The Ethiopian famine of 1984-5 devastated the country.
Two groups – one from the Anglican church in Addis Ababa and the other from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church – resolved to care for 1,000 orphan children.
We formed two charities, one in Ethiopia and one in the UK, and set up
In due course the children grew up and we carried out an evaluation
exercise. We realised that however good the orphanages were,
it is never right to remove children from their home communities.
So we did two things.
First we resettled all the children, who were now young adults, wherever possible in their home communities and often we found members of their extended families to support them.
Then we closed the orphanages.
This was a revolutionary and even shocking action. But it led to a new beginning as we transformed the orphanages into training centres and slowly developed our new community-based approach.
From these new branch offices and training centres, we worked with local people and the regional government to identify the poorest communities and the leaders within them.
When we identified the places in greatest need, we spent months talking and discussing
with local people in the communities in order to understand what changes were needed
to make the communities places where all children could grow up healthy, happy and
There was always a long list of actions needed:
placing orphans with guardian families and helping these families build a small
business to ensure a long term income
supporting children at school with tutorial programmes
training families to grow vegetables and keep chickens through our urban agriculture
setting up self help groups for women caring for vulnerable children
caring for people living with HIV/AIDS
training youth to gain skills for employment
providing water points, toilets, and showers
They identify the needs - we work with them to make the changes.
We call this an ‘integrated’ approach.
We have continued to develop this basic model. The first groups have now become independent and have also set up social enterprise businesses to ensure a regular income and so financial sustainability.
We have worked with established community groups, such as iddirs which were originally formed to provide for funeral costs for members, to set up development projects.
We are now working with government ministries to extend our approach to new areas.
For example we are now working for the first time in the capital Addis Ababa and also, at the other extreme, working in rural communities in the south to address issues facing girls at school from early marriage, gender based violence, problems with hygiene during menstruation. Just two of our exciting new initiatives.
We are also working together with agencies in other parts of Africa, providing training in finance management and other skills, to pass on our experience more widely.
Our key commitment is that local people can change their own communities but need partnership and training to do this.
And as we build relationships with our supporters in the global north, this brings insights, benefits and encouragement to communities in the UK as well.