Monday, August 20, 2012

IOFA Ethiopia - Adolescents Transitioning to Adulthood, Together

It’s hard to believe my time in Addis has already come to an end. After seven incredible weeks in Ethiopia, it is difficult to leave and say goodbye to so many familiar faces. Each of the organizations we have worked with have welcomed us into their family and their home, and I feel honored to have worked with such amazing and inspiring individuals. Something I have learned from all of the youth, youth allies, and the people of Ethiopia, is that it takes a village to raise a child. I will always remember the strong emphasis on community and family here. As one Ethiopian explained, this strong community bond can even be seen in the way they eat their food: all sharing one plate of injera and eating together. It is even a sign of friendship and respect to eat from another’s hand. I am still honored and in awe every time I walk into a corner store and am offered injera while the employees and their friends share their meal. This shared mentality also provides a shared sense of responsibility for one another and for the community as a whole, and is something we can all learn from.

This sense of community and belonging is apparent in all three of the orphanages we have been working with. They each function as a family, all working together and looking out for one another. It is impossible not to feel this strong familial bond and community upbringing. There is a sense of responsibility and belonging, and I have been impressed and inspired by the way each youth fits into their strong community. Not only is the staff looking out for each child, but also the older children support and guide the younger ones. This strong family identity has also become apparent through each Project Prepare module, as these adolescent youth work together to prepare for their life after care. It is clear that these strong community and familial ties will greatly support these adolescents, as they attempt to form their own social support network. Additionally, all three orphanages we are working with plan to provide additional support and guidance during this transition into adulthood and beyond for their youth.

Although I am unfortunately leaving before the last Project Prepare module, I have no doubt that the youth will continue to learn and benefit from the curriculum, and I know Aatifa and the youth allies will continue all of their hard work! I am also proud to have been a part of the launch of Project Prepare, and am eager to continue to develop and expand the curriculum to ensure its lasting impact. I will greatly miss Ethiopia and each and every individual we have worked with, and I will take these lasting memories and lessons with me throughout my life.

When I return, I will continue to work with IOFA in analyzing the results of the Project Prepare pilot and help move forward with full implementation of the Transitions Initiative in Ethiopia with our valuable partners and allies.

Amharic Word of the Week:
I miss you :     Enafekehallo (m)
                        Enefekeshallo (f)

Amy Gilbert 
IOFA Program Development Intern

Sunday, August 12, 2012

AHOPE and IOFA - Celebrating New Beginnings

New beginnings in life are often difficult. It means that we must turn the pages to a new chapter of our lives, say goodbye to friends and loved ones, and muster as much strength and courage to face the uncertainties of what lies ahead. This week I witnessed the celebration of 16 youth who will move away from the sanctuary of their orphanage, AHOPE, to a transitional home. In some ways, the celebration marked not only their geographical move from one space to another, but signified their transition from kids to young adults. 

Preparation for this exciting event started days in advance. Official invites were sent to honored guests, dignitaries, partner organizations, and any loved ones close to the youth; the kitchen staff started cooking days prior, filling the air with smells of sweets, breads, and cakes and sacrificing a lamb in honor of the occasion; and the young kids at AHOPE practiced choreography and a short skit as a farewell to their elder peers. Meanwhile, the youth transitioning out had one full week of training to help them understand the significance of their move, some of the difficulties they might face, and how to overcome them.

The culmination of all these efforts was a touching ceremony attended by many community members. The kids at AHOPE adorned themselves with their best outfits and welcomed guests with smiles and hugs. The program included remarks by AHOPE’s executive and program directors, songs and choreography performed by the young kids, games, and an awards ceremony to recognize each of the individuals that will move into the transitional home. As explained by one of the program directors at AHOPE, this occasion is special because it celebrates a successful future for kids that are HIV/AIDS positive, some of which would have passed away as infants. The growth and transition of these 16 youth means that there is hope for future generations of children with similar situations.

When discussing the transition with two of the youth, they admitted that they were excited, but nervous at the same time. “This is the first time that we will move into a community where we will not know anyone. I hope people will welcome us into the neighborhood,” one youth commented. Another mentioned that he will miss AHOPE. “I will miss all of the kids and they will miss us. We grew up together. Now we will only see them during holidays.” Despite these sentiments, both kids felt ready for their move. “AHOPE prepared us well psychologically and physically. They held trainings for us to teach us about everything. They also gave us a guidebook to use as a resource.” Talking with both of the youth, each was confident that they were prepared for this new beginning.

The transitional home is the first facility created by AHOPE to provide further support to youth aging out of care until they reach the age of 24. Established as a communal living space, the home will give youth the opportunity to learn together how to live independently from the orphanage. The youth will be responsible to maintain this facility, continue with their education, and develop their own daily routines with the help of an AHOPE mentor. The goal of this transitional house is to familiarize youth with the various responsibilities associated with living independently, while maintaining some support from the orphanage. This will better prepare them for independence once they become 24.

Congratulations to all of the youth! We wish you the best!

Amharic Word of the Week:
Bayt- Home

Aatifa Sadiq
IOFA Program Development Intern

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Unintended effects: How the war on drugs is fueling human trafficking

What do a Berkeley real estate tycoon and the Italian mafia have in common? Lakireddy Balireddy, infamous landowner, and several members of the Italian mafia have been key players in the business of human trafficking. These recent cases mark a change within organize crime groups. While gangs and other organized groups have been historically known for perpetuating the underground drug business, the war on drugs has marked a shift in operational focus. Tighter regulations and stricter enforcement have been behind several drug busts around the country, and gangs were not blind in noticing the threat to their livelihood.

When it comes to exploiting, gangs often are the first to recognize new avenues for profit and are dissuaded by little. Faced with the rising risk of engaging in large drug deals, they were left looking for a way to sustain overhead funds. They soon realized that smuggling humans could be an enormously profitable enterprise; women could be prostituted multiple times while drugs could only be sold once. Furthermore, the girls carry the bulk of the risk of getting caught and prosecuted rather than the traffickers.

In 2000, Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in response to this shift in the underground sector. However, the act was difficult to enforce and ultimately was regarded a missed opportunity to prosecute traffickers under these concrete terms.

Part of the reason for the increasingly difficult to prosecute gang members is because little research has been conducted on the details of the operations. In an effort to shed light on the issue, the Australian Institute of Criminology conducted an economic analysis of the trade. The research found that the most sophisticated trafficking circles are structured like actual businesses and are designed to respond to change quickly while maximizing profit. Common roles include anonymous investors, recruiters who find potential migrants, transporters who smuggle victims, money launderers who cover up the cash trail and corrupt officials who provide the documentation necessary for operations to proceed smoothly.  

Sadly, gangs have been largely successful in their newly chosen trades. The Chinese trafficking ring is controlled by the Chinese snakeheads and together make between $2.4 and $3.5 billion annually. The Italian mafia now has a combined capital of $800 billion, and the BBC estimates that one in five Italian businesses is controlled by an organized criminal group. They work in collusion with Albanian gangs and German foreign intelligence reports that they will be expanding operations soon.

When gangs have been in existence for centuries, it’s difficult to know where to begin to dismantle their operations.  The Witherspoon Institute has deemed these steps as necessary for improving the situation:

1) State and local governments must add human trafficking to the list of suspect activities for criminal gangs
2) Gang and human trafficking task forces must coordinate and plan joint prosecutions
3) Gang investigations should include specific tactics for actively spotting human trafficking 
4) Gangs involved in human trafficking should be charged under the TVPA or state trafficking-in-persons laws in addition to other criminal charges
5) Communities should develop specialized outreach, education, and training programs to address gang-related trafficking
6) Asset forfeiture laws should be utilized more extensively in gang related human trafficking cases
7) New and creative approaches to prosecution (such as using the child soldiers provision in the TVPA) should be explored and established.

While international human trafficking and gang activity have been growing issues of importance on the world stage, they are seldom looked at in conjunction. Clearly, a link exists between organized crime and the perpetuation of large scale trafficking circles. Acknowledging this connection is a stride towards combating trafficking more effectively. 

Nikhitha Murali, Intern

Friday, August 3, 2012

FROM ETHIOPIA: "Youth are much more willing to engage in risky behaviors to become successful."

After completing another adventurous week in Addis, it is hard to believe we are almost half way through our Project Prepare curriculum. Although each module presents a new topic, idea, and conversation, the sessions are becoming more and more comfortable and dynamic. Something that has become increasingly apparent and that Project Prepare distinctly takes into consideration is the need for each module and the overall curriculum to be culturally sensitive. Throughout our time in Ethiopia and speaking to the wonderfully hospitable and kind people here, it is clear that their cultural morals and values are of the utmost importance. Furthermore, whether in a day care program or orphanage facility, each child is raised with exceptional manners, compassion, and generosity.  It is also clear culture plays a very important role for each child, and whether it is incorporating the traditional food, injera, or dance into the curriculum, the youth respond much more positively to activities and scenarios they can relate to. Additionally, it is evident that education is highly regarded and each child wants to succeed. However, something that has also become increasingly apparent is that these youth are much more willing to engage in somewhat more risky behavior to become successful.

In one of our module’s focusing on how to get a job, one of the groups disagreed with a hypothetical scenario about whether to accept a risky job abroad. The discussion took an interesting turn as half of the group felt the girl should travel overseas to find a job, and the other half felt she would be better off finding work in her village. In this sense, taking the cultural morals and values of the youth participants into consideration becomes very important. For many of these youth, life in their village or life after care does not offer many opportunities for success, a good job, or any other appealing prospects. Therefore, when a chance to leave their home arises, however uncertain or tentative it may be, many of the youth will eagerly accept this opportunity for the hope of a better life. Since this is a very real and most likely common scenario, it is important to inform the youth of the risks and dangers associated with work abroad and how to protect themselves from some of these hazards. Instead of teaching the youth that all work abroad is dangerous and should be avoided, since we know that many of the youth will view these ambiguous jobs as opportunities for a better life, the curriculum focuses on how to ensure their safety and knowing where to go and how to get help abroad. In this way, the curriculum is more specifically tailored to the opportunities presented and challenges faced by the youth. Without this cultural sensitivity and understanding of the lives and daily challenges faced by many of these youth, such a program would not be as effective. Just as the youth are learning from our curriculum, we have also been learning from them and their cultural values, morals, and beliefs.
Amharic Word of the Week:
Culture = ባህል

Amy Gilbert
IOFA Program Development/Legal Intern