If Not Orphanages, Then What? Ethiopia Answers.

boy smilingAbout twenty years ago, the Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organization was proud of the homes they’d built for 876 orphans in Ethiopia. But when children grew up uncomfortable in community settings and had difficulty establishing relationships, JeCCDO faced a crossroads. While orphanages provide shelter, they’re also expensive and they separate children from their communities. Now serving 850,000 children and families in a single year, JeCCDO has found the answer by keeping children in their communities and helping communities to keep them there. In the beginning, most of the children who came to JeCCDO were sick and malnourished and suffering from the trauma of the sudden loss of parents. JeCCDO quickly focused on saving lives and rehabilitation. They added vocational training to help children become self-supporting and independent and successfully served 876 children in five homes.

A few years later, they approached a typical organizational evaluation. JECCDO embarked on an assessment of their impact, the results surprised them. While the childcare program had contributed greatly to saving the lives of a significant number of orphan children, it had negative impacts on their futures. Growing up in a sheltered environment, children struggled to transition from the homes into the community. As adults, they lacked relationships with family and friends. They struggled and were unclear whether to reestablish their lives as part of the community or to be independent and care for themselves.

mother and child

It didn’t take long for JeCCDO to change course. They wanted children to have strong bonds to their families and their community. They looked to families first, successfully locating family members for each of the 1,000 children that then lived in their homes. Social workers began to foster relationships and reacquaint the children and families. Gradually, they left the orphanages behind and JeCCDO initiated programs with a special focus on children, women, and youth.

They questioned how to build the capacity of communities to provide care and support to vulnerable families. Local government had resources, so they established connections between them and communities. Community members would now influence the use of local resources in ways that would benefit vulnerable families.

JeCCDO became mentors.

This is when Firelight met JeCCDO. Since 2003, Firelight has funded them to provide small grants to the community organizations they now mentor. The community-based organizationsuse the financial support to provide educational support, medical care, counseling, and microfinance assistance to several hundred AIDS-affected families and children. Meanwhile, JeCCDO has also developed its own skills in managing community grantmaking.

Now, with a noticeable capacity, JeCCDO has attracted funding from larger donors like the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The SIDA funding complemented Firelight funding, with a focus on child rights promotion, child sexual abuse prevention and protection and a focus on enhancing community-based support for orphan children.

As JeCCDO enters its third phase as an organization, they now solely focus on building the capacity ofcommunity gathered around a tree community-based organizations to care for orphans and vulnerable children. They are now developing a training institute focused on building capacity in communities. Their efforts and organization founder Mulugeta Gebru have been recognized by many including Tony Blair when he was the UK Prime Minister. Mulugeta is now asked to advise many community and school-based projects.

A shift in mindset and approach allowed JeCCDO to overwhelmingly increase the number of children it could support, and in ways that encouraged children to establish relationships within their communities. Many Ethiopian children will grow up a part of their families, and a part of their community with JeCCDO’s support.

Orphanages and the benefits of keeping children in communities is an important topic for many. A Firelight publication, From Faith to Action, describes the strategies used by community- and faith-based groups in sub-Saharan Africa that support the families and communities providing care for the 13 million children affected by HIV and AIDS.

Another great and popular resource is Melissa Fay Greene’s “There is no me without you.” Those who lived in Ethiopia may already be familiar with this account of Haregewoin Teferra’s story and her support of many children affected by AIDS. Lastly, David Tolfree, “Roofs and Roots” while a little dated now, 1995, is a classic on caring for separated children.