Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Return from Ethiopia...

It's hard to believe that this time last week I was still in Ethiopia, and that the two weeks have come and gone. For the first time, we got to see the project in real life, up to now we have been envisioning what it would look like, making changes, meeting with the necessary people to make sure it was going to happen.
Some of the community members and children at the celebration day
To be able to meet the community and see that they are so involved in the project is much more than we could have asked for. Not only are there 15 local staff working in the community, but there are also local volunteers, part time teachers and even a parents committee! On paper there are 200 direct beneficiaries this means that 200 children get educational support (schools supplies) psycho social support(counseling services) and tutorial classes, but after spending two weeks at the center every day, it is clear that there over 200 children using the youth center. This is what we always wanted, a youth center where children can come and play, use the library, join the clubs, no matter what their back ground is and the youth center is just that. Along with the 200 direct beneficiaries, we have 17 young adults on the vocational training program. Eight young women have already graduated, and nine boys will graduate in the coming months. As they graduate more adolescents will be added to the program. We will be bringing you some stories about these young adults soon and also stories about their employers.
One of the adolescents on the vocational training program

We hope through the blogs you got to understand a little bit more about the project and what we are doing! Thank you so much again for all your support and encouragement! If you are interested in supporting Together in Hope's project in Ethiopia you can make a donation online or send a check to 
Together in Hope
1250 Wood Branch Park Drive, Suite 625
Houston, Texas,

If you would like to contact us please send an email to and we will get back to you as soon as possible.Thank you so much and thank you to our wonderful team on the ground! You guys are AWESOME! 
 Laura with the Youth Release team from Ireland and some of the children from the culture club at the center

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Painting the youth center

18th-19th January

So after a five day debate of ; what color would we paint the youth center? What should we paint on it? Does purple go with blue? Decisions, decisions. Eventually we decided on yellow, purple and blue.

The youth center before

Some of our local friends came along to help us as we thought it would just be us and them, to our surprise half the community showed up to paint the youth center. Every one grabbed a paint brush and got to work. First people were painting the wrong wall the wrong colour, so there was a little bit of direction needed but all in all it went great. 

By lunch time we had 3 of the four sides done, and the staff even decided to paint the trees purple. After that, every thing in sight was painted the gate, the trees, the side wall, the windows every one just went for it to get the job done! Every body got a chance to paint from some of the children to the elderly women, they were the ones taking the paint brushes from us!! It was incredible to see the community take ownership and how proud they were to be the ones painting it. The first day we had the first coat done on the four sides of the youth center,  and half of each and every tree was painted purple.

We arrived at  the youth center at 10am on Saturday morning to continue painting. When we arrived the we found the community had been there for a couple of hours painting without us. It was fantastic to see such a great group effort and that everyone played a part. We painted the windows blue and drew some games for the kids to play with.

After a couple of hours and a lot of hard work, the youth center was finally finished! 

The new and improved youth center :)

Meeting the community

17th January

The last couple of days have flown by, we started with interviewing the staff on Thursday. We interviewed four members of the staff discussing their backgrounds, their roles and how they see the youth center and its benefits for the children and the community. We were delighted to hear that the community is very involved in all activities and they are very happy to see some thing for the children in the community. They told us a little bit of the history and culture of Gende Tesfa (the area where we are working). 

As you already know we took over an old leprosy clinic, what you might not know (because I didn't) is that there is still a large number of people living in the community who are living with leprosy. Although it is a curable illness, there is still a huge stigma attached to those who have it. We also learnt that Gende Tesfa is one of the poorest and largest communities in Dire Dawa, most of the families live on less than €20 a month to provide for a family of up to 5. It is very hard for them to get work especially those who have leprosy.The staff invited us to visit the homes of some of the children who are benefiting from the youth center.  When you drive into Gende Tesfa, there are a lot of bigger than average houses, but once you go behind these and see the reality of how people live, it is a whole other story. Many of the families live in dire poverty in small houses with one room for a large family, others live in squalor.

We met the children's parents or in many cases their guardians as they are orphans and are living with other family members. Each family welcomed us into their home with open arms and all asked us to take photos as they do not have any pictures of their children. For most of the children it was the first time they saw pictures of themselves, and most giggled and laughed and asked for more photos. The children were excited to have a ferenje in their home and called all their friends to always there was great excitement. For us it was great to get out into the community and meet the parents. It is one thing to hear they are happy with the project from the staff but to sit and talk to them and hear their enthusiasm was something else....

The rest of the day was spent buying paint for the youth center (the hardest decision ever made) and playing with the children at the youth center. All in all it was a fantastic day, to get out into the community and meet them was fantastic. Once again I am overwhelmed by the people in Ethiopia, their kindness, their hearts and their resilience. Today just proved it once again, the Ethiopian people are some of the most amazing people you will ever meet! 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Vocational Training

16TH January 2013

For many months you've heard about our vocational training sponsorship program, you've listened to our pleas for support and I’m pretty sure you've read it in every news letter; today we went to see some of the adolescents at work. In the morning we visited 9 boys, each boy is aged between 14 and 18 and they are all training to become carpenters.  Not only are these boys working long hours at the carpentry shop but almost all of them are also attending night school so that they can finish grade 12.

The adolescents must meet a certain criteria to be accepted onto the vocational training program. Many have lived on the street, or are living in dire poverty.  Once they are accepted onto the program they begin their training. The youth center is connected with a number of different businesses in Dire Dawa and the owners have agreed to train the boys and girls in a particular skill. Lucky for us we got to meet most of the owners where the boys are training and they were very proud to show us the work that the boys have done.  We met Sammy; he is the first business man to take on any trainees. At the moment he has 5 boys training at his shop, he also provides them with accommodation and a small salary. He said he is honoured to be part of the program and is hoping to help many more boys get their training. (Watch this space for a blog all about Sammy and the boys)

In the afternoon, we met some of the girls who have finished their hair dressing training. They told us about their training and how it has made a difference in their lives. Most of the girls finished school at grade 10 (the final grade is 12) so they were unable to attend college, or the official training.  Liyuwork was one if the first girls to graduate, she has a two year old son and is the only person in her family earning a salary. She has worked in a number of hair dressing salons doing Shuruba (braids), she could never afford to go to hair dressing school. Through the program, she has received her training and has a good job and is now able to provide for her son and her family.

Today, we got a great insight into how the vocational training program works. It was amazing to meet the adolescents that are on the program and also see where they work.  Our goal is to get all the children sponsored this year, for more information

Tomorrow we are going out into the Gende Tesfa community and visiting the homes of many of the children, then the biggest decision of the week needs to be made...what colour will we paint the youth center..Suggestions welcome J

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Volunteering at the youth center

January 15th 2013

Today the unbelievable happened; we finally got to volunteer at the Youth Release youth centre. We arrived and again most of the children (we didn’t meet them all yesterday) stood in shock wondering what to do. There were about 100- 150 children playing when we got there. We introduced ourselves and let them come to us, the boys were an instant hit with around 20 children trying to talk to them.  We have learned over the years that the best way to break any barriers is PHOTOS. The majority of the children have never seen a picture of themselves. After that we were all best friends...

We brought a few games and supplies to the youth center for the staff and children to have. There was Darts, Twister, Bowls, and a few more. Trying to teach 100 children how to play these games is no easy task but eventually (after making up many of their own rules) they got it!

After a lot of excitement, and a few fights over how to play and who won what, Niamh and Laura taught an English class. We had asked the project coordinator Abdi if we could assist the teachers with a class to see how it works, and to get to know the teach but somewhere along the way, we had a  mis communication of language. We had to teach 50 something children on our own with nothing prepared (while the boys got the easy task of playing football I might add). Trying to teach 50 something children in sweltering heat who don't really understand you is not an easy task, especially when you forget the words of easy songs like Old McDonald had a farm :) They did love the eieio part and the animal noises so at least they learnt something.

The children had a great command of the English language, they knew the basic greetings, the numbers up to 100 and the name of all the furniture in the class. It was incredible! After the class we played some more games and taught them the rules, I think after today they have finally warmed to us and are no longer afraid of the to meetings to see what needs to be done to make Youth Release bigger and better and see what our future plans are. For now I think we are all happy to just see the youth center up and running, but who knows what the future holds :)

We arrived Safe and Sound

Ethiopia... January 14th 2013

Well we finally arrived; I think we all thought we would never get here.  We arrived in Addis Ababa to find that the main road had been dug up..Ethiopian style! This means you can’t drive on it and if you try your car might topple over...oh the joys of being back.  Eventually after the taxi broke down twice, and going around in circles for an hour trying to explain to the taxi driver where to go and avoiding our car turning over we eventually got to our bed for the night.

Arriving in Dire Dawa is always like coming home, Sunday was spent walking around seeing friends and showing the new volunteers around. None of us could wait until Monday when we would finally get to see the Youth Release youth centre. We didn’t know what to expect, would there be children there? Are the programs going as well as we think they are? Would we be disappointed? It is safe to say the youth centre exceeded all of our expectations, walking in and seeing the Youth Release sign on the door was the realisation that our dream of opening a youth centre had finally come true.

Meeting all the staff; the project coordinator, three social workers, a librarian, two guards and a cleaner, was amazing! All of them are from Ethiopia, and are fantastic at what they do. Hearing them talk about the youth centre and the children, it was surreal to think that this time a couple of years ago we wondered would it ever happen. It was one of the most surreal experiences...

Primary education is now free in Ethiopia so all of the children go to school. As there is such a demand for education the day is divided in two; one group goes to school in the morning and another in the afternoon. There are 200 children attending the programs at the youth center. Half of the children come in the morning at 8:30, they play for half an hour and then attend tutorial classes in the basic subjects; English  maths, Amharic (the local language), and geography. The staff brought us to see the classes, most of the children stared in shock as they had never seen a white person or ferenje (forigener in amharic) before. 

Most just laughed when we talked, especially with our broken Amharic, oh well at least it broke some barriers. After their class we played some games with them, and introduced ourselves, many of the children were still a bit nervous about approaching us so they stayed back but there’s always tomorrow....