‘I have 29 children’: The ‘mothers’ to Ethiopia’s most vulnerable kids


The group, whose name translates as “Light from the stars,” works with other civil society organizations on projects such as renovating an early childhood development center, where children are taught Amharic and English.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (CNN) — On the outskirts of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in the dusty crowded neighbourhood of Akaki, I’ve just been treated to a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony. The beans are roasted and the coffee boiled in front of you then served piping hot with a heaping spoonful of sugar and a side of freshly popped corn.

As I step out onto the dirt road to leave, one of my hosts wants to ask a question: do I know anyone who can donate some wheelchairs, so adults don’t’ have to carry disabled children on their backs to school any more?

I wish I did.

The woman who needs the wheelchairs is one of the 20,000 volunteers for Yekokeb Berhan, a USAID-funded program trying to help half a million highly vulnerable children. The name means “Light from the Stars” in Amharic, and is meant to reflect the resiliency of children.

After spending a week working with the volunteers here, I have no doubt those wheelchairs are going to find their way, due to the resiliency of the adults.

Yekokeb Berhan volunteers are chosen by community committees and given training in health, parenting, budgeting and life skills. Then they go out into communities, to find and identify the most vulnerable children. Each volunteer will take in 25 of those kids as her own.

“I have 29 children” says Sintayehu Kenna, a mother of four (plus 25), “I can’t separate them from my own. I love them. ”

The program’s philosophy is that the way to help children is to help their families. More often than not, assistance is needed in multiple areas — and that means these volunteers have had to become master networkers — calling on friends, family, neighbours, local businessmen and faith leaders to get the kids what they need. Read more on CNN

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