Giving Hope, Transforming Lives: Saltergate Children’s Home, Ethiopia

Saltergate, Ethiopia
Giving Hope, Transforming Lives: Saltergate Children’s Home, Ethiopia
By Michelle Guthrie, with Deborah Bell and Ellen Carpenter | 2020 - January to March | Africa
Michelle explains to SACCO how the Saltergate Children's Home is in a constant process of evolution. Photograph courtesy of Michelle Guthrie.

Begging on street corners, scavenging on rubbish tips, sleeping on church floors – this is a way of life for thousands of children in Addis Ababa, the sprawling capital of Ethiopia.  However, for the 52 children in Saltergate Children’s Home, the hardships of street life are a thing of the past. Here, all of the over-5's at the home are cared for and attending school.

The charity has its ratified constitution, reporting mechanisms and Charity Commission registration. Administration is also in place. But for Michelle and Kevin, this is not the beating heart of the work. 

Michelle and Kevin first met in 2007 whilst working in East Africa for the organization Voluntary Services Overseas. After finishing their teaching placements, both returned to the UK to attend to family needs. Life goes on, after all. Yet having once been immersed in vulnerable communities where children suffer on a daily basis and life is fragile, it proved impossible to just walk away. 

It took a few years for the idea to crystalize, but in June 2015 a friend, Dr. Emebet, called from Addis Ababa. ‘A baby has been abandoned on the hospital steps with its umbilical cord still attached,' he told them. 'Can you help?’ Inspired by this child's plight, Kevin and Michelle made the momentous decision to open Saltergate Children’s Home.   

Saltergate Children’s Home is not a single large building full of children, the orphanage of popular imagination. The children live in small houses with a family member, perhaps a grandmother or an an aunt. Widowed mothers begging on the streets of the city are sadly a common sight, and these women also make up a proportion of the community. As well as supporting vulnerable women, this model also promotes safeguarding, as no-one associated with the charity is ever alone with a child. 

Michelle and Kevin work through basic steps to support the family on the road to independence.  Food and clothing are usually the first priority; it is no good discussing schooling with a starving child. Housing and healthcare comes next. It may be that a child has not had any available vaccinations, or if they are HIV+, antiretrovirals may not have been acquired. Attention then turns to education, as registration in school is a crucial first step towards independence.

For Michelle and Kevin, helping Saltergate's adult residents to develop economic independence is equally vital, for if a widowed mother is given the opportunity to develop her own life skills and talents, then the children will benefit too. Consequently, women like Berhane have been provided with a cooker on which she bakes bread for the local community, while Feven has customers seeking her services to mend their clothes on her sewing machine. This sort of economic empowerment can pay dividends, as much in terms of the resulting growth of self-esteem in the women as the income these initiatives can generate.  

After caring for the children for nearly 5 years, Michelle and Kevin enjoy seeing them grow and thrive. Their oldest girls Danait and Delina are now in their second year at Admas University; Danait is studying marketing and Delina is looking to qualify as an accountant. These two girls are trailblazers.

The charity straddles two countries. In the UK, Michelle and Kevin raise funds. In Ethiopia the children are cared for by a team of volunteers who oversee Saltergate's daily operations and communicate with the UK team by telephone. Volunteers promote the work globally, in Australia, Denmark, Italy, France and the USA, and the charity’s model has been commended by churches and organizations including the Rotary Club. 

Michelle and Kevin remain busy developing constructive relationships in Addis Ababa with doctors, teachers and government officials to support the aims of the charity, and boring holes for access to water, installing generators and new building projects are among the initiatives currently under review.

Saltergate Children’s Home is proud that all overheads and running costs are met by the trustees themselves and every penny donated goes directly to provide food, housing, healthcare and education for the children. SACCO wishes them well. 

If you would like to hear more about the work of the charity, Michelle and Kevin would be delighted to meet with you - contact us at info@sacco.org.uk so we can put you in contact with them.