It’s hard to believe that I’ve spent over a month in Addis, and that I’ll be leaving in just three short weeks. I am now able to get around the city confidently and comfortably, I have favorite restaurants and cafés, and I’ve made many friends that I’ll be sad to leave. Moreover, my work has finally changed from meetings with organizational staff to interviewing young people who grew up in care: hearing their stories and experiences of transition. This is the work that I am most interested in, and it will be the basis for IOFA’s decisions moving forward on the Transitions Initiative in Ethiopia. We want to know what the personal experience of transitioning from care institutions to independence.
|Mikiyas and three research participants from Kidane Mehret|
Each individual and group has a unique story, but there are common themes that we hear over and over again. One challenge that every youth seems to face when they leave care is the extreme culture shock of joining the outside community. Most orphaned children grow up isolated in institutions with very little community interaction. Basic social skills that most children pick up through observing adults are completely foreign to orphaned youth. Tamerat, who now works as a psychologist in a Catholic orphanage, told me that he didn’t know how to buy food or clothes because everything had always been provided in the orphanage.
“[Orphaned youth] have no budgeting skills and don’t know how to save money. They also don’t have any role models for working and responsibility. Other children see their parents go to work every day, [orphaned youth] don’t have that experience. They don’t know how to manage their time to make sure everything is done.”
Every group has commented on how difficult it is to converse and interact with other people outside of the institution. The youth feel that the community will ostracize them, which leads them to be very reserved; most Ethiopians generally do not trust reserved people, so they treat the youth as though they were of bad character. This confirms the youth’s fears and leads to further psychological distress. The youth also have no sense of “good” and “bad” behavior in other people; they are often easily trusting of strangers. Because their only interactions with adults have been in the orphanage, the youth often do not possess the healthy dose of suspicion that most of us employ when meeting new people, looking for a job, and searching for housing.
|Research participants answer yes/no questions by forming a Y/N shapes with their bodies|
“We suffer long periods of time without any finances…Students who graduated with fewer qualifications and lower grades secure better employment. We graduate with honors and do not get a job at all. You can only explain this by people having contacts: relatives, families, etc., and we do not have that.”
For many of the participants in these interviews, telling their stories can be cathartic. The four girls that Mikiyas and I interviewed at Kidane Mehret orphanage were disappointed that we would not be meeting again. This was the first time anyone had asked them about their experience or showed an interest in how the transition was affecting them emotionally. The group from L’Esperance meets weekly for fellowship. They said that they discuss the challenges they face and lean on each other for support.
I am glad that IOFA’s interview process gives some of these youth the opportunity to process and reflect on their experience, as well as assurance that people do care about them and want to make the experience better for youth aging out of care.
Sarah Lyn Jones
Transitions Initiative Intern