Very early this morning, as the sun was rising above the streets of Addis Ababa, I watched the city welcome a new day. As I watched the city awaken – the women walking to start their day’s work, the soon-to-be world class runners going for their morning jog and the donkeys slowly march the grains to the market – I reflected on the lesson this and every advocacy trip reinforces: the best way to serve children is to collaborate-to work together everyday.
Earlier this year while in Port-au-Prince, Joint Council hosted a meeting of our colleagues working to serve the children and families of Haiti. As Tom and I conducted the meeting it became evident that some of the organizations working in the same city, in the same district, in the same camps were not communicating and in fact didn’t even know the other organizations existed. One organization talked about their struggles to create a new foster family program in Port-au-Prince while in the meeting room was another organization who had already developed a foster care program years ago. They had trained foster families, and placed children in foster homes. All of this in the same city, the same district, the same camp. Yet this was the first time they met. A few months later, the two organizations are now working together and instead of ‘recreating the wheel’, they are sharing resources and getting more kids off the streets and into families. This is why the work of Joint Council is so important – we bring people together, we find common ground, common needs and shared resources. And through what is often a simple introduction, more children get the help they need.
More than once this past week in Addis Ababa a similar scene was repeated. Over the last year three different, well-respect organizations, governmental bodies and inter-governmental bodies created standards for orphanage care and for de-institutionalization in Ethiopia. Imagine if their energies had been focused on a collaborative effort to produce one set of standards. Imagine how less confusing it would be for the very caregivers who are supposed to follow the standards. And imagine how many more children could receive better care in the orphanages if they had worked together.
The same is true for rooting out corruption in the child welfare system , or to put it as Ambassador Jacobs said, “to do it right.” There is so much going right in Ethiopia. From a ground breaking foster care program put in place by Buckner International to the Family Empowerment Program established by Wide Horizons For Children. From the HIV/AIDS programs of World Wide Orphans to the long-term care facility run by Adoption Advocates International. Yes, much is being done right.
But there are concerns about unethical practices and abuse. If we are going to eliminate overt corruption then it will take all of us working together. We are all responsible for helping children and we all play a vital role in making sure it happens ethically. And if we are not fighting to end the corruption, are we not complacent in it? No one government, no one NGO and no one individual can do it alone. It must be done together.
This week, I met with government officials from Ethiopia, the US, Italy and Spain. I worked with UNICEF, Ethiopian NGOs and US Adoption Service Providers. I even met with local child welfare leaders. From these meetings I could see that collaborative efforts were in fact underway. This being said, I also saw many barriers that keep people from working together. Some in the child protection community refuse to share information with Adoption Service Providers. Too many leaders of NGOs will not meet with the leaders of other NGOs. And perhaps most sadly, while some shared with me their concerns about specific incidents of abuse, it was not reported to any government authority. Failures to share information, declining invitations to work with one another and refusing to report abuse all contribute in some way to the violation of the rights of children and families. If we are in fact going to make it right, I hope we can expand on the collaboration that does exist and truly work for the best interest of the children.
P.S. I’m heading to Johannesburg, South Africa today but my blog posts won’t stop. You’ll be able to follow my very different journey in Johannesburg while I help care for children without families.