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Eritrea, 18 February 2016: Group homes: Building family

© UNICEF Eritrea/2016/Reddy
Wedasse and her family.

18 February 2016 – The Group Home of Wedasse Berhe is an oasis amidst the dusty streets of Himbrti Village on the outskirts of the Eritrean capital, Asmara. Bright and open, with a tranquil courtyard, this is home to two 14-year-olds, two 13-year-olds and two 6-year-olds. Her small, delicate frame belies the great burden of responsibility that falls on the shoulders of Wedasse as she cares for six children for whom she is “mama”.

The concept of group homes began in response to providing a family structure, rather than an orphanage or institution for those children who do not have family, or are estranged from them.

Formerly a home to twelve children, six have entered adulthood and are now earning their own living. As a testament to their affinity to their former home, Wedasse informs that they regularly stay in touch and visit even though some of them have reunited with their families with whom they were able to make contact.

The homes have a mother and a father figure who are paid a monthly stipend by the Child Protection Section of the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare. In the past they used to get support from UNICEF and the Global Fund, but this is not the case anymore. UNICEF currently provides assistance with educational materials including exercise books, pens and schoolbags. These much-needed school supplies are valued and greatly appreciated by the children.

Wedasse laments that with inflation increasing, the 100,000 Nakfa (USD7,500) that it takes to run such a home on a monthly basis is simply not enough. They used to have a daily menu list she says, where they enjoyed meat a few times a week. But now, she says, it is only once or twice a year.

© UNICEF Eritrea/2016/Reddy
Wedasse tying her son's shoelaces.

What is needed is long-term economic support for such family structures that provide stability, guidance and a nurturing environment. It is also important to support more orphan reunification programmes and to encourage efforts to get more Eritreans to adopt children, a trend which has increased over the last few years.

In 2016, with a total of eleven group homes in the country, there are fewer group homes now in Eritrea than there were in past. Looking at the home run by Wedasse where the children are healthy and well-adjusted and are attending school under the umbrella of a family structure, there is still clearly a need for such homes, and for them to be supported as much as possible.

Though her responsibilities are many and no doubt demanding at times, Wedasse speaks warmly about the satisfaction she gets at a personal level, despite the salary of a mere 700 Nakfa per month (USD40). “I was offered the job and I was glad to take it as I am happy to serve,” she says with sincerity. Recounting her childhood as an orphan herself, Wedasse knows that she makes a difference to these young lives and it gives her a way to give back to her community.

 

 
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