Ethiopia: Lessons Learned

13 12 2010

As I continue my time here in Ethiopia, I’d like to share with you the continuation of a story we shared with you last Holiday Season, as part of our Hope for the Holiday’s Program.

Last year on our trip to Ethiopia we had the joy of meeting one of the most inspiring women I’ve ever met – Zemzem.  A few years ago she was the enrolled in a family empowerment program with one of our member organizations.  The program gave her the skills she needed to start a small retail store in her area.  Although I will not have the opportunity to visit Zemzem on this trip, I did have the opportunity to meet with a friend who just visited Zemzem in her village a few days ago.  And I’m pleased to let you know that Zemzem and her family are doing fantastic!

Zemzem went from extreme poverty to a prospering business owner in less than 2 years.

A few years ago before the family empowerment program was available, Zemzem relinquished one of her children due to her extreme poverty.  But now her three children have been enrolled in school and she has expanded her business extensively.  She built an addition to the front of her store to give her more space to sell her goods.  She has started to wholesale corn and other grains from the back of the store.  She has even started to import/export goods from her village, which brings in 20 birr/day alone.  My friend informed me that she is now the richest person in the village!  We joked that she now owns and runs the local 7-11!  All of this with a small investment of funds and resources a few years ago by one of our member organizations!  Zemzem and her three children represents just one the 1.2 million families served by Joint Council and our member organizations in Ethiopia.

It is great to know that Zemzem and her children have been transformed from poverty and relinquishment to relative prosperity and a secure family.  She has taught us all a lesson on the importance of empowering women.  Another lesson on how to transform lives may sound a little odd, but it is one that this trip has reconfirmed – go with the flow and accept that things are going to change.

Despite my excitement to travel to Hosanna on Saturday to see the work of our member organizations and orphanages in Hosanna I was unable to make the three hour trip yesterday.  Instead I’ve spent the last two days working with local NGO’s and the U.S. Embassy on assessing the current intercountry adoptions system; the larger child welfare and permanency issues; strategizing on how to serve more children and families, in more ways; ensuring ethical adoptions continue; and eliminating unethical practices.

The on-going theme of these meetings – one bad apple spoils the entire system and hinders those who ethically provide a spectrum of services to children and families.  It’s become clear that if we are going to ensure ethical intercountry adoptions continue the community must come together to ensure that any unethical practices are stopped.    This, as I’ve mentioned, before can be very difficult.  Failing to curtail abuses has in many ways contributed to the closure of intercountry adoption in Romania, Kyrgyzstan, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  Joint Council and many others are committed to ensuring that this does not occur in Ethiopia.

One of the reason’s Joint Council’s work is so important is that we collaborate with a wide and deep variety of organizations – from the U.S. Dept of State in Washington D.C., to U.S. Consular Officers in each country.  From foreign government officials and NGOs to UNICEF.  And from our member organizations to adoptive families.  Having such extensive networks in so many countries provides us with a unique vantage point and means of serving children and families.  Just one example is an idea that started three weeks ago at Joint Council’s office –providing training to adoption service provider staff in Ethiopia on ethics and proper intake of children.  Through consultations with our Ethiopia Caucus (four conference calls in four weeks) the training idea expanded to include the need to empower our Ethiopian colleagues and utilize their leadership.  Upon my arrival and conversation with the U.S. Embassy the training plans expanded to include the orphanages (which are in charge of the intake of children for adoption) and regional governments.  Through further consultation with Ethiopian NGO’s over the last two days the training plans may now include a partnership with the Ethiopian government for training of the regional head’s of the Ministry of Woman’s Affairs, Foreign Affairs, and the Regional Police.  These individuals could then train their staff, who will train the Kabelas and local orphanages.

I’m sure that by the end of my trip, during which I’ll meet with three different Ministries in the Ethiopian government our plans for training will continue to grow and improve.  Through this type of work with our networks, partners, members and colleagues we truly have a unique role as a gatherer and leader in the global child welfare community.  And this work directly impacts children and families.

A series of meetings may sound a little boring, but not when you see the results.  Not when you see children leaving the depravity of an orphanage and living in a family or when you see Zemzem prospering and not having to relinquish another child.  Sometimes you have to get down and hold a child with your arms and other times you hold them by having a meeting.

Today and tomorrow are the most active days of the Ethiopian leg of my trip.  Just today alone I will meet with four different Embassies, UNICEF, two Ministries of the Ethiopian government, and four local NGO’s.  I just have to remember that going with the flow can end up keeping a family together or creating a new one.

More tomorrow…




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