“This has always been my dream. Thank you for helping me fulfill it.”
“I saw a change. In the beginning, the students were afraid. Now they are confident.”
It started with 18 teenagers in Ethiopia, orphaned by AIDS and living with the virus themselves. Before antiretroviral therapy (ART) became accessible in 2005, our partner was more of a hospice than a children’s home. Now, kids live well into their teens and beyond. These particular teens were the first from our local partner NGO to move from institutional life at a larger compound to smaller, family-like transition homes last year. The purpose? For them to learn how to do just that - transition to the next phase of life: adulthood and independence.
· Help the youth develop self-esteem, a sense of hope for the future, and a belief in their own capabilities
· Learn important lessons about self-discipline, commitment and time management
· Cultivate personal interests, talents and skills that could help with self-sufficiency later in life
After months of research and planning, activities finally kicked off this July with classes in videography, drawing and painting, theatre and traditional and modern music and dance, all taught by local professionals from Music Mayday Ethiopia. They run a program which trains young Ethiopians in the arts, preparing them for professional careers as artists and activists in a city whose urban middle class and a hunger for the arts is on the rise. As an overarching benefit, the arts also provide a much-needed vehicle for self-expression, self-esteem building, and emotional therapy for youth who are isolated, depressed, traumatized and faced with a number of social challenges living with HIV in a country where the stigma is so high that most youth keep their health and orphan status a secret from peers, teachers and the rest of the “outside” community.
The pilot ended after 6.5 weeks with a professional performance by each class and a graduation ceremony-turned-dance party and the energy in the room was absolutely electric.
· Involvement in other classes (summer school, computer class, and English class)
· Transportation and logistical issues
· Simply not wanting to partake in activities that the younger kids were doing as well
Though we are continuing to prioritize activities for the older youth (including a 24-module Life Skills class taught by DOT Ethiopia which just started last week), we saw a real benefit from involving the younger kids (roughly 9-14 years old) in this pilot: a level of energy and motivation that we’d never before seen from these kids – many of whom otherwise sat quietly in a dark room in the compound. These kids weren’t as fussed about transportation issues as the older ones were. They took advantage of the extra time on campus to practice dancing or playing the piano before and after class. Their excitement and commitment to the program was inspiring, reminding us that developing interests and motivation at an early age builds momentum for a deeper impact in the future. We hope to sustain activities for the younger kids as we see it as a critical component of their psychosocial development.
Further, the need for what we thought of as traditional vocational trainings (wood and metal work, handicrafts, etc.) is less dire. School grades are improving and the youth are passing national exam milestones, which gives them a greater chance to attend the publicly funded university down the road. So, instead of wood work, technology is a big interest. Music, photography, and other forms of expressive art are also big. And regardless of whether these interests actually lead directly to related jobs in the future, there is a real benefit from getting the youth involved in something that will give them a sense of purpose, confidence and hope.
The bottom line: it’s a learning process. Parents around the world can identify with the challenge of finding that special thing that will motivate their children to become independent adults who make safe life choices and contribute positively to their communities. Add the issues that these incredible youth in Ethiopia are faced with daily and it becomes a more complex challenge. It takes patience, nurturing, and a willingness to make changes to our programs while keeping up with what works.