The Vulnerable 5 Million: How Ethiopia’s Vulnerable Children Challenge Spurred UsTo Found A Non-Profit
June 15, 2021
The Vulnerable 5 Million: How Ethiopia’s Vulnerable Children Challenge Spurred Us To Found A Non-Profit
That is the number of orphaned and other vulnerable children in Ethiopia. In the fastest-growing economy in Africa, millions of children face challenges with mortality, educational opportunities, and economic insecurity. As an Ethiopian-American, born in the horn of Africa and educated in the states, I moved through life completely unaware of this staggering number.
In late 2015, after 15 years of not visiting my home country, my husband, Zee, and I decided to take a trip accompanied by our two biological daughters Adona, then seven years old, and Amran, then five. After days of visiting family and exploring the country that we dearly missed, a relative urged us to visit an orphanage on the very last day of our trip, which we thought was random but obliged. Looking back and connecting all the dots, there was nothing random about it. It was all meant to be.
As we walked into the orphanage, I was greeted by a little boy named Binyam, who ran up to me and asked me to pick him up. As I scooped him up, our eyes met and we both smiled. With the sweetest voice ever, he called me “mommy”. There was something about Binyam’s “mommy” that completely stirred my heart beyond my own understanding. The orphanage was a private one and nicely kept. The kids looked well taken care of. But, I remember saying to myself, this orphanage gave these kids everything they needed except the one thing they need the most: someone they can call their own mommy and daddy. I wanted to take Binyam home with us, but he was on the path of being adopted by a family from Europe. Adoption would be an impossibility. We left the orphanage saddened but invigorated. Binyam’s warmth and love, despite his circumstances, shifted my perspective. There was something substantive we could do to help. From that day on, my husband, Zee and I were committed to adopting.
From there, we immediately began the adoption process for Simon and Stephen, twin, infant, orphan boys. We were told it would only take six months. In my naivety, I figured our boys would be home by Christmas 2016. Six agonizing months came and went. Then another six months. Our boys still weren’t with us. After an extended time of building our relationship with the boys, it began to feel as if we were a family divided between a vast ocean and thousands of miles. But as painful as it was, looking back now, I’m very grateful for that wait. It was during this time that I became a voracious researcher, reading everything I could about the vulnerable children in Ethiopia and the five million in need of care, safety, and opportunity.
When we finally got our boys in late 2017 (two months before their second birthday), we couldn’t ignore all that we had learned about the fate of the five million vulnerable children in Ethiopia. To make matters worse, the Ethiopian Parliament shutdown international adoption. Our boys were the few last to leave before it was completely closed. Between what we learned about the orphan challenge in Ethiopia and the ban on international adoption, we couldn’t be content just rescuing our two boys.
That’s why we founded our organization OCE (Orphan Care Ethiopia), a 501(C)(3) charity based in McLean VA, serving vulnerable children in Ethiopia. We began by supporting the private orphanage where we found our boys, then added one government baby orphanage in 2017 where our boys were first admitted when they were abandoned as infants. In 2018, we added three more orphanages. In 2019, we added at risk community kids from 15 destitute neighborhoods and moms from three different homeless shelters.
Our vision is, first and most, to bring about a mindset change on how vulnerable children are perceived. That’s where it all begins. People need to see them important enough to want to help them. It’s one thing to care for children in a few orphanages, but completely another to bring awakening in the entire society and run a national movement. The enlightenment of society as a whole is what brings a true social change and sustains it.
Our goal, every single day, is to mobilize Ethiopians in-country to care for vulnerable children in their community. Big problems need big solutions. Our motto is to find a local solution to this local problem by the local people. That’s why three years ago, we launched a national mentoring movement for the care of vulnerable children. Since then, we mobilized over 1,140 volunteers to address the physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs of children at orphanages, in homeless shelters, on the streets, and in at-risk communities by enrolling in one or more of our seven strategic programs. The impact and transformation has been phenomenal. This movement has five different elements: the local community, the OCE seven programs. Government policy, media, and other NGOs. Each has a big part to play.
At the moment, we are serving children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. And have developed a ten-year strategic plan to reach all parts of the country. Local Ethiopians have been doing an amazing job — either by adopting a child and introducing them into their homes or meeting the kids where they are, providing volunteer services such as tutoring, mentoring, medical, childcare, etc… we designed our programs in a way locals can give their time, energy knowledge, skills, resources and expertise, for the betterment of orphans and other vulnerable children in their community.
I would be remiss if I did not give a special thanks to the wonderful couple here in Washington DC, Allyn and Phil Jones, who are mentors and long time friends of Zee and I. They have been walking each step of this journey with us, by continuously investing their time, energy, expertise and resources. Their generosity is the fuel for us running this national mentoring movement in Ethiopia, and the source of our passion for enabling the next generation of givers to lend their time and resources to a population that needs it the most.
Please join the OCE national mentoring movement for the care of orphans and other vulnerable children in Ethiopia. Together, we can grow five million hearts for the care of five million vulnerable children in Ethiopia and eradicate this challenge. For more on our organization, please visit us at www.orphancareethiopia.org
Naomi Haile, Founder and Executive Director