Since my arrival in Ethiopia nothing has gone as planned. I take that back. Nothing has gone as I planned. My experience here has been a rollercoaster at times, but if I could redo it, I would not change it. I have learned so much about Ethiopia, the people, the culture, the language and medicine. I have made friends here that I cherish and hope our friendships will only grow. The Friday before last, I officially finished my time at the government hospital, but hope that I will be able to continue to work there some. At this time, it will simply be covering for the Ob/Gyn, I have been working with the last year. Secretly (yes, I know this is a public blog :-)), I hope he has some sort of trip planned sooner than later!
Probably the biggest change, in me, from my work at Soddo General (Otona) Hospital is being introduced to the street kids. They have stolen my heart. I would see them everyday coming and going to work. Some were sleeping in the middle of the road. Others just asking for money or food. I started having them over for dinner or lunch. Then, they would shower and I would give them new clothes. Two of the boys, Abiti and Bereket, moved in with me. Now they are living with Abiti’s family. Some of the boys were started in school. For the last five or six weeks, 100-150 kids have been showing up at my house for food. They want showers. They want clothes. They want to be in school. They need medical care. Four have been admitted to the hospital with various problems. And I can’t do it for all of them. I thought that I was coming to Ethiopia to be a doctor to the beautiful women of Ethiopia. They need a doctor, doctors. They are dying. Their babies are dying. They are leaving behind their children. Now, I don’t know what I am here for. All I know is that it is more than I can do alone. It is not that I am going to stop working as a physician. As soon as I have my license, I will begin working at Soddo Christian Hospital, but it looks like I may be doing much more.
This last week I met with women’s and children’s affairs. They have asked to me start a program that includes the street girls. Currently, there is nothing available in Soddo for the street girls. They believe there are about 10 girls and 250-300 boys sleeping on the streets at night. All of the orphanages/children’s homes in town are full. Women’s and Children’s Affairs are at a loss of what to do with all of these children. Last week, they called me about a street kid that is an orphan. He had been in an accident. Was there anything I could do to help him? Do I have a place for him to sleep? Can I feed him? They had nothing for him. I found myself in the court house explaining to them that I am just a lady here that cares about these kids, but has very little to offer. I do not have a children’s home or orphanage. I suggested finding a “foster” family for him, which they have done. I will be paying the family a small amount, enough for food and maybe a set of clothes.
I want to share with you my proposal, a very raw proposal. Children will be picked based on need and desire to go to school and work. This will be done by Women’s and Children’s Affairs. The children will then go through some sort of reintegration training to be reunited with their family or with a “foster” family. We will try to look into the root cause of why they are on the street. It may be they have run away from home or it may be simply for survival. They will also be in classes to give them an income generating activity. This sounds so cruel, but I am living in a cruel world where if the child cannot generate an income he will become a thief or she will become a prostitute. The children will be in school once the next school year starts (September). The families will be given a small stipend to cover the cost of food, clothes and some of the school supplies.
Today, I am writing and begging you all to please share with me any ideas you may have. I am not a social worker. I have never done anything like this. And this is a BIG project. I do not want to reinvent the wheel. I want to use a program that has worked. I may have to start an NGO. I have no idea how to do that. I came over here with doctor skills and am being stretch far beyond that.
Beyond putting together a plan, I somehow will have to come up with the funding. If I were to have 20 children in the program to start out the cost would be about $40-50 per month per child. That would include the cost of hiring a social worker, the stipend for the family and hiring teachers.
Please leave any comments, web addresses of programs, contacts of people who are successfully working with street children… At this point I am NOT asking for money. Please do not send any… yet. I have to figure out how this will work first.
Today is The International Day for Street Children. What can we do to make a difference?