For a moment, imagine you’re a child living in the poor area of Qore on the western side of Addis Ababa. Your mother undergoes treatment for leprosy at the free hospital dedicated to stopping this debilitating disease. She cannot work due to the resulting deformation of her hands and feet, so each day your younger sister helps her travel to street corners so she can beg for money. Your older brother gets income for the family, like hundreds of others in Qore, by scavenging at the city dump for things that can be sold or eaten. Your home is a metal shack with a dirt floor and no electricity or plumbing. Your family’s food often comes from leftover meals discarded from local restaurants and hotels. Every single day is a struggle to survive.
Yet, in spite of all this, you have great hope for the future. At the age of twelve, you’ve become the beacon of light in your family’s struggle out of poverty. This is because all aspects of your life are being supported by an organization called Berhan Yehun. Your food, school fees, medical care, afterschool tutoring and hygiene needs are all provided by Berhan Yehun in an effort to give you the best chance possible for continuing your education and pursuing a career. Knowing how lucky you are to be among the children this organization is able to serve, you fervently dedicate yourself to your studies. You know your education is the only thing that will bring a better life for you and your loved ones. Through Berhan Yehun you’ve not only found a path into the future, but a family of friends who are walking it along with you.
Visiting Berhan Yehun is a powerful experience. The smiles and laughter ringing throughout the organization’s small compound belie the hardships these children face. The girls taught us local dances. The boys performed their beatboxing routines. Emily even sat in on one of the tutoring sessions held each day before dinner. With a name translating to “Let there be light”, it’s no wonder a day at Berhan Yehun brought our family so much hope and joy.
Yohannes Bahiru serves as the director of Berhan Yehun. He is sincere and articulate as he talks about the organization’s holistic approach to supporting children. “Their education is the key to getting them out of poverty. Yet, if they are hungry, they cannot learn. If they are sick, they cannot learn. If they are abused or psychologically struggling, they cannot learn. We have to help the whole child to break this cycle of poverty – food, school fees, hygiene, medical exams, counseling. We have to do it all or we are doing nothing.”
Having spent a significant portion of my career in the nonprofit world, I got a giddy smile on my face when Yohannes began talking about his use of data to track the children’s progress and the outcomes reports he creates regularly to objectively analyze the staff’s success in meeting each child’s goals. This organization is doing it right.
With all of the services Berhan Yehun provides to these children, I was astonished at how little this support costs. When I asked about the organizational budget, Yohannes told me each child receives everything they need for less than $400 per year. I’d seen this kind of financial statistic before from nonprofit organizations. Remember those infomercials with Sally Struthers back in 80s? The image of her standing next to severely malnourished children while she sported massive mall bangs and designer clothing popped into my head. “For the price of your daily cup of coffee, you can sponsor a child….” In the past, my desire to help was always tempered by the uncertainty of where the money would actually go. Stories of exposed corruption in international charities made me leery of their authenticity and led me to question how much, if any, of the money actually went to supporting needy children.
However, visiting Berhan Yehun and seeing firsthand the incredible difference this organization is making in the lives of these children has made us believers and lifelong supporters. Yohannes and his team are dedicated, innovative and smart. Their hearts want the best for these kids, but their minds know they must diligently track each child’s progress in order give them the brightest possible future.
Our time there will not be forgotten, and we challenge you to make a difference in a child’s life this holiday season. Whether it’s Berhan Yehun or your local community center, investing in a young person’s journey out of poverty reaps tremendous benefits for this world. I guess Sally was right. It doesn’t take much to do a lot. So, in tribute to her, here’s my version of her infomercial image…with healthier and happier kids and no designer clothing or 80s hair.