News

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.

image

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!

Bonding with at-risk Ethiopian teens, over cookies and nail polish

It’s been six weeks since we spent time with our favourite teen girls in Ethiopia. With one of our directors (Menbere) leaving this week for a visit, I find that I’m missing these special girls that we got to know. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more determined, sweeter group of young ladies, and I’d love to tell you about our visit.

A tiny bit about our program first: Vulnerable Children Society’s New Life Teenage Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program is a year long supportive program, helping girls indentured in the sex trade escape, and build new lives for themselves. Tawnya and I (Arnica) were eager to meet the newest cohort of young women, who had just started the program in June.

We met the girls at their new group home, a spacious new building that accommodates the ten girls we support (on the top floor) and ten girls supported by a US NGO. They’ve moved out into the outskirts of Addis, distancing the girls form the dangers of Entoto, the Stadium and other dicey districts. As the groups of girls we’ve met before, they were shy and on their best behaviour, treating us to coffee ceremony. I personally find that formal visiting stifling… Heaven knows how difficult it is for the girls to have us, the faces of the organization that sponsors them, sit in their living room. So we brought some icebreakers… Temporary tattoos! The Canada flags were a huge hit!

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

The giggles started then, although, understandably, there were a few suspicious scowls. We can’t forget that these girls have been through unimaginable horrors, and are justifiably nervous around strangers. Tawnya and I then handed out the little gifts of nail polish and hair tools we brought with us, and the nail polishing began. The girls’ house mother, a quiet woman named Mulu, was delighted that she too had some new – orange- nail polish.

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

We were soon treated to some delicious coffee, made by one of the girls. Addis said it wasn’t her favorite chore to do, but she did it with care. The girls take turns at everything, from cleaning and cleaning to serving their guests. Note the tattoo on her arm.

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

The most amazing part of our visit for the girls are the letters that we brought with us. 20 teens from an International Development course in Prince Edward Island wrote the girls, with the hopes of starting a penpal relationship for the duration of their respective programs. It was incredibly meaningful to several of the girls. They had never received a letter before, and were astounded that astounded that young strangers their age, all the way in Canada, cared enough to share about their own lives and wanted to know how they were doing in Ethiopia. Over the next two nights, the girls worked hard on their return letters. Even Tigist, who never learned to read in her rural home, and certainly didn’t working in Addis, got a friend to scribe for her and sent a note back.

Over the next few days, Tawnya and I got to know many of the girls as individuals. We attended their lessons, ate supper cooked by them in their home, sat and chatted in the living room, shared stories of family and I even got to teach them something from home. Of the twenty girls in the program (ten supported by us,) fifteen are in cooking school right now. The other four are learning hair dressing and one is in design school. Since all of the girls supported by Vulnerable Children are in cooking, we volunteered to teach them to make some ferengi food… Foreign recipes to increase their employability at guest houses and restaurants. When I asked the girls what they wanted to learn to make, one tentatively told me “chocolates.”

Well, I thought chocolaterie was a bit difficult for their first sweets lesson, so we settled on cookies.

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

With peanut butter and chocolate chips in hand, the next day I taught them two kinds of cookies. Tawnya would have been right in there, but she was terribly under the weather. So with help from our translator/public health nurse Meron, I taught the girls about the funny things called cups and teaspoons. What fun! The dear kids braved my teaching methods. Remember, I speak only Amharic Lite and traditionally teaching in Ethiopia is not interactive. We made several batches of the cookies in teams. They put much of the dough in the fridge to make later (not on fasting days!) so they could all sample them. Delicious! The only person who appeared unimpressed was the oldest girl, Ada, who hadn’t let out a hint of a smile since our arrival.

The last day we visited the girls, we popped by their house announced. They were all lounging around, playing games and watching TV, obviously not in their best clothes as the times we had stopped in before. This time, there was no formal coffee, but some honest conversation.

We asked the girls about their dreams for the future. We went around the circle, as they shared their own hopes: of finding a cooking job, designing her own clothes, starting a family and living in an apartment with a friend. Finally, we got to the oldest, Ada, who had a scowl on the whole time. She looked at us, and defiantly declared that she was going to start her own cookie business, and sell the cookies to foreigners at guest houses around Addis Ababa. Then, ever so gently, she grinned.

Vulnerable Children Society' s New Life - Teen Sex Trade Worker Retraining Program in Addis Ababa

An hour later we were sharing hugs with all the girls in the courtyard. Much to my surprise, Ada made a beeline for me. We hugged and hugged and cried and cried. I can’t believe what that girl has been through, but I believe with all my heart that she is going places.

In fact, all of them are. These girls, thanks to support from people like you, hard work and determination, are building new lives for themselves.

Think of a girl or a woman in your life, and consider donating in their name to help teen girls in Ethiopia this holiday season. We want to give another ten girls the life changing experience these teens have experienced.

with gratitude,
Arnica
President, Vulnerable Children

Healthy happy kids at the Love and Hope Centre

This time of year in central Ethiopia, the days are mildly warm, the sun is shining and the meskel flowers are in full bloom. It’s the end of the big rain season, and there is a daily vibrancy of growing things.

Vulnerable Children Society Ethiopia Helping Kids

Tawnya and I (Arnica) arrived at Vulnerable Children Society’s Love and Hope Centre three days ago. It had been a year since either of us had visited, and we were wowed on our first steps through the gates. The centre courtyard, which formerly housed a vast expanse of red dirt and a tarped shack for cooking, was full of gloriously growing. The vegetable gardens that our volunteer Stefan started six months ago had been producing beets, collards, lettuce and other vegetables for the children to eat for the last few months. The difference the gardens made was amazing… The whole centre felt alive and welcoming, even before the children arrived from school.

We spoke first with the guard who had taken on the gardens has his project at the centre. Ethiopia can be quite hierarchical, but I was very pleased to learn that he had started a gardening club, and several of the children were regularly attending the gardens under his supervision.

Our next exciting visit was the new cooking building. Vulnerable Children funded this wonderful improvement to the property last year. The new metal cooking area enables the guardians who cook for the children on a rotating basis to prepare nutritious food out of the sun and rain. When you are cooking for 70 children each day, it nice to have a place to store food and plates, chop and stir and prepare the lunches. The children just started at a new school that likes the children to stay onsite during lunchtime. So instead of all the kids showing up for lunch, the guardians were cooking 70 to go lunches, delivered to the school by community members. In discussion with the mothers and grandmother on this month’s shift, we learned that the lunch boxes provided by the families varied from metal tiffins to leaking plastic plates. So we mentally added new lunch boxes to our sponsorship wish list!

Also in the courtyard are a bathroom, two showers, and outdoor taps for washing feet and brushing teeth. The children started to filter in, and the foot washing shifts immediately began. When the centre opened a couple years ago, we realized that many of the kids had never had a bath or a shower. So we place a lot of emphasis on hygiene activities, with teeth brushing, foot washing and even weekend showers on the weekly schedule. No doubt these hygiene activities help keep the kids in good health. And should they get sick, our centre reimburses families for their child’s medial visits, prescriptions and dentistry. Basically, kids who attend our Love and Hope Centre have extended health care through our program.

After foot washing, it was an outdoor day. The social worker, Walalign, broke the kids into shifts for playing. To our amusement, one of the teams was the “keep the ball out of the garden” team! So two groups of kids played, one cheered, and one held hands in a line along the garden to protect the vegetables. And then they would switch. How fun!

The Love and Hope Centre’s gorgeous veggie garden, homemade lunches, routine washing and physical activity are growing some wonderfully healthy and happy kids in Kality, one of the poorest urban communities in Ethiopia. Thanks to much too our Love and Hope sponsors, whose ongoing monthly contributions are making a world of difference to 70 beautiful, deserving Ethiopian children.

Want to make a world of difference to an Ethiopian child? Become a Love and Hope Sponsor!

In the next couple of days, we visited some of the children’s families in their homes with Woinshet (the centre coordinator,) participated in an afterschool art class, labelled 70 toothbrushes, showed the nutritionist our nutrition oak shop adapted from Harvard, had coffee with the guardians, and planned technology classes for the older kids. But you’ll just have to stay tuned for those news and pictures!