Saturday, October 28, 2006

Launching of Hiwot (Life) Campaign

I want to thank you all for attending the launching the Hiwot (Life) Campaign on Friday, October 27th, as the Hiwot Campaign is one stage in a vision I have to create change in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia. The essence of this vision is to alter the lives of children who have brought clarity to my life.

Through the Hiwot Campaign, Alif aims to send 50 orphans and vulnerable children to school next year. However, in addition to giving these 50 children the opportunity to obtain an education, the Hiwot Campaign’s dual impact, both an immediate and long-term effect on the lives of children and Ethiopia, is the vital component of the campaign.

This initiative provides poor family’s the ability to secure food, shelter and other basic necessities, which address the immediate impact of poverty. The long-term effect of the Hiwot Campaign, is seen in affording a child an education, which enhances a child’s and Ethiopia’s human capital, thus aiding in breaking the generational cycle/transmission of poverty.

Join the Hiwot Campaign and let’s change lives by investing in a child’s education and future!

I thank you again for attending and your interest in the Hiwot Campaign,

Click here to join the Hiwot Campaign!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

ETHIOPIA: Nearly half of the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS

Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the world with nearly half of the children having lost at least one of their parents. A government official said on Tuesday that HIV/AIDS, disease, hunger and poverty threatened to drive the number of orphaned children from 11 percent to 43 percent of the 45 million children in Ethiopia by 2010.

This could mean some 19 million children will have lost one or both of their parents, according to the figures, said Bulti Gutema, the head of the government's taskforce on the problem of orphans and vulnerable children. He said the figures were based on projections by the health ministry.

Bulti said antiretroviral drugs are vital in curbing the explosion but less than five percent got the drugs. Cheap antibiotics costing less than US $0.03 cents could also cut the numbers of child deaths from HIV/AIDS in the country by half but less than one per cent of the children got them, he added."This is a huge problem," he said at the launch of a new initiative to highlight the problem and bridge the massive funding gap that exists.

The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimate that looking after each orphaned child in Ethiopia would cost around $300 a year, totalling some $1.38 billion. But the organisation has less than $10 million available even though Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the world. Some 300,000 children already live on the streets, according to the UN body.Bjorn Ljungqvist, head of UNICEF Ethiopia said the scale of the crisis was daunting.

"It is easy to stand and look at the problem from a distance and wring our hands at how big and impossible the problem is," he said. "But we must confront this."

The warning came as UNICEF launched a global campaign focusing on the enormous impact of HIV/AIDS on children. Worldwide, fewer than five percent of HIV-positive children receive treatment and millions of children who have lost parents to the disease go without support. There are currently 4.6 million orphans in Ethiopia - with around 540,000 of them having been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

ETHIOPIA: Poverty forcing girls into risky sex work

The nightclubs of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, reveal a thriving sex industry, in which thousands of skimpily dressed young women trade sexual favours for cash to survive, putting them at risk of contracting HIV and spreading the disease.

Extreme poverty has forced many girls into the sex trade. Helen Chane (not her real name), a grade 10 student aged 17, became a commercial sex worker after her parents died from AIDS-related illnesses about a year ago.

"I support my grandmother and sister; I sleep with students during the day and I have customers that I find through brokers at night," she said. "I do not need to go to the street, the brokers bring them to me."

Sex work in Addis is usually linked to establishments such as restaurants, bars, hotels and nightclubs frequented by wealthy expatriates or local businessmen, but the city also has residential houses that function as unlicensed brothels.

According to a 2002 census in Addis by the American healthcare agency, Family Health International (FHI), 8,134 establishment-based sex workers were identified in the capital, 60 percent of whom were aged between 15 and 24. Clients are increasingly targeting high school students, domestic workers and even children - the perception is that these groups are less likely to have the HI virus than those openly selling sex.

Click here to read the entire article!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

An Overview of Adolesence in Ethiopia

Via: Unicef
Adolescence is a critical stage of development, a transition from childhood to adult, a period marked by physical, emotional and social changes. Ethiopian face the challenges of adolescence.

• An estimated 2.3 million Ethiopians are infected with HIV and close to 1.2 million are HIV/AIDS orphans

• Poverty, about 82 per cent of the population survives on less than 1dollar a day.

• Harmful traditional practices (HTPs). Abduction and early marriage are widely practiced in most parts of rural Ethiopia. Female genital mutilation (FGM) contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS.

• Nearly 4.9 million adolescents aged 15-18, of which 2.4 million are girls, are not enrolled in school due to various economic and social reasons

• For the entire working population, unemployment rates are highest in the 15-19 age groups. For all age groups, females constitute the majority of the unemployed. The high level of unemployment has serious implications for the types of lifestyle choices made by adolescence, increasing the risk of alcohol and drug abuse, unwanted pregnancy, multiple sexual partners, and HIV infections.

• There are between 150,000–200,000 street children nationally, with a further one million vulnerable or at risk of ending up on the streets. Girls who work and live in the streets face sexual abuse by adults, rape, unwanted pregnancy and early motherhood – sometimes as young as 12. These girls are likely to join the rank of child prostitutes or street mothers and continue the vicious circle of street life. Inevitably they are highly at risk of being infected with HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that there are 10,000 street mothers in Addis Ababa.


The Primary School Years
via: Unicef

The primary school age population is estimated to be almost 14 million in 2002/2003 which is about one fifth of the total population. About 36.6 per cent of the school age population is not enrolled in primary schools.

Primary school years in Ethiopia are characterised by:
• Low enrollment and attendance; high repetition and drop outs
o Though primary schooling in Ethiopia is free for the average Ethiopian living below one dollar a day it is difficult to cover their families’ school expenses like uniforms, exercise books and school maintenance cost
o Families may be reluctant to send their children to school, since they depend on their children’s labour for survival. Family do not understand the value of sending their children to school.
o About 72 per cent of school-age children have no access to formal education.
o The net primary enrollment ratio at the national level was 54 per cent in 2002/2003 with an average growth rate of 11.3 per cent over the last 5 years. The net enrollment ratio is 47.2 per cent for girls and 60.6 per cent for girls. Net primary attendance is even lower.

• Disparities
o More than 60 per cent of primary school children did not have the chance to continue to grade 5. Girls’ repetition and drop out rates are higher than boys.
o Girls’ participation is lower than boys for all regions except the capital city Addis Ababa. Nationally the female and male enrollment in 2002/2003 is 0.7.

• Resources and facilities
o Nationally, only 3 per cent of Ethiopia’s schools have clinics serving students. About 75 per cent of the population suffer from some form of communicable disease.
o Primary school children have to walk long distances and through difficult terrain to attend school often in crowded classroom, inadequate trained teachers, school materials. Without proper sanitation, in four out of 10 children will not reach their full educational potential.
o Play grounds are basically nonexistent in Ethiopia, though play have a significant role in the primary years of life and helps children develop socially, emotionally and intellectually.
o A demographic and Health Survey conducted in 2000 found that 55 per cent of Ethiopian children under the age of five are stunted due to malnutrition.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Inner Agitation: An Alarm is the Precursor to Awakening

Inner Agitation: An Alarm is the Precursor to Awakening
by: Nasir Al-Amin

Internally there is something unnerving about the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia. Their reality is one of exploitation, abuse and violence. “I refuse to call it a life,” 17 year old Fronyi of Ethiopia asserts, after recounting how she turned to prostitution in order to survive. However, Fronyi’s account is a composite of the 1.2 million children who are victims of sexual exploitation annually.

Often people ask me “how did you get involved in this” or “Why Ethiopia.” Although I never completely answer the question, due to time and complexity, one of the many reasons and/or answers to “How” and Why Ethiopia” is this inner agitation that accompanies my thoughts and reflections about the condition of women and children I have met during my travels to Ethiopia. It appears/feels like this inner agitation has enhanced over the years—the more I travel to Ethiopia, learn about orphans and vulnerable children, and actually develop relationships with them the more unnerving this agitation becomes.

I’m convinced that this inner agitation is what gives sound to the inner voice in all of us who have witnesses something in our lives that is unsettling. Through a defeatist mentality (“Oh this is just how things are”, “I’m only one person, what can I do,” “The government…”) and conspicuous consumption (efforts to amass material items for vain reasons only to distract the mind and spirit from an uncomforting reality) we try to silence that voice, yet it is this voice that is the precursor to an inner awakening.

For me that inner agitation and voice awakened this sense that what I’m witnessing in Ethiopia is unacceptable. And that realization is at the heart of why I established Alif (Alliance Investment Fund) and is the impetus to continue this work. As the awakening was not through engaging concepts, theories, or reading annual reports rather it came via interactions with orphans and vulnerable children, through taking the time to not only give them a birr (Ethiopian currency) but also taking the time to ask them about their life: What stops you from attending school? What lead you to prostitution as a teenager? Are your parents alive? Who cares for you? What do you want to be when you grow up? Engaging people, developing relationships is not just giving someone money because he or she is begging. I know an Ethiopian guy that when he went back to Ethiopia, he would look for this shoeshine boy that he developed a rapport with, so daily he would go to the street where he works and sit and talk to him. That shows concern, and gives the voiceless a voice.

So it is the inner voice that serves as an alarm, letting one know that the plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia is unacceptable and that one should make a concerted effort to affect change. If its just one child that you send to school, then that’s commendable as we never know where the path of education would lead that child or the number of lives that child will affect in the future, or if you organize a group of family members, collogues, and friends to contribute to the construction of a school in Ethiopia or securing the school uniforms and supplies for 10 or 20 children. The crux is to stop silencing the alarm, the inner voice, as the wretched plight of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia need you to listen.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Civic Action Forum (CAF)

Alif’s Civic Action Forum (CAF)
CAF is an action-orientated initiative that convenes monthly with the aim to move beyond mere dialogue and debate and into the development of tangible interventions to address critical issues faced by Ethiopia’s underserved and marginalized populations.

CAF will convene on or within the area of Columbia University, however time and location will be updated on the Alif site: (

We look forward to seeing you at CAF meetings!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


The SIPA Pan-African Network of Columbia University,
WNET, and The Africa-America Institute


Ten stories, one continent, a global world.
Get ready to see Africa as you’ve never seen it before
Thursday October 12th, 2006
6pm – 8pm
Venue: Columbia University, Roone Arledge Auditorium
1st Floor Lerner Hall (2920 Broadway, New York, NY 10027)
RSVP by October 5th:
Co-sponsored by The Africa Program at SIPA, Africana Association (Columbia Business School)
"Africa Open for Business" is the award-winning film that is changing people’s
perceptions on Africa. Carol Pineau, the producer of this groundbreaking film
that screened at the World Economic Forum and Cannes Film Festival, will talk
about a new vision for Africa. The film will be followed by a panel discussion with
leading experts, including investors who have literally made millions in African
stock exchanges, regularly topping the list of the world's fastest growing markets.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Blueprint

THE BLUEPRINT—How to move beyond Rhetoric, and Passionate but Impotent Discourse about the Government and move to Tangible Solutions
By: Nasir Al-Amin

Typically, the Christmas Season and New Years creates a wave of Ethiopians from the diaspora traveling back to Ethiopia for the festive seasons. In most cases, those who journey back to Ethiopia allocate their time in two ways. The first way, is the initial few days and/or week are allocated to visiting various family members. The second way/or second segment of their time is allocated to clubbing everyday into the AM and then sleeping until 12 or 1 PM. As well as making week/weekend excursions to So-daray and Lunganew. However, traveling back to Ethiopia is bigger than that, it’s bigger than Bole, the nightlife, and weekend excursions to So-daray and Lunganew, thus I’m writing to offer a third and/or an alternative to the latter allocation of time spent in Ethiopia. It is an alternative that is life altering, and engenders clarity to ones purpose in life.

Therefore, this alternative I call the Blueprint. And the Blueprint is a commitment that your trip to Ethiopia will be one of purpose one that will touch the lives of others. This is done by making site visits to various Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) in Ethiopia who are providing services to poor women and children, people infected or affected by HIV/AIDS, shelters/drop in-centers for street children, alternative/non-formal education programs, and interventions for orphans.

There are numerous benefits to taking on this commitment. One, it would raise your personal awareness about the plight of vulnerable populations in Ethiopia as well as the services being afforded them. Two, you would be able to come back to your community, college/university, ESA, or place of employment equipped to speak with confidence and insight about the realties on the ground in Ethiopia, as well as arrange awareness and fundraising events for NGOs that you previously visited—it would be a trickle down effect, as those close to you would trust that if you are willing to spend your time and contribute financially to a particular NGO then they should as well. Third, those who are interested in education could visit schools in Ethiopia and return with interviews you conducted with the teachers and students that would serve as a stimulus for establishing a BACK TO SCHOOL campaign that would serve to raise awareness as well as secure vital supplies for children in Ethiopia: backpacks, school uniforms and supplies. Fourth, and maybe arguably the most important, it would show the marginalized and impoverished women and children that Ethiopians of the diaspora care—I know some like to think that every Ethiopian in Ethiopia knows that their brothers and sisters abroad care about their well being, but that’s a fallacy, I have spoken with some of the underserved women and children and they feel forgotten by their brothers and sister in the diaspora. *(I know that statement and the following will engender a bit of hate mail but I’m fine with that.) Furthermore, I’m not referring to that emotional feeling of care and concern, I’m talking about the tangible care and concern that moves one beyond rhetoric and into action, as impotent café rhetoric doesn’t get the little girl who dropped out of school due to a lack of funds for a school uniform and supplies back in school, nor does it afford the mother of the shoeshine boy enough money to feed herself and his siblings.

So here are the logistics of the Blueprint: I have attached a document (click on the title or the link below) that details the NGOs working in Ethiopia and on the side panel of this blog under the section Ethiopian NGOs click on the link: Index of NGOs working. Today, is October 1st, for one month you could search the two sites and look at the work and populations served (orphans, HIV/AIDS infected and/or affected women and children, street children…etc) by the various NGOs and in November contact the NGOs via phone and/or e-mail. During the contact all you have to mention is the following: I’m an Ethiopian living in __________ I plan to visit Ethiopia during the month of December. I want to learn more about the work you do can I visit your location?

It’s that simple! I know some of you are saying the problems faced by Ethiopia are bigger than that and are not that simple. A note to you:
“Though primary schooling in Ethiopia is free, for the average Ethiopian living below one dollar a day it is difficult to cover their families’ school expense like uniforms, exercise books and school maintenance cost.”
“Nearly 4.9 million adolescents aged 15-18, of which 2.4 million are girls, are not enrolled in school due to various economic and social reasons.”
“More than 60 percent of primary school children did not have the chance to continue to grade 5.”
“The largest single reason for non-attendance (69%) was that parents could not afford school fees. A lack of school materials, the second biggest reason (29%), was related; families simply couldn’t afford to by basic supplies such as uniforms, books, pens and papers.”
So sometimes the solutions are very simple!

Back to the Blueprint, I know its that simple because I did it and each NGO that I contacted was excited to have me visit and learn more about the plight of those they serviced and ways in which I could help. However, it is critical that before you depart, set tentative dates with each NGO that you plan to visit as the allure of Addis’s nightlife can only be combated with a detailed To Do List of things you must accomplish while in Addis.

An estimated 82% of Ethiopia’s population survives on less than 1 dollar a day. If you follow the Blueprint you will come in contact with this segment of the population and your life will be changed. The blinders will be removed and your reality and discourse about Ethiopia will have been altered. At that point, your words will move beyond impotent rhetoric and will be able to empower those around you and affect change in the lives of Ethiopia’s most vulnerable.

This piece was inspired by someone who has shared with me her commitment to make her next venture to Ethiopia one of purpose. I know that there are a number of you who make this commitment each time you return to Ethiopia, however this was written for those of you who don’t make the commitment or those of you who are questioning how to do what internally you feel compelled to do. Make your next trip to Ethiopia one of purpose and meaning!

Nasir Al-Amin

Click here for link to NGOs!

Poverty hits hard on Ethiopia`s vulnerable kids

The following are excerpts from an article on orphans and vulenrable children (ovc) in Ethiopia. It is an insightful article as it has a case story from one child engaged in child labor as well as research findings.

VIA: AngolaPress
Their personal accounts of survival in poverty are emotionally gripping and profoundly disgusting...Many of them are orphans, but in their ranks too are those who have been abandoned by parents or close relatives after being intentionally subjected to cruelty, including maiming. Others simply find the streets as the only haven where they can strike up friendship that actually gives them the strength to survive as they forage for food. "I don`t want to go back home. My parents are very poor. I know they are enduring hardship." They have three other children and there is nothing they can do for me," said 12-year-old Gutama Zombiye.

Gutama was brought to the city by his uncle on a false promise to find him a good school. "When I arrived here I had the impression of starting a new life," he recalled. But soon he was thrown into a terrible confusion, as he had to come to terms with the deception of his uncle. To his disappointment, Gutama ended up being one of the uncle`s child- labourers in a backyard shawl-weaving factory located at Shoromeda in the city. For one year, he was paid two birr as his daily wages to buy himself meals. He slept rough and the uncle never talked again about his school promise. Colourful, traditional shawls made by the child-labourers sell for 17 up to 30 birr apiece ($1 is equivalent to 8.67 birr) and they have become part and parcel of the nation`s cultural image.However, tourists and other foreign visitors flocking to Shoromeda market to buy traditional Ethiopian dresses as souvenirs pay no attention to the plight of children forced to work on shawl looms.

Like Gutama, these children lead a horrible life in shacks behind the shops, where they toil to fill the pockets of their callous masters. Besides starvation, they are exposed to confinement, physical violence and overwork.

"Thousands of young girls and boys from destitute families in rural Ethiopia are taken to the cities every year just like commodities," explained Sammo Sima of FSCE."They are trafficked by brokers who make deals with bar owners, `baluka` (brothel) operators and other occasional employers. They think city life is wonderful but the reality turns out differently."In the case of girls, FSCE officials explain, the most distressing experience they face is sexual abuse and exploitation. According to UNICEF, child labour is a common phenomenon in Ethiopia and there are large numbers of child sex workers.

A host of factors drive Ethiopian children into the streets, sex work and bonded labour against their will. An assessment carried out at the end of 2004 by UN agencies, in collaboration with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, came up with a figure of 4.6 million orphans in Ethiopia. This is the largest number of orphans in any country in the world, according to UN agencies. Of these, about 800,000 have been orphaned by AIDS. Given the current HIV prevalence rate of 4.6 percent, the orphaned population is expected to grow.

Up to 70 percent of Ethiopia`s orphans live with immediate family members, 20 percent live with other relatives and the rest live alone or with friends. Around 65 percent of all orphans come from households with a monthly income of less that 100 birr (about $11), showing a clear correlation between household poverty level and the social status of children. Most of the households taking care of orphans were female-headed. It is estimated that half of the orphans in the country lack adequate food. With regard to education, UNICEF officials say school attendance is one aspect of the problems facing orphans. Confronted with shortages of daily meals, clothing, school uniforms and supplies, many orphans drop out of school at an early age. Government and UNICEF officials admit that the situation is far worse for girls who are taken out of school to look after their younger siblings or sick adults in the household. "The fact that they are not going to school makes orphans more vulnerable to abuse, neglect, dispossession, exploitation and stigmatisation," said Alessandro Conticini, head of Child Protection and HIV/AIDS section at UNICEF`s country office in Addis Ababa."While orphanhood increases children`s vulnerability, it would be wrong to equate vulnerability exclusively with orphanhood," Conticini added, pointing out that the number of vulnerable kids was higher than the identified orphans. A recent research by Ethiopia`s Population Council found that more than 30 percent of girls aged 10-14 years in Addis Ababa were not living with their parents.

Click here to read the entire article!

ETHIOPIA: Child Prostitution on the rise

Child prostitution in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa is “increasing at an alarming rate”, according to a study by Save the Children-Denmark (SCD). The NGO revealed that the lure of work brought many child prostitutes – some as young as 13 - to the city. “Intervention is clearly needed as a matter of national urgency,” it said. It also criticized the "public disapproval and private encouragement” of prostitution, calling for the stigma to be challenged.
The children often blamed lack of work, family deaths, poor education or unwanted pregnancy for driving them towards prostitution. Many of the child prostitutes had been victims of serious sexual and physical abuse. Almost half the children said they had been raped prior to ending up on the streets and a third had fallen pregnant – with some resorting to back street abortions.

Click here to read entire article!

Child Prostitution - in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa City Admin Social & NGO Affairs Office (SNGOA), Save the Children Denmark (SCD) and ANNPPCAN-Ethiopian Chapter collaborated to facilitate a study on the Worst Forms of Child Labour with special focus on Child Prostitution in Addis Ababa. The study can be located by clinking on the title above or the link below the findings section. What follows is an excerpt of the report's findings:

Key Findings of the Study:
This study has identified types of child prostitution: working on the streets; working in small bars; working in local arki or alcohol houses; working in rented houses/beds and; working in rent places for chat/drugs use. Each location exposes the children to different risks and hazards.

It is difficult to give an exact figure for the prevalence of child prostitution in Addis Ababa but observation reveals that the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate in the city. Interviewing children revealed that over 50% started engaging in prostitution below 16 years of age. The majority works more than six hours per day.

The major problems that have been faced by children engaged in prostitution include: rape, beating, hunger, etc. Based on the responses of children engaged in prostitution, about 45% of them have been raped before they engaged in the activity. Among the 45% rape victim child prostitutes 48.9% of them were raped by street boys, 31.9% by adults and 19.2% by other boys who are not street boys. About 16% of the respondents reported they have been arrested by the police at least once. A quarter of the study subjects reported some health problems, including colloid, uterus problems and others. 35% have experienced pregnancy and among these 14 children have had abortions. Even among those who delivered their first child safely 54.5% of the children are no longer alive due to poor health care. The abortions were performed mainly by traditional medicine and in the street illegally. The dangers of this are numerous and include death. Only 2 children had had hospital abortions.

Most children engaged in prostitution spend the whole night by the roadside. By virtue of their age, most of the child prostitutes give birth with great risk because they are so young.

In terms of background, all the interviewed children engaged in prostitution were girls, aged between 13 to 18 years.

The major reasons for the migration of the girls to Addis Ababa include: looking for work, quarrel with parent or husband and death of mother /father.

The main reasons identified by the respondents that push them into engaging in commercial sex work are poverty, adult unemployment, lack of alternative employment, orphanage, parental death, family disintegration – socio economic vulnerability, inappropriate education opportunities, premarital sex that leads to unwanted pregnancy and cultural norms and values, etc.

Click here to read the entire study!