Changing Children’s Lives in Ethiopia

by Brother Vincent Pelletier, F.S.C.

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Yesterday I came out of a shop in downtown Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, a city with an estimated population of three and-a-half million people, more than half of whom are children.

As I was crossing the street, a boy suddenly knelt in front of me, blocking my way. At the same time another boy was moving his hands into my jacket and shirt pockets. As I tried to fend him off, I became aware of a third boy behind me, trying to get my wallet from my back pocket. I turned on him; he fled with me right behind him. But after about 300 yards I realized I was outmatched and gave up the chase.

As I walked back to the car, huffing a bit, I passed knots of people standing idly around, watching the show. I thanked them for coming to my aid. There was no response. It was an everyday occurrence; street children trying to survive in a hostile urban environment.

Recently I have become aware of stories in the media about child prostitution, child slavery, child labor and, of course, street children. It is good that someone is finally bringing these scandals to light. But simply bringing them to light is not enough. Tomorrow there will be another scandal. Then these exploited children will be forgotten.

For a long time, however, some people have been quietly ensuring that at least one child, “their” child, does not have to survive on the streets of Addis Ababa on his own.

His own? Yes. Sexist language? No. There are very few girls living on the streets of Addis Ababa. To survive, girls go into prostitution in this AIDS-ridden city.

Who are the silent minority who support children in need? They are the Pitters families of the world. Like Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Pitters of Spokane, each month they send a check to CNEWA to support “their” child.

Lisa and Stephen Pitters are old friends of CNEWA. Originally from New York, Stephen was an altar boy who frequently served Mass for Msgr. Robert L. Stern, long before he became Secretary General of CNEWA. The two have kept in touch over the years.

In many ways, Mr. and Mrs. Pitters are a typical American family. Mrs. Pitters is a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force Reserve. A civilian employee, Mr. Pitters works for the Air Force in the area of child abuse prevention. He is preparing for certification to teach English and speech. They have two children, Christopher, age 11, and Elise, age 7. Both are involved in all the activities that keep youngsters so busy these days.

The Pitters family first heard of CNEWA and the Needy Child Program through Msgr. Stern. They welcomed the opportunity to help a child in need, little knowing that their assistance would make a radical difference in the child’s life.

As Mr. Pitters put it recently, “We are bridges to other people. People have helped me over the years; I wanted to give something back.”

And who is the Ethiopian child they help? He is Amanuel Beyene Sisay, who came into the CNEWA Needy Child Program at the age of 11. His father had died when he was an infant; his mother suffered from mental illness; he had no brothers and sisters. There was no one to care for him. A perfect candidate for life on the streets!

Enter the Capuchin Sisters. Amanuel was brought to their attention and they took him into their orphanage. They cared for him, raised him as a son and, of course, sent him to school. Amanuel did not squander his opportunity.

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Tags: Ethiopia Children Poor/Poverty