Education in adversity: South Sudanese refugee children insist on their right to attend school

By Elissa Jobson

Child protection Kule Refugee camp  1 and 2

Crowd of around 100 children, some as young as 6 or 7 years of age, who have gathered outside the chicken-wire fence of the school compound in Kule refugee camp demand to be allowed onto the school’s premise 23, June 2014 Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

GAMBELLA, ETHIOPIA, 25 JUNE 2014 – “School is good for the boy and the girl,” sings ten-year old Nyanget Tohok, her voice, cutting through the midday humidity, rings out clean and clear. “SCHOOL IS GOOD FOR THE BOY AND THE GIRL,” chorus the crowd of around 100 children, some as young as 6 or 7 years of age, who have gathered outside the chicken-wire fence of the school compound in Kule refugee camp.

They have not come for lessons. They are not there to collect their schoolbooks. They are there to demand their right to an education. “We are singing for school,” says Nyanget. “We need to learn but there is no space.” The school only has room for 1,200 children but more than 6,000 students registered and are waiting to enrol when the space allows. The exiting places were allocated on a first come, first served basis.

“When we don’t come to school we cannot be happy. We have seen our friends coming to school but we are not given a chance to learn,” laments Majiok Yien, aged 9. This young boy wants to be an English teacher but his dream has been violently interrupted by the civil war raging in South Sudan, which forced him and his family to seek refuge in Ethiopia.

On land provided by UNHCR and the Ethiopian Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), four 6m x 4m classrooms have been built by Save the Children with vital support from UNICEF. The school operates two shifts: one in the morning from 8am to 12pm and a second from 1.30pm-5.30pm. The class sizes are huge – 150 children each – and the whole curriculum is being taught by just 10 teachers, all recruited from the refugee community.

Returning to normality

Education

South Sudan Refugee Students attend a class in a makeshift classroom 25, June 2014 Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

“School is important for the children. When they are in school they forget what they have seen in the war. School is the first priority to help remind them of normal life,” explains School Director Lam Chuoth Gach, himself an exile from South Sudan’s bloody conflict. The students have been through a terrible ordeal, he adds. They have seen people – for some their parents and siblings – killed directly in front of them. They remember the sounds of the bullets and the long, arduous journey to safety in Gambella. “When we started classes it was difficult to bring their attention to the teaching but now they are listening,” Mr Gach continues. “That is why are worried about the children who are not yet in school.”

Jael Shisanya, Education Adviser for Save the Children feels that the teachers are doing a good job under extremely difficult circumstances. “They are lesson planning and they have written a timetable but the challenge we have is that the numbers of students are overwhelming. We don’t have adequate space,” she says pointing to the four tents made of wooden poles and plastic sheeting that serve as classrooms. Early childhood education is taking place under a tree which doubles as a church on Sundays, Ms Shisanya says, but if classes are to continue during the imminent rainy season a more suitable location will have to be found. “Funding is an issue. We could do much more. We could build better structures. But we need more money for education,” she insists.

“The children are eager to learn and the community itself is yearning for school. ‘We can look for food but we can’t easily get education for our children,’ the parents tell me. They don’t want their children to forget what they have learnt,” Ms Shisanya says.

Adolescents not catered for

Education

14 year old Buya Gatbel. He is one of the lucky few who have secured a coveted place in a makeshift classroom in Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia, 25 June 2014 . ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

For the children themselves, education is a lifestyle, an essential part of their weekly routine. “I need to go to school. On Sunday I must go to church and on Monday I must go to school,” asserts 14 year old Buya Gatbel. He is one of the lucky few who have secured a coveted place. Buya is happy to be in school but he wishes that the situation was better. “There are no desks. The classroom is very small. We need pens, uniforms, bags and umbrellas for when it rains. There are no exercise books or text books and many children are outside. You need to build more schools, and build a library,” he says.

Currently the school is only teaching grades one to four. “I’m studying grade four but it is not really my grade,” Buya explains – in South Sudan he was in grade eight. His best friend, Changkuoth Chot, aged 18, is in the same boat. “I want to go to grade eight but it is better to be in grade four than to not be in school,” he says.

Ms Shisanya is particularly concerned about those adolescents that are not currently in education: “Teenagers are saying they are so depressed. There is no work.” There is no school.” Tezra Masini, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Gambella, is also worried. “Donors are more interested in providing education for younger children but it is protection issue for the older ones. If we don’t provide them with school they may go back to South Sudan to fight.”

Dech Khoat, age 19, bears these fears out. He joined the rebel White Army when the conflict began in December last year. “I’ve come for a rest from the fighting,” he says. In the future I will go back but if I can continue my education I will stay in the camp.”

Click here for latest update on South Sudan refugees status in Ethiopia.

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Ethiopia commits to eliminating child marriage and FGM by 2025

The Government of Ethiopia has made a commitment to eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) in Ethiopia by 2025.

A panel at the Girl Summit Right to left: Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister, Ethiopia. Hina Jilani, Pakistan. Dr. Mustapha S. Kaloko, Commissioner for Social Affairs. Tony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director
His Excellency Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Demeke Mekonnen announced a package of action at a global summit in London, hosted jointly by the UK government and UNICEF.

World Leaders from across Africa, South Asia, the Middle East and Europe attended the first Girl Summit on July 22nd 2014. His Excellency DPM Mekonnen was speaking as part of a round-table discussion that included the Executive Director of UNICEF, Anthony Lake and the Commissioner for Social Affairs at the African Union Commission, Mustapha Sidiki Kaloko.

His Excellency DPM Mekonnen said:

“Our approach puts girls at the heart of our commitment, working closely with them, their families and communities, to end these practices for good and break the cycle of harmful traditional practices.”

He said that Ethiopia would achieve its goal by 2025 through a strategic, multi-sectoral approach and highlighted four areas where the government has promised to take action:

  1. Through incorporating relevant indicators in the National Plan and the National Data Collection Mechanisms including the 2015 Demographic and Health Survey to measure the situation of FGM/C and Child, Early and Forced Marriage (CEFM) and to establish a clear bench mark
  2. Through enhancing the coordination and effectiveness of the National Alliance to End Child Marriage and the National Network to End FGM by engaging different actors with key expertise
  3. Through strong, accountable mechanisms for effective law enforcement
  4. And, through an increase of 10% in financial resources to eliminate FGM/C and CEFM from the existing budget.

The Minister of Women, Children and Youth Affairs, Her Excellency w/ro Zenebu Tadesse spoke about some of the achievements Ethiopia has made in recent years. She said the national rate of FGM has decreased by half among girls aged 14 and under, from 52% in 2000, to 23% in 2011 and the national prevalence of child marriage has declined from 33.1% in 1997, to 21.4% in 2010. 

Her Excellency Minister Tadesse said:

“I am proud of our achievements and I would like to share with you our experiences with the hope of inspiring other nations to take decisive, robust action.”

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said:

“All girls have the right to live free from violence and coercion, without being forced into marriage or the lifelong physical and psychological effects of female genital mutilation. Abhorrent practices like these, no matter how deeply rooted in societies, violate the rights of girls and women across the world. I am hosting the Girl Summit today so that we say with one voice – let’s end these practices once and for all.”

The Summit brought together young people, community members, activists, traditional and faith leaders, government and international leaders, experts and champions committed to the rights and empowerment of women and girls.

Attendees heard from girls and women who have lived through child, early and forced marriage and FGM/C, and from inspiring individuals who are now campaigning for change so that others can enjoy greater opportunities in the future.

14-year-old year-old Yeshalem from the Amhara region of Ethiopia underwent FGM/C when she was aged three – and shortly after, she was married to a man 15 years older than her.

14 year-old Yeshalem from the Amhara region of Ethiopia underwent FGM/CYeshalem said: “After the wedding, I was immediately sent to live with my husband and his parents. My husband said to my family ‘she’s too young’ and eventually I was allowed to return to my own family.”

Her father tried to marry her again, but Yeshalem told her teacher and eventually her father allowed her to continue her education. Yeshalem is now in a girls’ club that empowers girls to involve teachers and the police when they hear about threats of child marriage.

“We also have a secret box in our school where you can write down if somebody in the community is going to be married early – or cut – and we can report it, and try to stop it.”

Her Excellency Minister Tadesse said:

Her Excellency, Ms. Zenebu Tadesse in a panel at the Girl Summit.“Yeshalem’s story and the thousands like her, is what is powering Ethiopia’s efforts to change societal attitudes and behaviours towards girls in Ethiopia. At this Summit, we must make it our collective duty to support Yeshalem and girls like her around the world – because they are the ones who are creating lasting change.”

In Ethiopia, according to the 2011 Welfare Monitoring Survey (WMS) report, 23 per cent of female children aged 0 to 14 years had undergone female genital cutting at national level. The regional distribution of FGM/C varies highly from the lowest 7 per cent in Gambela region to the highest 60 percent in Afar region. Next to Afar region, Amhara and Somali regions have the highest percentage of FGM/C, which is 47 per cent and 31per cent respectively. As a result of the ongoing commitment of the Government, Ethiopia is witnessing a number of promising results that are galvanizing stakeholders to intensify their efforts:

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Divergent Journeys – Child Marriage and Education

 By Indrias Getachew

Famia Abadir and Rasso Abdella are teenage girls living in Sheneni Village of Dujuma Kebele, located 20 kilometers outside of Dire Dawa town in Eastern Ethiopia. They both share dreams of attending university and working as professionals to advance the rights of girls and women. To succeed, however, they must overcome substantial hurdles. Poverty, traditional views on gender roles and the practice of child marriage threatens to derail their ambitions. Their experiences illustrate some of the challenges that girls, particularly in rural areas, face as they strive to achieve their right to an education.

“No one told me to go to school,” recalls Rasso. “I used to spend my time in the hills with my friends shepherding goats. Some of my friends went to school in the mornings. They would write what that they had learnt in school on stones using charcoal. They would write the alphabet and when they asked me what ‘A’ is, I didn’t know. I told them that I wanted to go to school but I couldn’t afford to buy books. They agreed to share their books with me. That is how I was able to start school. I now go up the mountain to collect wood and prepare charcoal. I then go to town and sell it so I can buy my exercise books – that is how I am able to go to school.”

Kerima Ali, Gender and AIDS Expert at the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education (left) Famia Abadir (midle) and Rasso Abdela (right)

Kerima Ali, Gender and AIDS Expert at the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education (left) Famia Abadir (midle) and Rasso Abdela (right) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014Getachew

Overcoming economic hurdles is a challenge facing rural girls in their efforts to learn, however, the age-old practice of child marriage complicates things further.

In 2011, the dire warning by a rural religious leader that girls who didn’t marry that year would not be able to marry for the next seven years, set off a spate of child marriages that resulted in over 80 girls marrying and dropping out of Dujuma Primary School. Famia, 15 at the time, was one of them.

“I was a young student, still a child,” recalls Famia. “I was going to study with my friends and my cousin told me to come to her place as the elders were gathering there because she was going to get married. She took me from my home and handed me over to her uncle’s son to get me married to him. I did not want to get married. My wish was to go to school and learn, but they abducted and raped me and that is considered marriage. I had no choice.”

Famia Abadir, nine months pregnant

Famia Abadir, nine months pregnant ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Getachew

Famia missed an entire year of school after she was abducted and raped, twice, in what turned out to be failed attempts to marry her against her will and the consent of her parents.

The events in Dujuma in 2011 led to a focused campaign of awareness creation and community mobilisation to end the practice of early marriage. Community discussions aimed at convincing community members about the importance of girls’ education were carried out throughout rural Dire Dawa. Awareness was also raised about the harm caused by child marriages with a view to fostering a consensus to end the practice.

Currently, school clubs are promoting gender equality and empowering the school community to respond in time to prevent child marriages through coordination with local government. Elders and religious leaders are also being engaged to convince the community to abandon the practice of early marriage.

According to local authorities, the efforts to end the practice of early marriage in Dujuma and other rural districts of the Dire Dawa Administrative Region have been successful. Indeed, Dire Dawa has the second lowest regional child marriage rate in Ethiopia after Addis Ababa. The practice is far more widespread in Amhara, Tigray and Benishangul Regions (EDHS 2011).

Transforming age-old customs, however, takes time. Returning to Dujuma in 2013, we found Famia to be nine months pregnant. Famia had left her husband and was once again living with her parents.

“After I give birth I will leave the baby with my family and return to my studies,” says Famia. “Getting married is what did this to me so it is better that I go back to school. Marriage was not good for me.”

Rasso, on the other hand, evaded all pressure to get married and was able to finish eighth grade at Dujuma Primary. Today, she is enrolled in high school in Dire Dawa town, living at the Girls’ Hostel set up by the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education with UNICEF’s support. The hostel enables girls from rural communities with no access to school to continue with their education.

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Abduction survivor Gelane Degefa is clear where her priorities lay 

By Elshadai Negash

February 1st 2012 was supposed to be a regular school day for then-15 year old Gelane Degefa*. She started her day in Lugiatebela village, Sebeta Awas district, Oromia region, 25kms from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa; early by making a 30min journey to kick off the day with biology lessons in high school. Three more one-hour classes later, the school day was over and she was on her way home when she spotted a familiar, but disturbing sight from a distance.

“It was Kebede Chala,” she says of her neighbour who had dropped out of school a few years ago to work on his parents’ farm. “I knew immediately that I was in trouble.”

Kebede had persistently courted Degefa for more than 18 months before formally approaching her parents a year earlier to ask for her hand in marriage. “He used to say things like ‘what good would school be for you. I would provide you with everything if you marry me’,” she says. “I told him [Kebede] that I was too young to get married. My parents repeated the same thing when he asked them as well, but he refused to let go. My friends had overheard of his plans to abduct me. I told this to our headmaster. When he heard about this, he stopped bothering me for a while.”

A few minutes later, Kebede  and five of his friends grabbed her and tried their best to stifle her screams. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” she recalls. “But I was very fortunate. It was harvest collection season and some farmers heard my screams and came running to rescue me after we travelled for about 5km. When he and his friends were surrounded by the farmers, they ran away and I was able to escape.”

A Saudi returnee waits in the scorching heat to hop on a transport to take her back to her home area

Picture not related to story

But her aggressor did not stop then. “A few weeks later, he sent elders to my school to complain that we were preventing him from marrying Aleme,” says Beyene Kebede, Degefa’s Chemistry teacher. “Our school director reported this to the police. They gave us hope and told us to inform them if there are any incidents involving Mosisa. He did not bother her from then on and she has been attending school this year without any problems.”

Degefa was not the first girl Kebede tried to abduct and force into early marriage. “He tried to abduct my friend Mergia Abebe, a girl I personally worked hard to convince her parents to allow her to go to school,” says Degefa, who is a member of the Girls Club at her school. “Her parents tried to get marry her to Mosisa, but we worked very hard to convince her to change their mind. She was in the second grade then, now she is a top student and just earned top marks when progressing to grade six.”

By “we”, Degefa is talking about a youth club supported by UNICEF to assist highly vulnerable children and prevent the abduction of school girls. Part of a five-year joint programme with UNICEF and the United Nations Fund for Populations Activities (UNFPA) and funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy (RNE) to Ethiopia, the rights-based approach to adolescents and youth development in Ethiopia has worked to prevent girls like Degefa and Abebe from getting married early after abduction and in some cases stopped marriages after parents had agreed to marry to children to abductors.

“Abduction is a major harmful traditional practice in our area,” says Abegaz Tadesse, UNICEF/UNFPA Joint Programme coordinator in the Sebeta Awas district’s health office. “Many of the abductors are not prosecuted because it is expensive for the families to open and then follow a case to completion. What we are doing with this joint programme is strengthen the support to girls who go to school by using youth clubs to make them aware of their rights and quickly report any approaches by abductors.”

Shebere Telila* is another recipient of the support that youth clubs in the district’s schools provided. The 15-year old, who finished as a second best student in her class this year, was repeatedly approached by older boys who asked her mother for her hand in marriage. “I have dreams of growing up and becoming an engineer to build big buildings and large bridges,” she says. “Now is not the time for me to get married. My mother also knows this and would tell this to people who came to ask for marriage.”

One particular boy, however, did not heed to this and would even brag to her neighbours how he would wait for her one day when she returns from school and make her his. “Whenever someone in our neighbourhood told me about this, I would feel freightened,” she says. “My brother used to walk me to and from school for a while, but I knew that this could not be done forever.”

But rather than staying frightened, Telila, now a member of the youth club in her school; decided to confront her aggressor. “I went to our headmaster’s office with our class prefect to tell him everything,” she says. “Our headmaster then wrote a letter to our kebele [village] office and they instructed him to stop. They called him for a meeting and made him write a letter in front of his friends and family promising that he would not lay hands on me. When I saw that he signed the letter, I was relieved. On his face, I saw the same fear that he would put me through. I knew he would not defy his family and friends to do something to me. I knew I was a free person.”

Today, Telila makes the 30-minute commute from her home to school without any fear that a creepy teenager would emerge from the obscure mountains to attack her. At school, she takes time from studies to discuss her experience with younger girls and give them confidence on how to protect themselves. “Some of the members of our club have been victims and so we know the signs,” she says about the peer-assist mechanism in place at the youth club. “We also visit parents at home to encourage girls to come to school regularly and ask them not to marry their children at a young age.”

And what does she advise other girls who get approached by boys for early marriage?

“To be young and pretty is not a crime. Rather, being quiet when someone is pushing you to get married is the crime. Come out and tell everyone about your problems. Do not keep quiet until it is too late. Just do what I did and seek help. If you do, there is plenty of it available.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity of the girls.

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UNICEF Ethiopia Enhance Performance Through PPP Training

By Sacha Westerbeek 

ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA, June 2014: As an integral part of enhancing staff capacity in programming and planning, UNICEF Ethiopia rolled out a Programme Planning Process (PPP) exercise, which successfully trained 189 staff members in little over a year.

“Kudos to the Addis Office for investing in its own staff with this office-wide training initiative,” Lou Mendez, facilitator, said during the closing ceremony. “It makes the dreams of Ethiopian children more attainable.”

The training – facilitated by a pool of selected experts from the UN and UNICEF, with an in-depth understanding of UNICEF and global development – aimed to equip staff with the knowledge and skills necessary to apply systematic tools of analysis in the programming process. These included understanding the UN’s coherent human rights based approach to programming, gender equality and mainstreaming.

In the context of Ethiopia, the focus on advocacy, gender, equity, environmental sustainability and resilience proved very useful, with staff members given practical tools to help apply these principles, approaches and “lenses” in everyday programming. In particular,  the session on gender proved to be a real eye-opener to many.

“I’ll need to start from home – change myself first on the concept of gender,” one staff member exclaimed.

“I was looking at myself while taking this training,” said another participant. “It is not only about PPP, it is about my life.”

UNICEF Ethiopia staff engage in an interactive session at a PPP Training PPP training, which brought together national and international staff members from Addis Ababa and eight regional offices, covered key steps on how to plan, implement, manage, monitor and evaluate the country programme in the context of the UN delivering as one. Some key sessions underpinning this included – barrier and bottleneck analysis; role and capacity gap analysis of rights’ holders and duty bearers at all levels of society; causal analysis; strategic prioritisation and strategy formulation; results based management and constructing well designed country programmes.

The PPP training also gave implementation sessions focussed on Partnership Cooperation Agreements (PCAs), Harmonised Cash Transfer (HACT), Audits, and Annual and Midterm reviews. Practical sessions on moving from the Country Programme Document to the Country Programme Management Plan (CPMP) were also conducted, along with key elements of sound programme management.

To maintain programmatic relevance, the PPP content is progressively updated to reflect any changes made in the UN Programme Policy and Procedures Manual (PPPM). Importantly, a special session was held on the last day of each workshop to brainstorm and develop specific plans on how to apply the content of the PPP training after the completion of the course.

The facilitators of the training were astounded by the active participation of staff and their strong commitment to learning. An evaluation of the training exercise revealed that the PPP learning objectives were largely met, with more than 98.5 per cent of participants indicating that the objectives were met either totally or to a very high degree.

The facilitators also recommended that future PPP training needs to be initiated in a 2-3 hour session with section chiefs and resource persons, in order to discuss key topics and objectives. Additionally, PPP workshops should be followed by a one or half day orientation for senior managers, including section chiefs, operations managers and the heads of field offices. This will help to garner the support of senior managers in the application of PPP principles and processes.

“Over the last year, nearly half of UNICEF Ethiopia staff have acquired improved knowledge and skills for programme planning and implementation from the perspective of human rights, equity, gender, results-based management, environmental sustainability and humanitarian action.” said Raana Syed, who facilitated six PPP trainings in Ethiopia. “Together, they can make a great difference in the improved fulfilment and protection of the rights of girls, boys and women in Ethiopia – with a focus on the most vulnerable.”

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UNICEF signed Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2007 Work Plans with government. 

The signing ceremony of Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2007 Work Plans with government was held on Monday 30th June 2014 at the Intercontinental Hotel in Addis Ababa, facilitated by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED) of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

UN agencies signed Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2007 Work Plans with government.

From right to left: Mr. Faustin Yao Representative of UNFPA in Ethiopia, Dr. Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia, Mr. Eugene Owusu – UN resident coordinator and H.E. Mr. Ahmed Shide State Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. During the signing ceremony of Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2007 Work Plans ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

Speaking during the signing ceremony, Ato Ahmed Shide, State Minister of Finance and Economic Development said that “the support rendered through the AWPs will be instrumental for the successful implementation of the current Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) of the Government as well as the next generation of the plan.” The Resident Coordinator of the UN Country Team in Ethiopia, Mr. Eugene Owusu, affirmed speaking on behalf of the UN Agencies that efforts and collaborations will be sustained at a continued scale during the coming years of the next UNDAF period.

Regional Implementing Partners and UN agencies including UNFPA, UNDP, UN Women, ILO and WFP were present as signatories.  Annual Working Plans (AWP) are prepared every two year following the Ethiopian Fiscal Year.  The preparation process starts in early March and follows a consultative approach at the regional and federal level.

 

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Moving the conversation forwards: Religious leaders vow to join hands for children with UNICEF

Group Photo: UNICEF consultative workshop with religious leaders in Ethiopia

Ethiopia has come a long way, in development terms, since it adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) as part of its national agenda. Remarkable achievements have been registered within various social wellbeing parameters. Most notably, the country has achieved MDG 4 – to reduce child mortality by two thirds – three years ahead of schedule. A lot remains to be done, however, particularly in reaching the most disadvantaged children – 3 million are out of school, 40 percent of under-fives are malnourished, only 7 percent of births are formally registered, less than one-third of pregnant women deliver in health facilities, key vaccinations are achieving less than 70 percent coverage and a high number of girls are being exposed to a variety of harmful traditional practices.

While Ethiopia is on track to achieving the majority of MDGs before the 2015 deadline, the involvement of stakeholders, such as religious leaders, is crucial. This is particularly true in reaching the most disadvantaged communities. In line with this premise, UNICEF held a consultative workshop with religious leaders on Monday, 23 June 2014, in Addis Ababa. The half-day workshop targeted the creation of shared values and common ground in bringing a more prosperous future to the children of Ethiopia.

“We aim today to begin a new conversation, enabling us to work together towards a common goal,” said Dr Peter Salama, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, whilst opening the workshop, further emphasising that religious institutions are able to reach out to communities at a grassroots level more effectively than any other social network. They are also instrumental in influencing positive behaviour and social norms, and thus working with these institutions is not considered as a second option. Dr. Salama spoke of the need to scale up UNICEF’s work with religious leaders on what they are uniquely positioned to achieve among their millions of followers – mobilisation for action in the wellbeing of children.

After a brief presentation of UNICEF’s guide on partnerships with religious communities and the situation of children in Ethiopia, the workshop continued with discussions centred around experiences and priority intervention areas.

Best Experiences Shared

The civic engagement of religious institutions in Ethiopia is commendable.  For instance, the experience shared by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church revealed that the church’s 42-year-old development wing has been actively involved in numerous developmental activities placing women and children at the centre of the issue. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission has developed declarations on gender based violence and harmful traditional practices, as well as safe motherhood.  What was interesting for participants was the church’s adoption of a “Development Bible”, which contains 360 daily teachings, incorporating over 45 contextualised messages. These include a focus on gender equality, Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C), maternal health, HIV/AIDS and Harmful Traditional Practices (HTPs).

Similarly, the Ethiopian Muslim Supreme Council shared information of their work towards a “fatwa” (declaration) against FGM/C. A representative from the Council recounted how talking about FGM/C had been a taboo for religious fathers of previous years. However, leaders are now speaking out against the practice and bringing change in project areas. The Council also underlined the need to scale up the intervention, in order to stop the practice altogether. The experience of the Ethiopian Catholic Church in the development of the Child Protection Policy and the concept of ‘serving the whole person’ expressed by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church, Mekanyesus, and the Kale Hiwot Church, was also shared with participants.

Three umbrella Forums – the Ethiopian Interfaith Forum for Development Dialogue and Action, the Inter-Religious Council Ethiopia and the Evangelical Church Fellowship Ethiopia – also shared their experiences in mobilising member institutions in various projects. These included maternal and child health, peace building and HIV prevention. The efforts to mainstream the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and HTPs in theological schools was also highlighted.

Way Forward

In the past, UNICEF and other organisations predominantly worked with the development wing of religious institutions. However, it is recognised that this undermines the significant return of actively engaging in the spiritual wings. The spiritual wing reaches over 97% of the nation’s population through various religious structures, whilst the regional presence and coverage of development wings is dependent upon resources.

UNICEF is keen to work with both the spiritual and development wings of the major religious institutions and umbrella forums through a long term strategic partnership. UNICEF is also ready to provide technical support, policy advice and capacity building on the key child related interventions conducted by these institutions. The religious leaders have also reaffirmed their commitment to working with UNICEF.

Before the close of the workshop, participants agreed to form a small working group to develop the partnership framework.

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