What now for Ethiopia? Saltergate Children’s Home with Kevin Morley
When was the last time you were able to visit Ethiopia and Addis Ababa in particular?
The trustees of Saltergate Children’s Home, Ethiopia have travelled extensively across East Africa living and working in Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea. Ethiopia is currently on the UKs red list due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, unreliable data regarding its reach across the country and the shortage of vaccines and medical facilities to treat the disease. As such our regular visits have been curtailed for now and the last time, we were in Addis Ababa was in April 2019 when we also visited the Tigray region in the north of Ethiopia.
How are you able to keep abreast of the work of your charity whilst in England?
Saltergate Children’s Home has a well-established team of volunteers who oversee day to day operations while we are in the UK. We have further reassurance that the children are being cared for due to our policy of only supporting those who are with a family member – usually a widowed mother. This means that safeguarding issues are minimised, and no one associated with our work is ever alone with a child. Regular contact (sometimes four or five times a day) by telephone and email with our volunteers, the children and their guardians are a part of a trustee’s life and we can confirm that the children are all healthy, happy and in safe hands.
What feedback from people on the ground have you heard of the effect COVID-19 has had on Ethiopia?
According to official statistics there have been just over 250,000 cases of COVID-19 with 4,000 deaths. Although the numbers are relatively low when compared with the UK there are clearly questions regarding the reliability of the data with few figures collected outside the capital where there is little access to healthcare. The phrase ‘everyone on the street is coughing’ has been used many times over the past year when we have called Tsege, Mahraig and Dibabe.
Two of the key factors which have seen COVID-19 result in hospitalisation and death have been age and obesity. The UK has an aging population – average over 40 years old. Ethiopia’s median age is under 20 years and with little obesity it may be that these are reasons why the death rate seems to be comparatively low. In terms of protection SCH is fortunate in that we have already provided sewing machines to Fasica and Feven, two of our young, widowed Mums, and they have turned their hand to making masks. We have also ensured that all our volunteers and families have sanitizer as clean water is not readily available.
Is there a vaccine programme and who most benefits?
The first shipment of 2.2 million vaccine doses is being administered and Ethiopia aims to vaccinate 20% of the population by the end of 2021. The AstraZeneca vaccines produced by Serum Institute of India arrived in Ethiopia in March 2021 through the COVAX scheme. Doctors, nurses and hospital support staff have been given priority to receive the vaccine.
ow has the work of Saltergate been able to continue during the pandemic and how?
With war raging, crop failure and COVID-19 spreading Ethiopia has more challenges than usual at this time. Despite this, because of this, Saltergate Children’s Home has grown both in terms of the number of children we care for (now 64) and the support we receive from kind and loyal donors. And not only children but now young adults who we have supported through secondary school and are now at university or in employment. During times of crisis charities have a duty to expand their operation and we are pleased to be playing our part.
What can you tell us about the civil outbreak? Why has it erupted?
Following years of disagreement between the leaders of the Tigray region of Ethiopia (TPLF) and the federal government this escalated to military conflict. After several postponements of the country’s election due to the spread of covid-19 the TPLF refused to recognise the legitimacy of the central government and in mid-2020 went ahead with its own regional elections. Following this exercise relations between federal and regional representatives deteriorated further and in November the TPLF attacked the Ethiopian government’s military bases in their region. Full-scale conflict ensued and the TPLF were driven out of the main cities into the mountains where they have regrouped. The situation is further complicated by the Eritrean army which is fighting on the Ethiopian government’s side, 60,000 refugees fleeing into Sudan and the reduction of Ethiopia’s defence forces in Somalia.
The Ethiopian government has imposed a blackout on communications to and from the conflict zone and as such the impact of the fighting has not been widely publicised around the world. The recent G7 summit did issue a statement that a) a ceasefire should be declared b) Eritrean soldiers should leave Ethiopia immediately and c) Aid agencies should be allowed free passage to all areas of Tigray to deal with what has been described as a ‘catastrophic’ and ‘emergency’ situation.
Do you think British news outlets paint a balanced portrayal of the people of Ethiopia and the current conflict?
Clearly the perception of Ethiopia and its people around the world is shaped by the newsreel footage of the 1980s when famine in parts of the country led to over 1 million deaths. The remarkable development and economic growth – approximately 10% per annum since the turn of the century has been less well- publicised. The average annual income per person in 2000 was $100; in 2019 it was $850 (Source: World Bank GNI per capita figures). Child mortality has reduced from 240 per 1,000 births in 1970 to 50 per 1,000 in 2019. This improving state of affairs receives little attention in the media.
The current situation in Ethiopia clearly threatens the overall improving picture in the country. As for the conflict a communications blackout has been imposed by the federal government so limited verifiable coverage is available to transmit. This plus the attention of the world being focused on its own challenges raised by the pandemic has meant that what is happening in Tigray is not widely known.
What is the impact of the warring factions upon women and children in particular?
During responses to an urgent question raised this week in The House of Commons it was reported by the Foreign Office minister that 350,000 people were now living in famine conditions in Ethiopia - level IPC 5 which is the highest category. In simple terms people, and many of these are children, are starving to death. Atrocities have been reported by the United Nations including the massacre of innocent civilians, use of hunger as a weapon of war and high levels of sexual violence on women. Chillingly, 300,000 children are expected to die as the situation deteriorates further.
How can our readers contribute to the welfare of the children of Saltergate?
The United Nations, international aid agencies and charities have struggled to get into the conflict zone – we have family who live there and the news from them is dire, with many accounts of horrific acts including rape, starvation and countless children being orphaned. As a charity operating in Ethiopia, we cannot ignore this and are working with a number of agencies to help children who are suffering through no fault of their own. We are uniquely placed by having direct access through our family members to the children who are suffering now and as such can take remedial action immediately.
Since we were founded in 2015, we have provided food, clothing, accommodation, healthcare and access to education for a growing number of children. We have supported children’s guardians – usually widowed mothers – to become self-sufficient. We are now seeking to extend our remit and focus on a critical consideration that needs to be addressed before any of these steps to independence can take place – that of a child’s safety, in particular in a warzone. If you would like to hear more about our work in Ethiopia please get in touch. As little as 50p a day will save a life and beyond that enable us to support that child to have an education, independence and a future.
Can you help Kevin by donating or are you interested in finding out more about Saltergate Children’s Home in Ethiopia? Contact Kevin at: firstname.lastname@example.org