Giving Time: SSP’s Bob Holland Spends Easter Break Volunteering at Medhen Social Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

SSP’s Bob Holland and his wife, Nancy, get the most pleasure out of life and travels by giving back whenever possible. Most recently, over Easter Break in April, they returned for the fourth time to Ethiopia, to volunteer on behalf of a small New Jersey-based non-profit organization called Medhen Orphan Relief Effort (M.O.R.E.), of which they are both board members.

Founded in 2007, M.O.R.E.’s mission is to provide financial support to the Medhen Social Center (MSC), which offers an array of services to orphaned and vulnerable children, youth and their parents/caregivers in the Medhen community.  The programs are based on a holistic approach to well-being, with education representing one of the most critical elements necessary to break out of the cycle of poverty.  In addition, MSC breaks away from the traditional model of orphanages by placing children in foster care. It is located in an extremely impoverished section of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and the various programs were created by, and are administered under, the direction of Sister Senkenesh and her staff.

According to Bob, “It all started approximately 20 years ago at the height of the AIDS / HIV epidemic when two young girls were brought to Sister Senkenesh by their aunt.  The girls’ parents had died of AIDS and the aunt had no way to care for them.  The aunt asked Sister to care for the girls, and the mother’s dying wish was for them to get an education.  Sister was working with the leper population in Medhen at the time and did not have facilities to care for the girls, but she could not say no. Word spread quickly and many more dying parents left their children in Sister’s care. Sister soon realized that many of the couples who were suffering from leprosy (but on medication) and could not have children of their own were very willing and capable of taking in the orphaned children to provide a loving and nurturing home.“

Bob and Nancy’s mission this trip was to spend time with Sister Senkenesh working on a number of initiatives, observing the M.O.R.E.-supported programs in action and meeting with the community who benefit from her hard work and dedication to helping those less fortunate. During the visit, they even got to meet the “two girls who started it all.” Both have graduated with degrees from the University, fulfilling their mother’s dying wish.

In fact, over the past 8 years, more than 40 students from the MSC program have graduated from the University with degrees ranging from Teaching, Engineering, Business and Agricultural Degrees to an Airline Pilot and even one individual working in IT for the Government’s National Security Division.  The educational focus starts with a Montessori-based pre-school in the Medhen Community and extends to daily after-school tutorial sessions for all the elementary school-aged children participating in the MSC program.  Additionally, MSC offers vocational training for those that don’t go on to higher education, allowing these individuals to become self-sufficient and earn a living.  Other programs that are part of MSC include insuring the children’s nutritional, health care, and medical needs are met; basic shelter and care needs are met (housing, clothing, bedding, sheets, blankets, etc.); care giver training; mother’s support groups; Economic Empowerment/Livelihood Enhancement through income generating activity and training; Psycho-social support provided through various activities and programs; and a variety of other services.

Living by example, Sister Senkenesh was one of the first seven women to receive a college education in Ethiopia. Since then she has received endless recognition for her work with lepers and the social stigma of leprosy (including the Damien Dutton Award), and recently received a life-time achievement recognition from the Ethiopian Ministry of Health.

Sister Senkenesh’s vision – along with anticipating future needs and developing solutions – has grown into a community-based service model that the Ethiopian Government has used as a template for other extremely impoverished communities.  In many ways, it is similar to the United Way Agency (in the US).  However, in Ethiopia, there is no government agency involvement or government aid available. What seemed impossible 20 years ago – children from this community going to the University – has become a reality.

“It is truly remarkable to witness what has been accomplished in a relatively short period of time, as well as the outlook of hope for a better future shared by so many. The foundation Sister has built for the community will continue for many years to come, by helping people in need rise up and out of extreme poverty,” said Bob.

Since M.O.R.E. was started, the group has raised almost $2M for the orphaned and vulnerable children/youth of MSC.  Currently, there are over 450 children/youth and 235 parents/caregivers benefitting from the programs M.O.R.E. supports. To learn about M.O.R.E, visit their website at www.morechildren.org.

About Giving Time

In a recent study, SSP discovered that 33% of contractors value their free time as the leading benefit to their work above compensation; and 31% valued the opportunity to travel. In response, SSP partnered with Give A Day Global, a San Francisco-based non-profit that connects travelers with single-day volunteer missions to create the industry-first “Giving Time” initiative. In 2019, SSP will be selecting 10 contractors to experience the Giving Time initiative firsthand. The opportunity includes a three-day trip to volunteer anywhere in Latin America that Give A Day Global has a partnering charitable organization, a donation to the charitable organizations that are selected, and a video montage of each experience created by UrLife Media, that the contractors can share on their social platforms to help spread the word about the importance of giving back.

If you are an SSP contractor interested in applying to be part of the program, please go to this link to fill out the application and check out the Give A Day Global website for the list of opportunities available.