Can you imagine a cow walking through the mall or grocery store where you shop? On her first day in Ethiopia, this is what Jennifer Dibble, director of Donor Programs for Bethany Christian Services, saw—a cow meandering through the town marketplace. This occurrence, though common in Ethiopia, is hard to imagine here in the U.S. Likewise, Americans are accustomed to foster care, while this is not at all common in Ethiopia. Historically, Ethiopians haven’t considered providing shelter and care to children that are not blood relatives . . . until now. Bethany’s international service manager for Africa, Tendai Masiriri, began spearheading this cultural shift over two years ago. Tendai has stated that the concept of foster care in Ethiopia is such an unfamiliar idea it can be likened to the disbelief of Noah’s neighbors as they watched him build an ark in the middle of a drought.
Over the past year, Bethany Christian Services has worked with the Ethiopian government, church families, its local partners, and other non-government organizations (NGOs) to develop a program in which children in crisis can be cared for and sustained through the hospitality found in local families.
Despite the major hurdle of introducing a program where there is not even a translatable word for foster care, Bethany initiated a cutting edge “family care” program to provide safe and secure families for vulnerable children—as well as a government supported program to protect Ethiopia’s future.
Bethany staff in Ethiopia began the pilot Family Care program in Adama, located southeast of Addis Ababa. Together, they set out to educate the Adama communities on the great need of the overwhelming number of vulnerable children and orphans. Incredibly, over 100 families signed up to receive training from Bethany. From those trained, 80 families responded by signing up to become an approved family for a child in crisis.
Since March of 2012, 27 orphaned or institutionalized children have been provided secure and loving homes as well as opportunities for education, family care, and family preservation services. This pilot program, cutting edge and counter-cultural, has been widely accepted in the community—even with the government. Bethany is currently working with a local university in coining a term for family care—a tremendous shift in culture.
One couple, Ato Asmare and his wife, received a little girl named Kalkidan into their home. She was not a relative nor did they know her. When Ato was asked why he would do this, he was too overcome to answer. Finally, with undeniable emotion, he took this stand, “While giving birth is a good thing, we also have to be able to think of children that are in need of families and we have to open our hearts for such children.” He believes caring for orphans is biblical—an act of obedience. “This is the right thing. I am the right man,” he said. (Watch his whole interview here.)
The faith that compelled Ato, and others like him, to respond to the orphan crisis by taking in little children and loving them as their own made a deep impression on Jennifer. She was also strongly impressed by the realities of poverty and HIV that have created a need for orphaned children to find secure families. Seeing for herself how Bethany’s sponsorship provides resources to keep children in their homes, she understands why the Family Care program in Ethiopia has been as accepted as it has been influential.
Several weeks ago, we celebrated our first in-country, or domestic, adoption as a result of the Family Care program. This, again, is unprecedented! Through Bethany’s pioneering program, and through authentic and sincere compassion like that of Ato Asmare, Ethiopia has been greatly impacted—little Kalkidan and children like her can now dream of a future.