Caring for Our Neighbors in Ethiopia
[MS] You’re listening to Together by AGCI. I’m Madi Salvati.
Most of us have had time to pivot the daily direction of our lives during these crazy times. Whether it’s working from home, spending all hours of the day with your kiddos, or even just trying to make ends meet while everything is in flux — life is no longer what it used to be. This has never been more apparent than within the structure of AGCI’s sponsorship programs, particularly within our Ethiopia Education Sponsorship program. Here today to talk about the realities of this crisis and what it means for places like Ethiopia is AGCI’s Associate Program Director of Ethiopia, Angelyn Salyer.
[MS] Thanks again for being here today, Angelyn. We’re really appreciative of just getting the chance to talk to you about what is happening abroad and on the international level with AGCI, especially during these uncertain times. I’d love just to talk about your story a little bit to get the audience familiar, maybe with you. Um, you could tell me more about your role at AGCI and how you got here.
[AS] Yeah. Um, well first of all, thanks for having me, Madi. So excited to be here and talk a little bit more about this important subject. Um, I actually joined All God’s Children just over two years ago now. Prior to joining AGCI, I actually worked at a local children’s hospital. Um, I, I loved the work there I did. Um, but I knew that my heart and passion was to eventually work for an organization that intervened for vulnerable populations, specifically within the orphan crisis, actually. Um, thankfully, and somewhat ironically, my manager at the hospital, uh, a post adoptive AGCI dad, actually, who served on the board, introduced me to All God’s Children, which was awesome. So I originally began here as an International Programs Coordinator. I eventually transitioned into the role of Associate Program Director for Ethiopia last year. So my role now is to work directly with our in country director and five other staff in Ethiopia who work on the ground to help move our current and future initiatives and programs forward, uh, and to lead teams to see the work on the ground.
[MS] So you have like just that firsthand look currently at how things work in Ethiopia primarily and just seeing the work firsthand about what we’re doing and just the incredible work that I know our in country team does. I’m sure it’s really beautiful to watch.
[AS] Yeah, it is. It’s been, honestly, I mean, the virus aside, it’s just been such an incredible blessing to, to work alongside the staff in Ethiopia. It’s such a beautiful country. And really just to honestly witness the hope that is just so intricately woven into the people and the communities there. It’s, it’s amazing.
[MS] Can you maybe explain a bit about, before we talk about how it’s being impacted by the times right now, um, what it is we do in Ethiopia?
[AS] Yeah, of course. I’d love to. In Ethiopia specifically, AGCI has been working there for over a decade now. We actually started facilitating adoptions there primarily. But as most people know, international adoption, really took a hard look at what was going on in Ethiopia and really made an intentional decision to, to look at the full, holistic, you know, scale of what was going on. And they realized that adoption of course is, is one way to intervene in the orphan crisis, but not the only way. And so what they, what, what AGCI did is began intervening for families in other various ways through family preservation, community strengthening, um, just so many other ways that we can continue to impact vulnerable children and families in Ethiopia. There are currently 5 million, over 5 million orphaned children in Ethiopia and the population is just over 100 million. So just thinking about the fact that over 5% of the population is orphan and vulnerable children, um, is just huge, staggering numbers. And so the fact that we were able to stay even after international adoption closed a lot of, to, to really start impacting children, um, through various other ways through education, sponsorship. Um, we used to do micro grants, um, just, uh, really empowering communities and healing children, um, in a way that they can impact generations to come.
[MS] Yeah. I love just the idea too of how AGCI stayed, like, after other agencies left, we stayed because we were still able to have some kind of, um, place to help. Not so much, I’m like reluctant to say impact sometimes, but a place to help. So with everything happening currently, how has Ethiopia been affected?
[AS] Well, um, a number of ways. Um, the prime minister has been, uh, obviously issue, issuing mandates across the country. Um, there’s been more than 130 now facilities that have been identified for quarantine and isolation. Um, schools have now been officially closed, and of course there’s also a strict adherence to social distancing protocols, um, and just making sure that people are doing what they can to distance themselves from others. And then, um, one other thing actually, which is, is positive is that, um, the national bank of Ethiopia actually just availed, uh, 15 million Burr, which I believe equals, like, to around 50 million US dollars, um, for private banks to provide debt relief and loans for families. So that’s, that’s just some of the kind of what you’re hearing over the news. Um, I will say that, you know, just how it impacts places like Ethiopia, and Ethiopia specifically, is that you think about the fact that the healthcare system there um, you know, being a developing country, the healthcare systems are already running so close to high capacity. So knowing that, and you know, translates to the fact that the Corona virus, is essentially a tragedy where the repercussions are gonna go well beyond just the direct death toll. I mean, it’s, you know, access to healthcare is severely limited in Ethiopia, especially for those in rural areas. And, um, even though the government has started to implement other basic measures to increase awareness and prevent the spread of the virus, um, you know, you still have a huge population of people that, you know, ultimately might not even be aware of what’s really happening and able to actually put these mandates in place in a realistic and culturally appropriate or culturally relevant manner. So it’s just, you know, it’s a whole other kind of beast that they’re facing, thinking about the fact that basic needs still have to be met. Um, and you know, you think of a country who is already experiencing so many, you know, other, you know, public health crises right now, um, you know, with malaria and, um, uh, so many other infectious diseases, and then this just adds on top of it. So, you know, definitely a really devastating impact that it, that it could have.
[MS] Right. With that impact on Ethiopia, uh, what is something specific about maybe our sponsorship programs in Ethiopia, what is something specific that they’re facing right now with everything happening?
[AS] Yeah, well, right now, actually is typically around one of the times in the year where we facilitate a group distribution for all of the kids in the program. We currently have over 450 children and families that are served within our sponsorship program. And um, right now would be around the time where we’re, um, uh, meeting with these children and families, checking in on them, um, you know, issuing, uh, education funds through our sponsorship program and really just a time of connection. Um, and ultimately this has prohibited us from being able to facilitate group distribution with the, um, mandate on no social gatherings. So of course the challenge is that, you know, we’re unable to have kids coming to distributions, and ultimately that that is impacting our program. But we’re still, you know, our ultimate goal is to keep the children and families as safe as possible. And so obviously we’re going to adhere to all of those, um, guidelines that are being, um, you know, distributed by the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs. And thankfully, through our relationship with the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, we’ve been in communication with them. Really talking about how, you know, even with all of these, um, issues that are going on in country, how we can still continue to impact, um, and to be there for our children and families that we serve. So, um, you know, we’re just trying to keep them as safe as possible and our staff safe as well. But, um, you know, also trying to determine how we can still support them in a time of crisis like this.
[MS] Right. So with distribution, where would they normally go to get the support they needed?
AS] Yeah, so we actually work in multiple regions across Ethiopia. We work in three specific regions: Um, Addis Ababa, which is the capitol, we work in Northern Ethiopia in Tigray, and then in Western Ethiopia in a region called, um, Gambela. And within those regions, we actually work with specific local communities and the government, um, the local government that oversees, uh, the communities are called the Woredas. And so we’re working directly with not only the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs who oversees all of women’s and children’s health issues across Ethiopia at a federal and regional level, um, we also work, um, on the ground with the local Woredas in the communities, um, so that we can serve the most vulnerable children in those regions. And so, um, children who are located in those communities will typically gather at, uh, the local Woreda office around distribution time, which happens four times a year, um, to receive the essential education support. Um, we are verifying school information and, and grades, um, checking in on the students and families and, um, just a really great time for all the kids to get together and for our staff to be able to check in on them.
[MS] That’s amazing, just like the support that they are provided, and it’s also incredible that the staff there is willing to keep that up and running. So that means essentially like they’re going to have to go to these families? Is that what it’s looking like going forward?
[AS] Yeah. So since, yeah, that’s a great question. So since we’re unable to right now facilitate, um, group distributions as we normally would, we’re just working… Honestly, still in conversation with the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, um, to determine what the
best way to reach these families is, families are. So, um, our staff has actually, even though we’re not able to, to see the families right now in person, um, our staff is starting to make phone calls to the families that they can reach via phone, um, just to check in and provide any educational information about, um, the virus and, um, you know, hand washing and social distancing and just any tips that we can provide to help, um, you know, let families know that we care and that we’re here if they need anything. Um, so we’re starting those phone calls right now to all the families as a check in. And then, um, also we will be starting to do home visits with the families as well. Since we can’t do social gatherings, our staff will actually be, um, going, when it’s allowed, they’ll be going to visit each family, make sure that emergency needs are met and that we’re still supporting families any way we can.
[MS] What is your greatest hope, like with these adjustments, these changes that are having to be made, what is your greatest hope for this program going forward?
[AS] Uh, well, I mean, you know, AGCI we’re, we’re focusing solely on, you know, providing, um, ongoing, you know, emergency support for children and families during this especially critical time. So, um, I would say that, you know, my hope, you know, would be that we can continue to come together during this time of crisis. It’s no doubt impacting our entire world, but that also means that we’re all in this together. Um, you know, I hope and pray that amidst the uncertainty that so many of our children and families are facing, so many in our own country, that we can just continue to pray for, um, think about and support those, uh, beyond just the borders of our own country and, and to the lives of the most vulnerable.
[MS] Cause you’re in communication with the staff there often, um, what are some stories, if you’ve heard any from them, so far, um, just about how they’re being impacted, what their hopes are. Um, can you relay a bit of that from them to us?
[AS] Yeah, I mean, I think that truly access to timely and accurate information right now is so essential. Um, you know, in such a time of crisis, especially, Ethiopia simply just doesn’t have infrastructure to cope with a Corona virus outbreak right now. Um, again, access to safe water and sanitation is low. Um, other outbreaks remain persistent public health threats and… You know, so the new virus risks are adding, you know, just significant pressure to an already strained health system. I think that though, aside from all of that, just knowing the culture in Ethiopia and knowing, you know, the people there and the communities there, like, I have no doubt that people will continue to, to just keep pouring themselves into vulnerable communities, providing support. I mean, even if even if the government is unable to provide, you know, the necessary support that some of the communities are needing right now, I know that, you know, there is just such, there’s just so much hope that exists in, in Ethiopia and in the communities and the families there and, um, families are, families are known to, to come together and communities are known to come together in times of crisis. And that the challenges and the challenges that, um, the staff talks about there is more around, um, just the overall response of the Corona virus in Ethiopia, but, um, just knowing how communities respond to times like this is, is definitely keeping the hope alive.
[MS] You’ve been to Ethiopia many times and you always come back with some of the sweetest stories about that amazing country. Um, would you care to share maybe something on a lighter note here about Ethiopia that you’d like the audience to know about?
[AS] I feel so blessed to be able to, you know, to be there, you know, as often as I am and to just be surrounded by such beautiful people. You know, it is far away, it is a place far away, and sometimes it seems far away from our physical space or far away from our hearts, but you jump on a plane and you can be there within 24 hours, you know? It’s, it’s around the world, but it’s also so close at the same time. And so I just hope that we can all remember that, um, these people who, who might seem so far away and these countries that might seem so far away amidst this crisis are, are still,
you know, so close, so…
[MS] They’re really, they’re far, but like, you can hop on a plane here. It’s like taking them as our neighbors almost and looking out for our neighbors, especially in this time. Um, I know that’s been a really big, just thought of mine with everything happening. Um, how can I seek to help my neighbor in that way?
[AS] I was actually speaking with, um, our Vice President of International Programs, Kiersten, and, she had talked about how even in the midst of crisis, um, us in the U S we’re still, we’re still privileged. We still, um, are able to go to the grocery, leave and go to the grocery store and have our basic needs met and, um, you know, have access to clean water. They talk about washing hands everyday. Well, what if you don’t have access to clean water? You know, what if you don’t, I mean, of course there’s that toilet paper shortage, which has been impacting many of us. But aside from, from trivial things like that there, you know, we do have, we do have a privilege in the midst of crisis and just keeping that on the forefront and knowing that, um, that that exists and that… You know, I can talk to you from the comfort of my bed, um, knowing that I’m able to socially distance myself. You think about Ethiopia and you know, how can you socially distance yourself if you’re, you know, living with five people in a one room, tiny little place? You know, it’s just, it’s an, it’s just something that we can just have on the forefront of our, of our minds as we continue to, you know, be impacted by this. And I don’t say that to make people feel bad about, you know, where we live or, or the response from our country. I just think that it’s something that we can continue to pray for and um, and pray about.
[MS] Well, thank you so much Ang for just being here today to kind of clue me into, on what’s been going on. I know we tend to, I’m so guilty of this, of just getting stuck in my own world, especially working from home… not looking up for a second to just breathe and realize I’m not the only one being affected. Um, so yeah, just thank you so much for your insight here and I know this’ll be really helpful for folks that are listening in.
[AS] Yeah, I’m grateful for, for everything that you know, AGCI is doing and of course everything that our in country staff is doing. And yeah, it’s just an honor to be here today to get to talk to you about this.
[MS] That was Associate Program Director of Ethiopia, Angelyn Salyer. In times like these, Angelyn’s words about neighborly love and kindness ring truer than ever — near and far. I keep seeing posts on social media of people baking bread and leaving it on one and other’s doorsteps. Who knew that baked goods would be one way to take care of each other during quarantine? It’s heart-warming to see friends showing up for each other in small ways like bread or buying groceries. And similarly that’s exactly how we should be thinking of our neighbors in Ethiopia.
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Thanks for listening, everybody. Stay safe.