, the families, the festive mood.

We stopped for a brief bathroom break at the Hilton. Yes, we totally exercised our ferenghi privilege on that one. I was desperate. We wondered… Where do people pee when they are stuck like canned oysters in a tin for hours on end? There certainly are no bathrooms in the square… hm.

We hailed a taxi and putted up to the university area. We got out at Arat kilo and looked for some supper. We ended up at a restaurant I had been to before during the day. It has two huge patios between the high rise buildings and the street. The music was blaring as we took a seat, as far as possible from the speakers. Blaring music is definitely one of those cultural things we’ve not quite gotten used to in Ethiopia. We ordered door wat (chicken stew,) shiro (spicy chickpea paste), a beer and a water, and it was less than $10. The best value meal we have had anywhere the whole trip! There was an MC who was constantly shouting advertisements into the mic for this occasion and other events at the restaurant, and breaking into dancing between sets. Six young dancers came onto the open area in front of the bar, scattered with grass, and did some of the best traditional dancing I have ever seen. Tawnya and I barely talked, but enjoyed watching the other diners. The cool thing about Ethiopia is that almost any occasion is for kids. Very one was drinking and eating, but there were families with small children, who occasionally joined the MC at the front, busting a move. Grandparents, parents, young men and couples were all celebrating together. That’s an Ethiopian custom I totally love.

After the restaurant, it was 15 minute walk to our new guest house. The streets were busy, with people walking. Just as we passed a military compound, the soldiers started to light the pyre, walking around it with torches, singing and dancing about. Further down the dark steer, neighbours in white natella were singing all together in someone’s yard, and they had laid out candles in the shape of a cross on the street. The pyre was covers in meskel flowers, waiting to be lit. We continued on, past a bar, and the streets got emptier. There were groups of young drunk men walking together, but less families, so I started to get nervous and beat a quick path for the guest house. Tawnya, as per usual, was non-plussed, but she has greater faith in humanity than I do.

Finally, uneventfully, we walked thought the locked gate, and up to our guest house apartment. The door was open, despite us having locked it when we left. Tawnya sat on the sofa, and looked at me. I looked at her. And within a minute, we decided to move. There was no guard, it was not a particularly fantastic neighbourhood, and we felt exposed with barred windows on all sides of our room.

So we made a late night taxi ride with a thankfully Muslim (aka sober) taxi driver back to our first guest house. After a half bottle of wine, some chocolate and deep sighs of relaxation, we fell to bed. A wonderful, eventful, exciting Meskel!

Melkam Bal!