By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb
Addis Abeba – Adeferes Abera is a father of three in Aleletu, a small town in North Shewa zone of Oromia regional state, got the chance to enroll his daughter in the Ethiopian Children Fund school. “I got the chance when woreda officials selected families with low income. As you can see, my livelihood depends on this cart which is not enough to pay school fees and expenses of the family,” he said expressing joy.
According to Adeferes, the school is very important in deciding the future of children whose families are incapable of teaching them due to economic constraints they have. “What I can tell you about the school is that the curriculum they offer and the discipline they teach these children can be an example for other schools to follow. The difference is visible in my home with the other children of mine.” Adeferes said that he was grateful for the school founder.
And yet, the school’s importance and its impact were never given the due attention needed, still, the Ethiopian Children’s Fund (ECF) has been contributing immensely to building hopes for the next generation. EFC is a non-governmental organization dedicated to helping the most vulnerable, primarily children without parents.
Its flagship in Ethiopia is its Education & Development Program in Aleletu (EDP), an innovative integrated establishment for the protection and development of disadvantaged children and their communities suffering from extreme poverty and health problems such as HIV/AIDS. ECF describes its approach as a holistic that is guided by the principle of “first call for children” that is also rooted in the understanding that the early years of any human being are critical formative years. ECF argues that deprivation during childhood results in a lifetime of irreversible damage. On the other hand, it contends that children are the best social and economic investments that can be made, privately or publicly, especially if the future is to be better.
ECF aims to assist children on the brink: those who are destitute, have lost one or both parents, or have been abandoned and are at great risk of harm and further disadvantage. ECF delves into seeking to demonstrate an innovative approach that tends to assist and empower families and communities to care and support highly disadvantaged children in great need of help.
Accordingly, its holistic approach constitutes, Education and Counseling, taken as a central ECF goal and a means; Health where it offers health care services and promotes preventative behaviors to spare the children from major threats to their survival and well-being; Nutrition to address malnourishment that poses a grave danger to a young child’s health, and that thwarts their ability to learn and develop.
ECF comprises a total of 92 staff of whom 40 are teachers teaching Amharic, Afaan Oromoo, and English languages.
Samuel Belay is a professional teacher and the current director of the Ethiopian Children Fund school found on the outskirts of Aleletu town. He said, “ECF was built for highly disadvantaged members of the societies living in the town and nearby,” he continues “We are not only providing education for the children but also well-prepared school meals, learning materials school uniforms, and healthcare services for free.”
Samuel explained that they are providing vulnerable children with all what is needed for education in an effort to prevent them from becoming street children due to financial limitations of their parents. According to Samuel, the school has been very important for the community since its foundation two decades ago, it started with children affected by HIV/AIDS including those left without families. The school started with only 70 students, some of whom were orphans, and continued growing until it reached its current capacity of 750 students.
“I do believe that this school changed the fate of the students of the nearby community for good. For example, we have six alumni as teachers currently,” said Samuel, adding that former students of ECF are serving throughout the country in different positions. The progress of ECF was very promising through the years. “ECF village starts with kindergarten and offers education up to grade eight. We do have a plan to open a high school in the future.” said the school director. ECF comprises a total of 92 staff of whom 40 are teachers teaching Amharic, Afaan Oromoo, and English languages.
ECF was supporting the community prior to Covid-19 pandemic by providing food and nonfood as well as other basic items, according to Samuel. “Especially during the foundation of the ECF village, it had been working on awareness creation on the HIV pandemic. ECF is also now carrying out the same awareness program in relation to coronavirus pandemic.” Samuel added. ECF also renewed a huge water pump essential for the community, but that ceased functioning for some time, paying more than half a million ETB for maintenance.
According to Samuel, ECF is mainly supported by donors and the African Mosaique annual fundraising show which is led by the founder of both institutions, designer and supermodel Anna Getaneh. “Our compound has a lot of activities beyond the teaching-learning activity. We do have farming and animal husbandry in which the products will be used for the compound consumption only,” Samuel added.
“I am so grateful for Anna, the founder of ECF. She is the best example of an Ethiopian role model, working tirelessly and without boredom for the last 26 years”Samuel Belay
According to the school director, the goal of EFC is to make sure the school will sustain itself by generating income on the land they own. “We are on our way to start poultry and also plan to produce vegetables.”
“I am so grateful for Anna, the founder of ECF. She is the best example of an Ethiopian role model, working tirelessly and without boredom for the last 26 years. I know there will be many issues that could have killed hope, but despite all odds, she is doing a great job by creating a bright future for the vulnerable children and community.”
Abebe Ketema is a nurse and the head of ECF’s clinic. He is looking after the health of the ECF community. “We do have very well-organized health data system for our students,” he said, adding “I have been working here for the last 11 years. Our main activities are based on prevention of diseases by creating awareness and practicing health guidelines inside the compound.” According to him, the students have a full medical checkup every September before starting the academic year. He explained that after the checkup, a special follow-up file is opened and for those who have cases, this is done in collaboration with the woreda health bureau which will provide further medical attention. “The medical treatment service sometimes extends to the families who are incapable of paying for health bills.
The other responsibility of the clinic is to follow up on the preparation of the student’s meals. “The meal preparation has nine department members. We have our own menu which includes providing milk for the students from kindergarten up to grade three from products of our own animal husbandry,” said Abebe.
Adding, “the good thing is that, since reproductive health and other hygiene-related awareness are given, we are able to encourage female students to come and take sanitary pads anytime without any fear or psychological trauma.”
Daniel Derebe is an alumnus of the ECF. He recalled his childhood at ECF saying, “I was in the second batch of ECF. I have been in ECF starting from kindergarten to grade eight then I joined the town’s high school. However, ECF assistance was there until I finished university. Now, I am lucky to serve this school as a teacher where I feel the students as my children.”
“I come from a struggling working family, life is harsh and challenging.”Tigest Jemaneh
Habetamu Gezu, a student at the ECF, called the ECF a “second home”. Habetamu is a grade Eight student at ECF. He said, “Since I come from a family that is dependent on daily labor works, we have been facing serious financial challenges until we get lots of support from the ECF.” He added that his sister is also an alumnus of the school. “In addition to the full sponsorship of the schooling, during the coronavirus pandemic, the ECF supported our family and the community by providing basic food and hygiene supplements,” said Habtamu further reaffirming that the ECF has been making sure that all the students are healthy including providing support for referral medical treatment up to covering the cost for specialized hospitals.
Tigest Jemaneh, another grade eight student at ECF also added that the school meal project helps the students and their families to stop worrying about meals. “I come from a struggling working family, life is harsh and challenging. But ever since the ECF started supporting me and my family in many ways which included providing school uniforms, sanitary pads and so on, it became easier for me to go to school,” said Tigist.
Anna Getaneh, the founder, and Chair of ECF said that their goal was to reach 700 children by the end of 2016 G.C, and admitted her surprise how they have exceeded 1,000 children and continue helping thousands through their community outreach programs.
“Our international structure remains 100% pro-bono. But as much progress as we have made, however, ECF Village does not have a secure future without an Endowment Fund and child sponsors for all the children,” said Anna while appealing to all friends and supporters, to come on board and help sustain ECF Village. AS