Local Nonprofit Educates Ethiopian Orphans Abroad STORY BY COLLEEN RIORDAN PHOTOS BY MIKE PETERS 10 | www.greenbaypressgazette.com/you | February 2017
In Ethiopia today, there are nearly five million orphans and 44% of the population is under the age 15, according to the CIA’s World Factbook. The populace has been decimated in recent decades by disease, constant border wars, drought, starvation and HIV/AIDS. “The pockets of orphans in poverty are so vast that there are some kids who will never encounter anyone who can help them,” says Melissa Tanke, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Working As One, Inc. In many countries, an orphan might be taken in by extended family or an orphanage. However, Ethiopia does not have the infrastructure to support them and there are not enough families left to shelter them. Working As One is one of a trio of nonprofits working together to create a future for the orphans through education. It was created in 2014 after Tanke took a life changing trip to the country with her son Joe. “It was heartbreaking,” says Tanke. “When my son and I arrived, it was obvious that an intervention was needed. It wasn’t possible to walk away.” “Of all of the African countries, Ethiopia was one of the hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. A lot of the kids who end up in our school were once the primary caretakers of their parents—who have since passed away.” Sibling groups have replaced the typical family structure. “There are now 8, 9, and 10-year-old kids raising their younger siblings and that’s their family. Ethiopia has no social services. These kids really are fending for themselves.” Working As One partners with the Miriam Beza Library and the Social Involvement Stream Ethiopia Development Association to provide education, combat hunger and poverty. They are based in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. By partnering with other nonprofits, Working As One is able to provide care for the ‘whole child.’ “In our family’s work in different countries over the years, we’ve found that so many agencies focus on one need. We wanted to provide comprehensive aid.” Tanke notes that when an organization helps an impoverished area and only focuses on one particular need like dental care or malnutrition, they succeed and then move on to other areas. After they are gone, the local conditions often deteriorate again. “In our minds, to offer a child long term success, it had to be education centered. As we dug into the education issue, we found that hungry children don’t come to school. Sick kids don’t come to school. Kids who don’t have shoes don’t come to school. Our educational approach encompasses all of the needs of the children that we work with.” While the orphans struggle with profound poverty and illness, consistently going to school and keeping up with lessons simply are not possible. To keep them in school, the organizations provide childcare for younger siblings, shoes, clothing and food. However, Tanke has found the biggest barrier to education is language. According to Ethnologue.com, Ethiopia has over 80 active
February 2017. Green Bay, WI area.