Every day in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital city, there are mothers who rise in the Kore’ slum not knowing what they will feed their children, how they will provide for their basic needs, and if they will find work for the day. This reality is especially true for the multitude of single mothers with little or no help from family members. Without support, work is a daunting task, as access to childcare is out of reach for most.
However, for some women in Kore’, this is changing through the work of Embracing Hope Ethiopia (EHE). In 2011, Jerry and Christy Shannon started the faith-based nonprofit organization to support primarily single mothers. Jerry emphasizes that their overall goal is to “see families preserved and orphans prevented, while sharing the hope of Jesus in word and deed.” EHE’s development approach draws from the teachings of international development thought leaders Brian Fikkert and Bryant Myers and has shaped its work around the belief that all people benefit in tangible ways when they embrace God, self, others, and creation.
One family’s story from EHE’s work in Kore’ is a common one—a woman named Semira* came to the organization with her severely malnourished children. She earned her living by selling a few potatoes each day in the slum, providing just enough income so that every few days she could afford to boil a couple of potatoes, feeding her two-year-old and herself, while trying to continue breastfeeding her six-month-old baby. When she arrived at EHE’s Day care program, her two-year-old was extremely ill. The staff was able to secure necessary care for the child, including a stay in the hospital that saved the child’s life. Jerry has witnessed Semira, who was once “expressionless and vacant, now full of life; she cannot express her gratitude for the love she experienced from the staff members without tears in her eyes.” Had Semira been unable to access life-saving medical and nutritional interventions for her family through day care, her life would have taken a drastically different turn. For all the women whose children benefit from the day care program, Jerry sees that each time there is improvement in a child there is a noticeable, positive change in the mother.
Day care support is critical for a mother to secure and hold a job, to earn a living, and to maintain the heath and stability of the family. Dignity is restored when she is confident in her ability to consistently feed, clothe, and provide healthcare for her children. Even if she initially has a low-paying position, the goal for the staff of EHE is that “First, dignity will return to the mother, then the staff can help design a strategy for her to move towards a more sustainable solution. It is a critical piece to break out of the cycle of poverty.” EHE staff also view restoring dignity as the foundation for sharing God’s love with people. Jerry believes that “We need a mother to see that she is created in God’s image, and to recognize her own dignity.” When a mother sees God’s love in her life, she is able to share that love with her children.
The Embracing Hope Ethiopia team also works to build up the sense of community among the mothers it serves, facilitating team building through their food distribution program, with the mothers assigned the responsibility to distribute food fairly to one another. A development from the program has been that mothers have grown to deeply care for one another, with a number even choosing to live in community and work together, forming a type of family unit that shows how critical family strengthening is to prevent unnecessary separation of children from parental care. Not only do children grow best in families, but they also flourish in communities where parents are supported by strong social networks.
When Tsega, a single mother, fell and broke her arm, she was unable to continue earning income as a day laborer. The friends she had met at EHE saw her in need and told her, “You do not have to worry about anything! We will give from ourselves to make sure you are cared for [and] have food, and will watch your kids after the day care closes at night.” Those same mothers then approached the EHE staff, told them what they were doing for her, and advocated on her behalf, asking what more EHE could provide. EHE helped pay for her medical coverage, her arm healed, and she was able to return to work. The social and emotional support she received from her friends was a natural outgrowth of their participation together in the EHE day care program. If she hadn’t had reliable friends to entrust her children to while she could not physically care for them on her own, she likely would have seen no other option than to give them over to an orphanage. Seemingly simple support can make a huge difference in the mind and heart of a mother.
If you’d like to learn more about the importance of strengthening family care for orphaned and vulnerable children, watch Faith to Action Initiative’s Webinar 3: Strategies for Strengthening Family Care, which provides more examples of organizations working to keep families together. You can also listen to Podcast #3: Key Strategies for Strengthening Family Care to learn more while on the go.