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The United Nations Foundation is in every corner of Ethiopia

November 23, 2009

If seeing is believing, then Elizabeth Gore is ready to testify.

The UN Foundation’s executive director of global partnerships just wrapped up an extensive trip to Ethiopia, which brought her from rural villages to urban centers to everywhere in between. And while it’s hard to re-create such a dynamic trip in words, Elizabeth is doing exactly that with a blog series on her incredible experiences.

She visited refugee camps in the North and the urban slums of Addis Ababa. She met girls attending school for the first time, and boys who were fleeing conscription into the army. She listened to people’s stories about child marriage, malaria, and lack of clean water. And the more she learned, the more she realized: The United Nations was active in every corner of the country, saving lives and shaping the future.

Elizabeth’s on-the-ground stories capture just how far the work of the UN Foundation and its UN partners reaches, whether in health or education, refugees or adolescent girls, peacekeeping or clean water. Take a minute to read these posts, and learn how the United Nations Foundation is creating a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world. (Read the second post here.)




Coming to the end of an extensive trip in Ethiopia, I am amazed by the work of the United Nations Foundation in villages, urban centers, and post-conflict areas throughout this dynamic country. I hope you will join me in the following weeks to read six stories of the UN and the UN Foundation at work in Ethiopia.

First and foremost, if it were not for the United Nations’ peacekeeping efforts, we would not be in Ethiopia working with girls, health, water, and other important development initiatives in the first place. The UN peacekeeping mission on the border with Eritrea has resulted in a peaceful environment where the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) provides shelter to thousands of Eritreans daily as they cross the border to seek safety in the camps, such as those we visited in Mai-Aini and Shimelba.

UNHCR is building an additional camp due to the influx of individuals from Eritrea, especially young men and boys, because of the requirement of lifetime military service starting at 15. The Better World Campaign, the UN Foundation’s sister organization, makes sure that the U.S. is paying its full dues to support UN peacekeeping.

Thanks to the UN Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign, individuals in both camps received long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets along with malaria control and prevention training. Malaria is the largest killer of refugees in Africa and the greatest cause of illness in these camps. Through UNHCR, Nothing But Nets is raising funds to distribute nets in camps in 15 countries across Africa.

Due to climate change and overpopulation, water scarcity is a hot-button issue not only in these camps, but also for the host nations that live around them. In Mai-Aini, individuals are living on 13 liters of water a day. As a comparison, the normal person in the U.S. lives on 300 liters a day. On average, women in Ethiopia might spend six hours a day retrieving water. UNHCR is working towards a minimum of 20L a day with the hopes of providing 30 to 35L a day.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) run programs that create better health and wellbeing for all individuals. WHO is working on a project in partnership with the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation to capture health data on handheld devices.

This allows for health status of people and the stock of available medicines to be transmitted in real time. Previously, this information was collected on pen and paper, which created delays and inaccuracies. The EpiSurveyor data collection program can take what used to be a three-month process to only three hours.

Another global priority for the UN Foundation is the development of the adolescent girl. From her health, to education, to the prevention of child marriage, UN programs tap into every part of a young girl’s development. As an example, the Berhane Hewan program is a rural, community-led project focusing on the prevention of child marriage.

An innovative program facilitated by UNFPA and supported by the UN Foundation and Nike Foundation, this program encourages primary education and incentivizes families to commit to allowing these girls to delay marriage and go to school. Once the girl completes the school term, the family receives a sheep or chickens at the end of the school term.

Berhane Hewan also provides young married girls with non-formal education and vocational training. Ethiopia has some of the highest child marriage rates in the world, with many rural families promising their daughters to marriage as early as 5 years old.

The success of this program was not just in the bright eyes of these confident girls, but also in the whole community. Because of the outreach to fathers, husbands and elders, there seemed to be a cultural shift in the beliefs around child marriage. The men of the village openly expressed their pride that 10,000 girls had gone through the program and learned about family planning, health, and prevention of female genital mutilation (FGM).

After viewing these rural projects, we travelled to the urban slums of Addis Ababa where the UN Foundation also supports programs for the most vulnerable of Ethiopian society -- girls either who run away from their rural environment to avoid early marriage, or who come to the city with dreams of economic opportunity.

When they arrive, their dreams can be crushed as they try to navigate the city and find a way to support themselves. Most girls go on to become domestic workers, cut off from their family, opportunities to attend school, and other girls. A smaller group of girls end up in the sex trade, and put at even greater risk of violence and disease.

The Biruh Tesfa, a project of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), works with girls as young as seven through 19. Mentors in this program go to the girls’ employers and convince them to let the girls come to an educational center at least two hours a day to receive non-formal education.

There, the girls learn to read and write, practice good hygiene and wellbeing, and most importantly, have a chance to interact and play with girls their own age. Once they have completed the program, girls can enter into the formal school system. Of the 600 in the program, more than 200 girls are now in school.

Whether health or education, refugees or adolescent girls, peacekeeping or clean water -- the UN Foundation and our UN partners are creating a more peaceful, prosperous, and just world. Please join us over the next few weeks to read six additional stories we have captured from Ethiopia.

* Photo credit: David Evans