Join Hands Join Heart: A 20 years Journey in Ethiopia | Serena Suen

[ ‘SHARE’ Nov-Dec 2015 ] FOCUS ~ MINISTRY

Written by: Serena Suen (Programme Officer)

In the past 20 years, Hong Kong was returned to China, experienced the Asian Financial Crisis, overcame SARS, went through the Umbrella Movement and experienced many more events. Across the globe in Ethiopia, its capital city Addis Ababa also came out of a 17-year civil war and survived the notorious famine which took 400,000 lives. As the country gradually moved out of the shadow of famine and achieved the highest economic growth in Africa, a generation of children has grown up as well.

Addis Ababa Geunet Church (AAGC), CEDAR’s long term partner in the city, has walked with 559 children and their families in the past 20 years. In January 2015, we conducted a review with AAGC to trace God’s grace throughout the years and to seek how we can better serve the children and the community.

A Girl Whose Name Means “Trouble”

Sentayehu Ahmedin is the name of a girl that means “why there are so much trouble”. It is beyond one’s comprehension why her parents would name their child with such negativity and hopelessness. But after visiting their home, I realised the name quite accurately describes the circumstances the family has been going through.

Sentayehu’s father died when she was just a baby. At the age of three, her mother took her to the hospital because she was still unable to stand and walk by herself. She was diagnosed with severe malnourishment and had to receive immediate therapeutic feeding for six months. Sadly, damages were already done to her mental development and eyesight. Sentayehu joined the AAGC Child Sponsorship Programme ten years ago, she is now 15 years old but is only in Grade seven due to her slowness in  learning.

pic1Sentayehu holding Mehret’s hand as Sentayahu led us way to her home.

On the day of our visit, Sentayehu greeted us on the main road and we saw how her social worker Mehret was holding her hand when Sentayehu led us down the maze-like alleyways of the slum, inside which her mother and she lives. In the dark damp single-room hut, her mother greeted us on the bed as she had just returned from an eye surgery, the fee being paid from the emergency fund in her Self-help Group (SHG). She shared with us that due to her ill health, she lost her stall in the market where she used to sell grocery to earn a living.

AAGC team demonstrated what it means to be a good neighbour to Sentayehu’s family by bringing love and comfort, and mobilising church and community members in the SHG to help Sentayehu’s mother in times of need. The family is still struggling to make ends meet, but through the efforts of AAGC, the family is not alone in this life journey.

pic2Sentayehu, her mother and Mehret, the social worker

Sowing Seeds of Faith Among Muslim and Orthodox Christian Children

Although meeting physical needs is important during a person’s growing process, what matters most is often the people who accompany and influence that person. On average, each AAGC Team member has served in the children work for more than 14 years and they have very much become parent-like mentors and crucial Christian role models for many of these children that are growing up in harsh environment.

Children supported by AAGC are all from the poorest of the poor families, some of them are from Orthodox Christian and Muslim families. Through Sunday schools, regular home visits from social workers, social activities and church events, every child and his/her family experience being part of a bigger family. Throughout the years, the team has witnessed children from Muslim and Orthodox Christian families seeing the value of Christian faith and being influenced by it. A Muslim graduate shared with us how blessed she felt to be part of the programme, and that she tried her best to contribute to the society through regular blood donations and serving in an elderly home. Another Muslim graduate also donated children books to the AAGC library and asked the team to invite her to their church’s Christmas celebration. A graduate with previous Orthodox Christian background moved to the USA to work as a military dentist and came to accepted Christ there, and when he went back to Addis Ababa to visit his family, he also sought the AAGC team to tell them the good news! Another graduate who moved to Saudi Arabia to work as a maid also came to Christ while working there.

All of these stories come together to make a beautiful tapestry woven with God’s love flowing through the AAGC team. Seeds of faith were sowed through the social workers’ loving efforts to care for the children holistically and by faithfully living out a true Christian life. When asked what excites the team most, they said it was seeing the children coming to Christ and being able to support their families.

Self-Help Groups – Empowering Families to Help Themselves and Their Community

As Ethiopian society rapidly changes, in 2011 the concept of Self-help Groups (SHGs) was introduced to AAGC by CEDAR in hope of strengthening the capacity of parents and guardians of the sponsored children to improve their family situation, and walk out of poverty in the long run. SHG is a sustainable approach that encourages its members to manage their resources, however limited, by learning how to cut cost and save money collectively. The group will build up a resource pool from which members can take a low interest loan for income generating activities to improve their living. Since 2011, we have over 250 members in 12 SHGs.

Mehret’s mother has just given birth to a second child and finds it hard to work outside the home. So she recently took a loan from her SHG to start a small grocery shop on a steep slope where her tin-sheet home is also located. She shared with us how she hopes to bless her family and her community with this small shop as people no longer need to walk a long way to buy grocery.

Apart from pooling in resources, SHGs also empower individuals by offering a platform for them to receive training, engage in decision-making processes, exchange good business ideas and even parental issues!

Yidenakachew’s grandmother has to help her two struggling daughters to raise four children. She was able to take loans from her SHG to start a small business selling the local delicacy – Injera on the streets. She can now provide for her grandchildren but her concern now is how to raise them to follow God’s way and she asked us to pray for her in this long journey.

pic3Mehret with her mother and young sister in their new grocery shop.

Teaching the children to follow God’s way is a common concern shared by many SHG members. The SHGs offer much needed support to parents and guardians as they can share parental tips and even exert pressure on the local council to put up street lights in their slums to safeguard their daughters’ safety when they return late from school. Through SHGs, we can witness that when people come together, the capacity to transform individuals, families, communities is much greater.

Entering the 21st Year…

God has entrusted us with 165 children as we step into the 21st year. It is our sincere hope that we can work with AAGC to better care for these children.

A Nigerian proverb says, “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” In the urban village, with its rapid development, inflation caused by economic development, high rent and new challenges for vulnerable families, we believe it requires a lot of unity and cooperation within the church community to raise these 165 children and many more others entrusted to AAGC. In the upcoming years, we hope to mobilise more people to be involved in the process, such as those graduates over the past 20 years are indeed great living stories to encourage the children. We hope to see more graduates being mobilised and be willing to take up the baton to become role models for their younger counterparts.

It is our hope to see these 165 children and their families to be able to thrive physically and spiritually, and this definitely takes more than the effort of the AAGC team. This involves the wider church community and also us here in Hong Kong, through prayers, offering, or even sharing parental tips or business ideas!

pic4The next generation.

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