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Rising to the challenge in Ethiopia

Working to reduce the risk of COVID-19, while continuing to place children into safe, loving families.

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Bethany is a global nonprofit that supports children and families with world-class social services, all designed to help families thrive. More than 75 years ago, Bethany began by serving a single child. Today, the organization works in more than 30 states and more than a dozen countries worldwide, impacting hundreds of thousands of people every year.

The Partnerships Plus Initiative was created to support the achievement of the objectives established in the U.S. Government Strategy on Children in Adversity, Advancing Protection and Care for Children in Adversity (APCCA), whose implementation is coordinated by USAID’s Center on Children in Adversity (CECA), and the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund (DCOF).

In collaboration with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth (MoWCY), Bethany Ethiopia has served orphaned and vulnerable children through our foster-to-adopt program for the last ten years. In 2019, Bethany Ethiopia was awarded a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) grant that works in partnership with Ethiopia’s government to raise awareness and implement alternative family-based care for vulnerable children.

Just a few months after the project implementation began, the Covid-19 pandemic hit. In response, the Ethiopian government declared a state of emergency. Stay-at-home orders have hindered transportation and gatherings of more than four people at a time—significantly impacting organizations’ ability to safely reach and help vulnerable children. The COVID-19 global pandemic has increased pressure on Ethiopia’s government to ensure care and safety for vulnerable children. Ethiopians are facing significant hardship with inflation of food costs, the inability to work because of job loss, and financial insecurity to pay housing costs. Many families are unable to provide for their children. Right now, orphanages are struggling with overcrowding because of the increased numbers of children being abandoned. In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, already at-risk children and staff in a government orphanage are experiencing a measles outbreak.

As a trusted expert in child welfare, Bethany Ethiopia was called upon to provide additional support to the Ethiopian government Our staff continue to impact the vulnerable lives we serve in the safest way possible by trying to significantly reduce the amount of time a child remains in an institution before being welcomed into a loving family.

Through our partnership with the Ethiopian government, our staff has increased our advocacy efforts, we developed a new partnership with a local hospital allowing us to secure vital COVID-19 testing for more than 60 beneficiary—children and families—that would likely have not received testing, reducing the risk the virus’s spread, while enabling us to continue to place children into safe, loving families. We have also secured emergency nutrition, hygiene, and personal protection equipment to local state-run orphanages to reduce the impact of the coronavirus on the lives of orphaned and vulnerable children.

Amidst COVID-19 in Ethiopia, our team screened an additional 80 prospective foster to adopt families. In addition, we’ve received more than 48 referrals for vulnerable children in need of care from partner orphanages and regional governments. In April alone, 11 children were placed from institutional care into loving families.

One family shared: “The Ethiopian government is inviting citizens [through radio and television ads] to help each other during these unusual times, so that we can overcome this hardship as a nation. People are responding to our Ethiopian government’s call, trying to reach each other. When we heard about the challenges for children in the institution, we discussed and felt led to adopt a child. We learned about Bethany before formally applying. It’s an opportunity for a family to welcome a child into their home.”

Dawit Fekadu, Ethiopia Country Director, shares: “It is remarkable how the foster-to-adopt team quickly adapted to the [COVID-19] changes and rose to the challenge. Our staff are field-focused leaders and encourage each other to think and act in new innovative ways. The team’s dedication and discipline are deeper than I have ever seen. They are ‘fighting the good fight’ on behalf of vulnerable children, dealing with daunting challenges of such complexity.”

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