Letter from Yewoinshet Masresha (Founder and Director, HFC Ethiopia)
To understand a child is to be present in their lives. Like a bird flying over them,
you have to watch patiently, carefully, constantly, while keeping enough
distance to let them move. Respecting and listening are the most valuable tools
that we as responsible caregivers can keep with us.
The community of AIDS workers, in our desire to meet as much of the great need
as possible, sometimes try to stretch resources thin. I have found that only by
going deep into these children's lives can I begin to comprehend their
Until the year 2000, I was working with another successful social services
organization in Addis Ababa as head of the orphan support program. Though
my colleagues and I were committed to the well-being of children affected by
HIV/AIDS, ultimately we were limited in our ability to care for the children. Like a
mother, I wanted to be able to do everything I possibly could for a child, even if
it meant blending my personal and professional lives.
I began to consider the possibility of striking out on my own to create a new,
community-based organization in which I could work side-by-side with
community members to provide holistic care and support for children within the
Shiromeda/Sidist Kilo neighborhood, one of the five most poverty-stricken areas
of Addis Ababa.
With 8 women who were caring for children affected by HIV, and with the help
of an American woman named Sara Jewett and initial funding from the
Jerusalem Church of Sweden, I decided finally to embark on the adventure that
would become Hope for Children. We started small; our first office was a room
lent to us in the local neighborhood kebele women’s association office. We
had one chair and one desk. At our first meeting with officials from the HIV/AIDS
Secretariat, they did not want to enter our offices because there were more of
them than we had chairs!
We had long ago learned that caring for children meant more than just
providing schooling, food and medical care. It meant providing children with a
childhood. Our first programs were geared toward just that, providing basic
needs as well as psychosocial care. We enrolled the first of many groups of
children in scouting programs and found spaces for them to play. We began a
series of Saturday programs that encouraged children to meet one another in a
fun, child-friendly atmosphere.
Though we were now free to care for children as we pleased, there were
frustrations involved in creating a new program, but someone always came to
our rescue. Partners in the Horn of Africa helped us to secure a new office when
the kebele decided that it needed the room that it had donated to us within 3
days. Through the work of a number of Ethiopians living in Sweden,
Norway and Japan, we found sponsors for the basic needs of the children.
Local organizations and individuals have been inspired to help us as well.
Ibnsina Herbal Clinic and Sara Clinic have been providing medical care to our
clients for free. Business people like Fasika Pastry and Coca Cola are providing
services and reduced prices for us.
My focus has always been on the children, first and foremost. But as Hope for
Children grows, we need to build our capacity as caregivers. Our volunteer
caregivers are so committed and willing to do what they can for their fellow
community-members but many of them did not have the skills to provide the
home-based care and peer counselling that many of our home-based clients
needed. Again we were rescued, this time by UNICEF, who enabled us to train
15 caregivers in peer education, 32 in grief counselling, 10 in traditional laundry
and 26 in home-based care for children and their carers.
In addition to my goal of providing services for children, I also want to help the
community to understand what these children are going through. By creating
understanding amongst community members about these children’s problems,
we believe it will bring everyone together to unite against the threat that AIDS
poses to our community. I want the community to hear, as much as possible,
directly from the children themselves.
You will see from this report that we have already begun to do this. Some of our
children spoke to thousands and, via Ethiopian television, millions on World AIDS
Day 2002 about issues that included five of Hope for Children’s basic concerns
for children: health care, education, right to basic needs (food and shelter), the
right to inheritance and the right to play. An exhibition prepared in
collaboration with 15 of our children and American photographer Eric
Gottesman was recently exhibited at Addis Ababa City Hall and will now travel
to 21 Kebeles (neighbourhoods). Now, by teaming up with local anti-AIDS clubs,
we are now doing this on a larger scale.
As we look toward the future, I hope that our children will have more
opportunities to speak to their community, as some have already begun to do
already. Their stories are too important, and their voices too beautiful, not to
hear. We have trained some of our older children in puppeteering and they go
out into the community to teach about HIV/AIDS. We hope to have more
exhibitions and other events to allow children to speak to others about their
experiences. As well, we hope to continue to provide home-based care and
social support, to increase opportunities for voluntary counselling and training, to
devise income generation schemes and to continue to increase our
membership and welcome community members to be part of our efforts.
Since Hope for Children was started as a volunteer organization, a spirit of
voluntarism still pervades our organization. As a result, we always welcome
newcomers – foreign or local, rich or poor, HIV-affected or not – to be part of
our efforts in any way they can. If you are interested, please contact our head
office or drop by and see what our work is all about.
Hope for Children,2006.