AHOPE for Children: Providing Love and Hope for HIV Positive Children in Ethiopia

Before I travel to a new place, I make it a habit to read a couple of books on the country I’m visiting in order to get an overview of a country’s history, culture, politics and other pertinent issues. When I was selected to go to Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project where I’d be learning about newborn, child and maternal health I found several fabulous books highlighting these issues.

photo-2One of the most powerful non-fiction books I read before I left for Ethiopia this past June was “There is No Me Without You” by award-wining journalist Melissa Fay Greene.

Greene’s moving book chronicles the life of one woman’s fight to save Ethiopia’s AIDS orphans during the height of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Before reading the book, I honestly had no idea that Ethiopia was the second most impacted country in Africa by HIV/AIDS. Greene herself was unaware of the severity of the AIDS epidemic until she came across a New York Times Article in the summer of 2000.

On page 20 in her book, Greene writes:

Per the United Nations, in 2000 Africa was “a continent of orphans.”  HIV and acquired AIDS had killed more than 21 million people, including 4 million children. More than 13 million children had been orphaned, 12 million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.  25% of those lived in 2 countries: Nigeria and Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, 11% of the children were orphans.

Greene realized she could not turn a blind eye to this horrible tragedy and spent the next several years researching the origin and history of the HIV/AIDS, the development of antiretrovirals, the impact of AIDS in Africa and the plight of an entire generation of AIDS orphans. Her research resulted in her powerful book “There is No Me Without You” which is all shown through the eyes of one woman, Haregewoin Teferra, who dared to rescue these children, deemed untouchable and tragically left behind in the aftermath.

A book written on Amelezewd's life.

A book written on Amelezewd’s life.

It was within this mesmerizing, heart-breaking true story that I learned about Amelezewd and AHOPE for Children.  Amelezewd Girma and her two younger brothers were AIDS orphans living with Haregewoin when it was discovered Amelezewd and one of her brothers were HIV positive and too sick for her to care for.

At the time, Ethiopia was overwhelmed with HIV/AIDS orphans (there were over 1.5 million in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2005) and Haregewoin searched desperately for a place that she could send Amelezewd and her brother to be properly cared for. Through Haregewoin’s search, she found Enat House for HIV-positive children which later was renamed AHOPE for Children, and Amelezewd and her brother Michael were placed there.

Sadly, it was too late for young Amelezewd who as a young teenager dreamed of getting an education and becoming a professor someday. Life-saving anti-retrovirals (ARV) that were widely available in the western world were still unaccessible in Sub-Saharan Africa where they needed them most. ARVs were not available in Ethiopia until 2005. Amelezewd passed away leaving behind a legacy of heartbreak and hope while her younger brother Michael survived thanks to the availability of ARV treatment. AHOPE meant that there was finally a hope for HIV positive children and they were no longer being sent to a place to be cared for before they died.

It was against this backdrop that I contacted AHOPE for Children and scheduled a site visit to meet with the director Mengesha Shibru during my reporting fellowship in Ethiopia this past June.

Africa Child Labor, Marriage, Education and Survival Ethiopia Global Health Global Issues Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION
Driving in rural Ethiopia

Rural life in Ethiopia

It is impossible to understand Ethiopia without visiting the countryside. In a country of 90 million people, the rural land of Ethiopia is where over 90% of Ethiopians live and catching a glimpse of their way of life is absolutely fascinating.

During my two weeks in Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project, my favorite times were when we were outside of the cities and venturing along the bumpy, cattle-filled roads of rural Ethiopia.  For me, the countryside is where the true heart and soul of Ethiopia and much of Africa lies. While some of the other fellows used our lengthy drives as time to catch up on much needed sleep, I sat at the edge of my seat with camera in hand, mesmerized by the world around me. A world I had never experienced yet a world I had imagined in my dreams.

Driving in rural Ethiopia

Lake Tana Ethiopia

Lake Tana: Battle of the Hippos and Papyrus Boats

In the Amhara region of northwestern Ethiopia lies Lake Tana, the largest lake in Ethiopia and the source of the Blue Nile. Flowing over 1,500 kilometers, snaking through Sudan, the Blue Nile joins the White Nile and is one of the world’s longest riverways. Lake Tana is a mystical place where time and history run deep. Nothing on that lake is more sacred than its flotilla of papyrus boats gliding across its waters like the wind.

Lake Tana Ethiopia

I had read about the papyrus boat fisherman in Selamta the in-flight magazine of Ethiopian Airlines. The article “Papyrus and Lake Tana” captivated my imagination of this mystical land and inspired me to get out of bed at the crack of dawn despite my jet lag and fatigue.

I rose at dawn to the muezzin call to prayer reflecting off the shores of Lake Tana. Although it was almost pitch black, I jumped out of bed in excitement knowing that the early morning hours of daylight was when the fisherman set off on their papyrus boats just like they have been doing for centuries. If I moved quickly, I’d be able to catch the thousands of traditional fishermen heading out across the mystical glossy still water of Lake Tana.

As much as I craved my morning cup of coffee, there was no time to waste because there in the distance I saw him. Like one of hundreds, the fisherman was heading out across the murky blue-brown waters of Lake Tana to start his day.

Lake Tana Ethiopia

An Escape to Bahir Dar

Our first trip outside of Addis Ababa was to Bahir Dar in Northern Ethiopia. I rose early to catch our short one hour flight and could hardly contain my excitement at finally being able to see the Ethiopian countryside. I had many pictures in my head of what I imagined it would be like and I was in no way disappointed.

I had been in the thick of the chaos and crazed life of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital for four full days when it was time to head out and see the more rural parts of the country, where over 85% of Ethiopia’s population of 90 million live.

Bahir Dar

Landing in Bahir Dar over spectacular Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest lake, is a site to see. Unfortunately I was a little too late with my camera but still got some of the beautiful, green countryside.

Northern Ethiopia has a wow factor that cannot be denied. Known as the Historical Circuit, this region has bragging rights to over two millennia of ancient history ranging from the world-famous tombs of Aksum, to the captivating castles of Gonder and the jaw-dropping Danakil Depression whose lava lake and plains is a must-see for adventure travelers.

SOS Children Ethiopia

SOS Children: Providing Ethiopia’s orphans the home they need

“A Loving Home for Every Child” – Motto written on a sign at the entrance of a SOS Children’s Village in Ethiopia.

SOS Children Ethiopia

A SOS Mother with one of her daughters.

One of the most heartwarming afternoons during my two-week trip to Ethiopia as a fellow for the International Reporting Project was spent visiting a SOS Children’s Village. SOS Children is an independent, non-governmental international development organization that provides loving homes for abandoned and orphaned children in 133 countries for almost 82,100 children. It was founded in 1949 by Austrian Hermann Gmeiner with the first SOS Children’s Village built in Imst, Austria as a home for children orphaned by World War II.

Today, SOS Children works to provide abandoned, destitute and orphaned children with a  loving, family based home. Every child in a SOS Village belongs to a family and is provided with a SOS Mother and “siblings” who are the other SOS Children living under the same roof. This allows the children to grow up in a family being loved and feeling secure. Within each village, there are up to fifteen families living together in a community and each family has up to ten children per house. It is a wonderful model and has had a huge impact on the children’s lives and futures.

SOS Children started working in Ethiopia in 1974 with the opening of the first village in Mekelle and over the years it has added six other villages caring for 1,645 children in SOS families. SOS Children’s education and training program unit has also benefited over 3,400 children and youth as well as children coming from the neighboring communities who are in need of services.

SOS Children Ethiopia

A child watches me curiously within one of SOS Ethiopia’s villages.

Africa Ethiopia Global Non-Profit Organizations and Social Good Enterprises SOCIAL GOOD
Addis Ababa

Uncovering Addis

Addis Ababa, which translates into “new flower”, was named by the wife of Emperor Menelik II in 1886 when she saw it looking down from Mount Entoto, the Emperor’s military base. Today, Africa’s highest capital at 7,546 feet (2,300 metres) is a chaotic, bustling city of around 3 million people.

Known as the political capital of Africa, housing the African Union, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and numerous other African and international organizations, Addis is in the midst of change. Everywhere you turn, there are buildings going up and new roads being built thanks to the Chinese and other foreign investors. A pell mell of slums, notoriously rundown, dirty and overcrowded weave in and out the city even up against some of the newest luxury hotels, buildings and homes.

Addis Ababa

View of Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa

Addis flower

Ethiopian mothers

Saving Ethiopia’s Mothers and Children: The Fight Continues

“If she wasn’t bleeding, she would have suffered like I did and delivered at home,” said Fasika’s* mother Menesch at a Lie and Wait center for expectant mothers in rural Ethiopia.

Menesch was inside the room with her expecting daughter Fasika while nursing her three-month-old daughter on a chair. It was Menesch’s eighth child who, like all the rest, she delivered at home with no trained labor assistant.

Ethiopian mother

Menesch cradling her with-child in her lap at the Lie and Wait house in rural Ethiopia.

Fasika was a mere 15 years old with baby fat still surrounding her cheeks and a shy smile that often looked down at her largely pregnant belly. Meeting Fasika and her mother on the last day of my trip was the defining moment of my two weeks of reporting on maternal and newborn health in Ethiopia.

Africa Ethiopia Global Health Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD Women and Girls
Faces of Ethiopia

The Faces of Ethiopia: A Photoblog

Ethiopia, a magical land of over 90 million people, is one of the most diverse nations in the world with over 83 distinct languages and 200 dialects. What stunned me the most about Ethiopians is how such a diverse group of people live in peace and harmony. Over half the population is Orthodox Christian and the next largest religious group is Muslims making up around 45% of the population. Despite their different religious beliefs, Muslims and Christians live side by side and oftentimes there can be a mixture of religions within families due to marriage. The main eight ethnic groups also live together peacefully which says a lot about this poverty-stricken nation in the heart of Africa.

While I was in Ethiopia these past two weeks, Oxford University released The Global Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI), ranking Ethiopia as the second poorest country in the world just ahead of Niger. The report claims that although Ethiopia has made some progress, Ethiopia is still home to more than 76 million poor people, the fifth largest number in the world after India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The report also claims that the highest percentage of poor live within the rural areas which is no surprise given the fact that over 85% of Ethiopians earn a living off the land.

Despite the often heartbreaking, overwhelming poverty of the Ethiopian people, the one thing they all seemed to have in common is resilience and resolve with their place in this world. I had never seen so many genuine, welcoming smiles upon their faces despite the hardships they face. I was always greeted with curiosity, warmth and kindness by the Ethiopians I met. Here are some of my favorite faces of Ethiopia.

Faces of Ethiopia

Africa Child Labor, Marriage, Education and Survival Ethiopia Global Health Global Issues Poverty SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Women and Girls
Children of Mosebo Village

Hope in the Struggle for Ethiopian Maternal and Newborn Care

Reaching Mosebo village, about 42 kilometers outside of Bahir Dar in rural Ethiopia is not for the faint at heart. It requires a land cruiser, patience, and a bit of adventure to cover the hour and a half drive on bumpy, muddy roads to reach Mosebo and see how over 90% of Ethiopians live. If it starts to rain as it frequently does during Ethiopia’s three month rainy season, the road becomes dangerous and impassable.

Rural Ethiopian women

Once you leave the tarmac, you reach endless gravel roads and see the way the majority of Ethiopians live.

I visited Mosebo village as an International Reporting Project fellow to learn more about the miraculous success Ethiopia has made by achieving MDG 4 – reducing child mortality rates for children under five by two-thirds. Ethiopia stunned the world by achieving MDG 4 well ahead of the 2015 deadline yet there is still much progress to be made in reducing newborn deaths, particularly within the first 28 days of life which are the most dangerous days to be alive.

Per Save the Children’s “Ending Newborn Deaths Report”, every year one million babies die on the first and only day of life accounting for 44% of all deaths for children under the age of five. Nearly two million more children will die within their first month. Four out of five of these deaths are due to preventable, treatable causes such as preterm birth, infections and complications during childbirth.

Child Labor, Marriage, Education and Survival Global Health Global Issues SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL TRAVEL BY REGION Women and Girls

A Snapshot of Ethiopia

I have been in Ethiopia as an International Reporting fellow for a little over a week now and it has been an amazing, eye-opening trip so far. I have learned so much about this beautiful landlocked country of 90 million people. I have been warmly welcomed into their lives and have enjoyed the curiosity of the children at my blond hair and light skin.  I am sure I will have stories and photos to share for months.

In the meantime, I would like to give you a snapshot of Ethiopia: The beautiful countryside, the warm geniune smiles of the children, the mix between tradition and modernity that encapsulates every aspect of Ethiopian life.

Mosebo village Ethiopia

Me with the children of Mosebo village.

Women vendors along the streets of Addis Ababa.

First Impressions of Ethiopia

I arrived early Sunday morning into Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, after a long haul flight from home. My day began Saturday at 3 am and after two fights totaling 16 hours I found myself in Africa’s highest capital Addis Ababa which translates into “new flower”.

Street shots of Addis Ababa

Street shots of Addis Ababa

The earliest people living in the Shewa region surrounding Addis Ababa date back to the 9th century and are believed to be the Gurage people. Over the centuries the Somalis and Abyssinian kingdoms laid claim to the land, followed by the arrival of the Oromo in the 1500s. The actual city of Addis Ababa was not founded until 1886 when Emperor Menelik II decided to move his military base from Mount Entoto to the vast fertile plains below of Addis Ababa.

Today, Addis Ababa is Ethiopia’s largest city with an estimated population of over 3 million people and is a magical place where tradition and modernity are intertwined in unexpected ways. Walking down the busy streets of Addis Ababa you can see high rises and western hotels reaching towards the sky juxtaposed with dirt sidewalks, donkeys leaving the market and undeveloped slums. It is a place filled with contradiction. Looking outside the window of my newly built luxurious western hotel lies one of many slums slightly hidden behind corrugated tin fences and walls. Men in well-tailored suits sit outside in a chairs along dirt sidewalks getting a shoe shine. High rise buildings are going up alongside a pell-mell of depressing slums. Everywhere you look is something that makes you scratch your head and wonder.

Africa CULTURE Ethiopia Global Issues Poverty SOCIAL GOOD TRAVEL BY REGION