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Cash-transfer programme in Ethiopia transforms lives of vulnerable families

'Narrowing the Gaps to Meet the Goals'

© UNICEF Ethiopia/2010
At the 24 September launch of the Great Ethiopian Run's new five-year campaign, 'Narrow the Gap to Meet the Goals' (fom left): UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia Ted Chaiban; Sister Zebideru, Director of the NGO Mary Joy; Abebech Gobena, founder of Ethiopia’s oldest orphanage; and champion runner Haile Gebreselassie.

The non-governmental organization known as the Great Ethiopian Run has sponsored races for humanitarian causes across Ethiopia since 2001. Starting this year, it is joining forces with the UN to raise awareness about meeting the Millennium Development Goals with equity through efforts such as the pilot programmes highlighted in this story.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 1 October 2010 – Roman Zewdu, 22, styles hair in the salon she opened in the front half of the one-room home she shares with her two younger sisters in Gondar Town.

“Our father passed away 11 years ago,” she says. “Our mother used to sell tea to take care of us. Then she got sick and died, and the responsibility became mine.”

There are an estimated 5 million orphans in Ethiopia. Of these, around 650,000 have been orphaned due to AIDS. According to national statistics, over 2 million orphans live below the poverty line.

School attendance is affected, as well – especially for children who have lost both their mother and their father. Ms. Zewdu, for example, had to drop out of school to take care of her siblings when their parents died.

Targeting the most vulnerable

With support from UNICEF and other partners, the Government of Ethiopia is responding to the challenges faced by orphans like Ms. Zewdu and her sisters through various mechanisms. One innovative approach being tested in several regions is a pilot programme providing social protection through cash transfers and micro-credit.

Under the programme, a community task force identifies households with orphans and other vulnerable children to be targeted for assistance. The beneficiaries receive vocational training, followed by cash grants or loans (or both) to set up small businesses.

“I was braiding children’s hair for a little money,” says Ms. Zewdu. “Then I was selected to receive beauty salon training and was given financial support and equipment. I now work as a hairdresser.” She adds that she enjoys likes her work, which allows her to earn four to five times her old income.

Before, Ms. Zewdu recalls, she and her sisters could afford only one meal a day, but things have changed. “Now it’s different. Since I got this support and started working, we have not gone hungry and my sisters have had no problems going to school,” she says.

Lives transformed

“Since 2008, we have covered 1,900 children living in 365 families,” says Getahun Seyoum, who heads Gondar Town’s Culture, Tourism, Labour and Social Affairs Office.

“The beneficiaries say, ‘It has saved our lives. We are now considered human beings in society. We have been able to send our children to school. We have been able to stand up like other people.’ And this programme has been critical in enabling that. We have seen that it is possible to grow with a small amount of money, where a loan of 1,000 or 2,000 birr [about $60 to $120] has enabled families to transform their lives.”

Ms. Zewdu’s dream for the future is to expand her business and open up a modern hairdressing salon with a staff of three or four. “That would make me happy,” she says. “That is what I want.” 

Need to scale up assistance

The challenge for government now is to look in more detail at the pilot cash-transfer and micro-credit programmes targeting society’s most vulnerable children and families, and to see if they can be scaled up. Ethiopia’s Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is reviewing the nation’s now dated development and social welfare policy from the 1990s; it will submit a revised draft to the Council of Ministers in the coming months.

A key flaw in the current policy is that budget allocations have never been adequate for implementing it. But now Ethiopia is on the way to transformation. The economy is recovering and the government budget is growing. The time may well have come to channel a portion of the budget to large-scale social protection programmes for the many other Roman Zewdus who need a helping hand so they can contribute to the country’s growth.

Funding social protection will be essential if Ethiopia is to narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots in the race to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, with equity, by 2015.



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