This post is part of a four-part series about traveling to East Africa this fall with She's the First, a nonprofit that sponsors girls' education worldwide. I traveled for six weeks with STF's Co-Founder and Director of International Operations Christen Brandt and documented the girls' lives at school and at home in still photos and video.
On the day I leave with She's the First to visit their partner in The Gambia, I'm finally blogging about the final leg of our trip last fall to East Africa! I promise to be better about blogging this trip more immediately!
The final stop of my six week trip with She's the First last fall was to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to visit STF's partner, the Selamta Family Project. Selamta is a nonprofit organization that creates permanent family units for orphans in AIDS-ravaged communities. The organization finds children living on the streets, reunites them with biological siblings, and creates a new family unit around them, with a house mother, an "auntie," and up to 9 siblings. No one ages out of Selamta; the families built here are meant to continue to support one another, beyond graduation and throughout adulthood.
The children all attend a local private school near the neighborhood where they all live.
I had an amazing time getting to know the She's the First Scholars in Ethiopia. Tizita, above, is a delightfully sassy eighth grader who let us follow her around with a video camera at home and at school, and visited the National Museum with us in Addis (she'd never been either!) It's so much more fun to visit a museum with a student; she was interested in EVERYTHING and had learned about some of the exhibits in school!
She's also the star of the independent film Difret, by an Ethiopian filmmaker, filmed in Addis. The movie was a screened at the Sundance Film Festival! I can't wait to check it out when it makes it to New York.
Visiting each house and having dinner with our students was an amazing experience. In each house, we went through a traditional coffee ceremony (below). Coffee originated in Ethiopia and still grows there in the wild. Each family has a special pot and small coal stove for coffee roasting and brewing. The house mom roasts the beans, then one of the kids grinds the beans with a mortar and pestle, then the mom brews the coffee over the hot coals. These families live in modern suburban homes; if they wanted to, they could brew coffee in an electronic kettle or in a french press, but the tradition of the ceremony calls for this method (plus, it's way more delicious this way!)
The Scholar that I spent the most time with was Sintayehu, an 18-year-old student who has lived with Selamta since she was 12. She took us back to where she was living before she came to Selamta; I did a photo essay about the experience for She's the First. After Sintayehu became part of a Selamta family with her younger brother, the organization sought out their younger sister, Senayet, and brought her to Selamta as well so the siblings could all grow up together.
Selamta provides a stable home environment and the support of a family and a mentorship organization, as well as quality education, to orphans who would otherwise be living on their own, often separated from their siblings. After visiting Selamta, I'm hopeful that similar family-oriented organizations will be formed in other developing areas.