Starving children too weak to swat away flies sticking to their tear-stained and snot-smeared faces as portrayed by Live Aid in the 1980's? People dying in squalor, leaving behind orphaned and HIV positive children due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 1990's? Though a product of their time, such startling images have done much damage to our perceptions, leaving the impression of a country where locals have neither dignity or the power to influence their lives and communities.
Instead, we think of Ethiopia as a vast and varied landscape, having both a vibrant history and a growing, developing economy. A country able to assist its citizens by addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis via health education and ARV's and with a dynamic generation of young people who are developing responses, solutions and creating local technologies to help their fellow citizens.
It is this view of Ethiopia which informs our work with our partner organization in Addis Ababa. We are convinced that local, grassroots projects best serve local communities - our role is to simply empower them, rather than paternalistically exporting and enforcing western ideas of what works best. UNICEF advises the international support of community-based responses to the AIDS crisis, including "strengthening young people's life and survival skills" (2003). And as our partner and we are aware, children affected by HIV who were once coming for hospice care are now reaching young adulthood, and require the self-confidence and skills to become successfully self-sufficient .
The vocational program we fund has not been without its challenges, including attendance issues and a lack of full commitment from some of the youth (revealing perhaps deeper issues to be addressed). But its success stories include two of the eldest young adults who are making strides towards successfully leading independent lives:
- 'David' got a job as a trainer at the center where his skills training took place because he excelled on his course and his attendance was excellent. Our partner will cover his rent, medical and clothing expenses for the next six months and will help him gain additional skills; he is interested getting his driving license for example. In the meantime, he is expected to cover his own food, sanitation and transport costs using his salary.
- 'Sam' is 20 years old, had finished school and was looking for a career. He was hired at a women's beauty salon after completing the skills training offered in women's hair-dressing.
Further, our partner is convinced that these courses are beneficial: 'We have 10 youth who will complete their high school education this school year. I hope all of them will make it to college /vocational training institutions. I think engaging these youth in additional vocational skill trainings will make a difference in their careers.'
Thank you to the eBay Foundation and to our generous donors who support this project, knowing that real transformation requires patience, time, and locally-led solutions.
Read why faces have been obscured and names changed in this post: Protecting Identities: why it's critical to our work