Greetings from Addis Ababa

July 12, 2013

It has now been two weeks since I arrived in Addis, and already I have learned much about the situation of orphans and vulnerable children in Ethiopia, as well as the obstacles they face in transitioning out of care and reintegrating into the outside community.  After many long conversations and meetings with various NGOs and care institutions here, this is the general picture of the future of those children growing up in care institutions:



First, most institutions in Addis are orphanages whose main goal is international adoption for their children.  As they grow older, their chances of adoption grow slim.  Many of the orphanages that focus on adoption do not have plans for children who have grown too old for adoption, and the children keep hoping and dreaming that they will leave Ethiopia one day.  Some care institutions move children to group homes after a certain age, or try to reintegrate them with their extended families.

Some care institutions are not interested in adoption.  These institutions can be private and well-funded (like Selam Children’s Villages) or public institutions (like Kolfe and Kechene orphan homes).  The private institutions usually have an organized plan for transition and reintegration, including gradual transitions to independent living, scholarships for university, vocational training, etc.  The public institutions are overpopulated and understaffed, and often do not have the funding or the manpower to thoroughly address the issues that these children will face outside of the only home they have ever known.

The challenges that these children will face when they age out of care are many.  The biggest challenge seems to be the culture shock that they encounter as soon as they leave the institution.  Many of these children have been isolated in these care institutions for their entire lives.  They often do not have the social skills necessary for community life in Ethiopia, which is a different culture than the in which they grew up; this seems to be especially true for young people from large institutions that have a more dormitory living arrangements.  Some institutions work with a village model, raising the children in homes of 8-10 that effectively function as family units.  Still, the children in these village-based organizations have very little contact with the surrounding communities and have developed a certain set of social and cultural skills that allowed them to function within the institution but not outside.  Without social and cultural education, these young people often find it challenging to integrate themselves into the city of Addis Ababa.

A complementary challenge to transition comes from Ethiopian community-based culture itself.  Most children in Addis grow up in a community in which their family is established.  They often do not move far from that community, even when they reach adulthood. Unlike in the United States, people in Addis do not often move to new neighborhoods and communities. Young people leaving care must find homes in established communities and they are often viewed as invaders.  Because no one knows who they are or much about their background, the community often does not trust or engage with these young people.  Being an orphan or an unsupported youth in Ethiopia also carries its own stigma—they are often seen as delinquents, which creates another barrier to community integration.  In a culture and society so focused on communal interaction, this kind of social isolation can be psychologically and emotionally devastating.

Retrak Vocational Training Program

Retrak Vocational Training Program

The social and cultural challenges that these young people face are difficult enough, but often added to this burden is lack of support in securing basic needs.  Some youth attend university, some get vocational training.  The quality of education is variable, depending on not only an individual’s academic performance but also on how much financial support they get from their institution.  Because Addis attracts many people from all regions of Ethiopia and because the youth are the fastest growing population in Ethiopia, there is a shortage of good jobs.  Many young people cannot get a job for at least a year after graduating from college.  If and when young people do find work, they often do not make enough to support themselves.  It is common for young people to live with their parents after they have graduated from university or vocational school until they get married—a good 2-6 years.  Without the support of a family system to fall back on, many orphaned and unsupported youth are forced to take job opportunities that others pass up—jobs that are low-paying.  Some institutions do support their former residents by giving them housing and food allowance, but these are in the minority.

Fortunately, the Ethiopian government is finally realizing that there is a service gap in reintegration and transition support.  Along with moving away from the traditional dormitory/orphanage model of care for unsupported or orphaned children, the government is trying to incorporate models of care that mimic community and village life.  UNICEF Ethiopia is also collaborating with Kolfe and Kechene orphanages in Addis on reintegration education and support programs, though the funding and results of their efforts are still unclear.

All of this information has come from administrative staff of various NGOs and care institutions here in Addis Ababa.  I am very interested to hear from those individuals who have transitioned into the city of Addis about their own experiences, to hear their own individual stories.

If you are interested in learning about the organizations with which IOFA will be working with this summer, here is a list.  Each is doing great work and deserves to be known.

Women In Self Employment (WISE)

Selam Children’s Village

AHOPE Ethiopia

Children’s Heaven

The Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara (ORDA)

The Italian Center for Children’s Aid (CIAI)


Kingdom Vision International

Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture in Ethiopia (RCVTE)

Sarah Lyn Jones
Transitions Initiative Intern

Photo 1: Retrak Vocational Training Program

Photo 2: AHOPE Kids


Recommendations: Cook County DCFS youth recount their experiences with a job training program

Last week’s blog post reported the reflections of DCFS foster youth participants in a job training program, as noted through Chapin Hall focus groups. The Cook County-based program seeks to provide four weeks of training before two months of subsidized work placements, yet the participants’ feedback has been disappointing. How can programs like the Cook County one be improved?


Increased organization and individualized care

One of the most widespread complaints among the DCFS ward participants was the perceived disorganization of the program. One suggestion that Chapin Hall makes is to train DCFS wards separately from other populations for more specialized and individualized attention and training.

The needs of the DCFS ward participants are often starkly different from some of the populations with whom they have been trained (ex-convict adults, for example). The training program is often the first preparation for professionalism that the young participants have ever received. Using age-specific material and encouraging an environment of equality of status and priority could improve the effectiveness of the program for DCFS ward participants.

The smaller training class size would also encourage engagement in the program and give participants the opportunity to ask their questions and receive more individualized support.

Interactive Skill-building activities

Another complaint of the program participants was the worksheet-style training. The DCFS youth preferred a more hands-on approach, citing an interactive “Pretend Town” activity as the most useful part of the training as a whole. Other concrete examples that the participants mentioned included mock interviews, CPR training, and opportunities “where you practice”. Hands-on learning experiences help participants feel that their time is being valued and prepare them for real-world experience.

A more interactive approach also would better equip the young participants to handle unforeseen challenges in the workplace. Preparation for conflict management, emergency response, and other opportunities to think on their feet would help create appropriate response patterns to these situations.

Curriculum for keeping the job, not just landing it

DCFS ward participants expressed frustration over the program’s curriculum, which sought to equip them to write resumes, speak in interviews, and dress for success. Once participants had landed the job, however, participants felt that the skills required of them for continued success, both job-specific and general professionalism, were lacking.

A curriculum including more extensive job-specific training, while necessitating more specialization, could improve the value participants place on the training, their confidence upon entrée into the job, and their performance in their position. Approaching the program with a focus on long-term results (success in job placement) rather than the short-term goal (the initial placement) could increase the participants’ chances of success and satisfaction upon employment, ultimately fulfilling the vision of the program 

Put job placement options in a realistic, positive perspective

Many participants expressed disappointment in the discord between their career interests and their job placements. Clear communication of the existing job placement options and the viability of placement in their fields of interests could improve the participants’ emotional reactions to receiving their placement.

I would also suggest creating a “game plan” of how youth can work their way into their field of interest, even if their initial placement is not going to reflect their preferences. For example, focusing on the skill sets that will be honed in a daycare center that can be applied to a future restaurant host/hostess position could help change participants’ outlook and increase incentive to stay engaged in their placement.

Provide orientation for subsidized job placement staff prior to DCFS ward employment

One of the most disconcerting responses of the participants in the job placement program was feeling used for cheap labor. Rather than perceiving potential for a long-term relationship with their supervisors, the youth express feeling taken advantage of and doubt about employers’ intentions to keep them on as staff.

While the program is a professional partnership between the job placement sites and the program facilitators, a participant-centered approach is critical to beginning those relationships. In the same way that an unpaid intern is paid in practical on-site experience, the subsidized job placements should reflect compensation in experience and professional relationships for the DCFS ward participants.

An orientation session for the employers stressing the factors and goals of the DCFS ward participants could improve respect and understanding between employer and employee and better prepare employers to make the placement an enriching and mutually beneficial experience.

Train staff to treat DCFS ward participants with respect

 Participants often described feeling treated like “little kids” by the program staff. They perceive stigmatization regarding their DCFS ward status and by their age in comparison to some of the adult clientele that the program aids in job placements.

Just as an orientation session would help relationships between the job placement employers and DCFS ward participants, more extensive training for program staff could improve relationships between the program staff and the DCFS ward participants. Those responsible for training participants ought to be training by example – exercising professionalism, respect and compassion in the program.

While these suggestions are by no means comprehensive, they provide a good launch pad for resourcing youth aging out of alternative care.

 A job placement program can open new doors for vulnerable youth who must secure provision and protection in new ways when they are no longer under the care of the State. Stable employment must be made a priority as it can serve as an alternative to the harmful, yet alluring provision of gang membership, theft, or trusting false promises of protection.

These needs are mirrored across the globe. While this Chapin Hall study focuses on a job placement program here in Cook County, similar studies in other nations could help us tackle the global vulnerabilities of youth aging out of care. The Transitions Initiative seeks to do just that. Keep an eye on IOFA intern Sarah’s updates from Addis Ababa, where she is researching the experiences of youth aging out of care there.


 A sincere thank-you to Amy Dworsky and Judy Havlicek at Chapin Hall – University of Chicago for their research and shared results.

Dworsky, A. & Havlicek, J. (2010). Experiences of Foster Youth in an Employment Training and Job Placement Program. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of ChicagoPhoto:


Alexa Schnieders

Program Development Intern

Welcome to Addis Ababa, Sarah!

July 4, 2013


After finishing my undergraduate degree, I had the incredible opportunity to live and work in South India, teaching girls and young women conversational English and volunteering at different women’s organizations.  It was there that I fell in love with youth-centered service work, and am now pursuing my Masters in Social Work at the University of Chicago, focusing on international social work.  After graduating, I hope to find work with an internationally-focused organization that invests in, supports, and empowers vulnerable youth and young adults around the world. 

I am excited to start my work as the Transitions Initiative Intern with IOFA!  This summer, I will be in Addis Ababa doing research on the experience of adolescents who have left institutional care (orphanages, group homes, etc.) to make their own way in the world.  Youth and young adults who lack the support of family networks face severe challenges in transitioning to adulthood, and are much more vulnerable to the problems of exploitation, poverty, and violence.  Throughout the next two months, I will be working with local organizations to identify and interview individuals who grew up without traditional family support and record their transition stories.

I have been in Addis for only 10 days, but am already falling in love with the city and its people.  As I meet with organizational directors, humanitarian workers, and children at group homes/orphanages, I am learning much about the needs of these youth and am energized and inspired to continue the amazing work that IOFA does with the Transitions Initiative. 

Sarah Lyn Jones

Transitions Initiative Intern

Cook County DCFS Youth Recount their Experiences with Job Training Program


Many adolescents in DCFS care experience instability in their living situations, education, and relationships with trusted adults. Accordingly, they often face heightened risks of unemployment, homelessness, incarceration and exploitation. There are many programs that offer assistance to youth in alternative care in their search for long-term independence and employment.

A study done by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago offers insight into the participants’ experiences with a program in Cook County. The program facilitates four weeks of employment training in a classroom setting followed by subsidized job placements for up to two months. These new employees ideally then transition into unsubsidized, stable placements.

The feedback from participants has been discouraging. Below are some of their remarks noted by the Chapin Hall study:

Foster youth participants describe the training space as chaotic and disorganized:

And then he’s (staff) screaming….The teacher can’t control the class. In my last class, when I had orientation it was over 40 students in one class. It was like all the chairs was packed and full.

They also dislike the use of worksheets and packets that created a schoolroom environment:

When I first joined [the program], and I told them like if I wanted to be in school, I would go to school. But me coming here to find more skills and a better way to get a job for me….Y’all basically trying to teach me it like it’s school and you can’t do that with everybody.

Participants also seem frustrated by the training content, particularly the emphasis on hygiene:

Like it’s sheer stupidity. How you going to teach me how to brush my teeth? How you going to teach—I mean teach me something about the job, please. Don’t teach me something about stuff that I already know.

…But they don’t teach you what to do if you get the job and if you keep it.

The participants were equally disappointed by their job placements not matching their stated preferences:

It’s just—yeah you’ve got placement in an appointment and they give you a little sheet and you go “oh. I’ve got to go here to work?”

Moreover, many participants stated feeling used for free labor:

They’re not even looking for to hire anybody permanently. They just looking for free help.

Many foster youth participants also report feeling disrespected by both the program staff and by the staff in their job placement:

They treat us like they have the key to our life. Like if we don’t give them highly utmost respect and humble ourselves to them.

Something has gone awry. A program meant to empower youths transitioning out of alternative care is resulting in complaints of disorganization, lack of appropriate training, ill-suited job placements and perceived disrespect. En lieu of a stepping-stone in the transition to emancipation and adulthood, participants report perceptions of condescension and feeling used for cheap labor.

How can such programs ensure that its participants feel respected and supported as they seek entrance to the workforce? How can it better equip them to thrive once they are in the workplace? What factors ought to be taken into account in implementing an employment training and placement program for youths exiting foster care?

More on this next week.

Alexa Schnieders

A sincere thank-you to Amy Dworsky and Judy Havlicek at Chapin Hall – University of Chicago for their research and shared results.

Dworsky, A. & Havlicek, J. (2010).Experiences of Foster Youth in an Employment Training and Job Placement Program. Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago

Photo: Graffiti by Banksy, London. Retrieved from