Information and stories about Ethiopia

Child Poverty in EthiopiaEthiopia, a diverse nation located in the horn of Africa, is home to approximately 115 million citizens. The steady growth of the country’s population has led to economic growth and increased job opportunities. Unfortunately, population growth has also led to certain difficulties in controlling and diminishing poverty in Ethiopia. Child poverty in Ethiopia is particularly prominent.

Surviving on the Streets of Ethiopia

A native of Ethiopia, 20-year-old Mohamed Yimer has experienced the reality of child poverty in Ethiopia. At only 6 years old, Yimer lived in the streets of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, where he had to survive with almost no access to basic necessities like food, water and shelter.

Yimer “would make money by throwing people’s garbage out and collecting metals such as nails and any scraps.” The money collected would hopefully buy him enough food for the day. According to Yimer, restaurants would often give uneaten food or leftovers to him and other young kids who were unable to afford enough to eat.

While Yimer’s childhood experience was extremely challenging, he understood that there are millions of children experiencing the same situation. Estimates determine that 36 million out of the 41 million children in Ethiopia live in severe poverty. Moreover, approximately 88% of the child population is unable to obtain necessary goods or access basic services.

In addition, rampant poverty, when parents have an obligation to send their children to full-time work rather than school, characterizes child poverty in Ethiopia. This allows children to contribute financially to the family at a very young age but deprives them of an education and a true childhood.

Inadequate Living Conditions

Shelter, a priority and basic need for child growth, is incredibly difficult for many children to find in Ethiopia. Yimer explained that “hundreds of children would sleep in tents, whether it be on the side of the road or under bridge ways.” While orphanages in Ethiopia allow children to receive education, shelter and food, the living conditions there are considered to be extremely poor and insufficient for child growth.

Yimer was able to stay in an orphanage for several years during his childhood. The orphanage provided meals such as bread and tea for breakfast and basic meals, which consisted of cooked vegetables. Yimer emphasizes that they “would only receive meals with meat on holidays such as Christmas.” He also describes inadequate and poor sanitation systems in orphanages. In an orphanage filled with hundreds of kids, there was only one bathroom for both boys and girls.

Poverty Reduction

Though child poverty in Ethiopia has been a severe problem, several studies have shown some progress throughout the last two decades. Research shows that the percentage of children living in poverty has decreased from 90% to 88%.

From 2000 to 2011, overall poverty has decreased from 44% to 30%, which many consider a remarkable improvement. A focus on agricultural and economic growth, as well as focused attention on helping children access necessary goods easily, have made this possible.

Many organizations have made several recommendations in the hopes of further reducing child poverty in Ethiopia. Some of those suggestions include speeding up certain investments toward reducing child poverty. Moreover, organizations hope to improve collaborations to reduce child poverty, whether it be to provide education, better sanitation services or basic everyday necessities to children.

Though child poverty is still evident in Ethiopia today, it is important to notice its slight but steady decline throughout the last two decades. By speeding up investment, garnering higher public recognition and improving non-profit collaboration, it is possible for child poverty in Ethiopia to decrease at a much faster rate in the future.

– Elisabeth Balicanta
Photo: Flickr

Nurses Perform Life Saving Surgery in EthiopiaLess than two billion of the world’s population have access to safe, emergency surgery. Lack of surgical interventions accounts for 32% of deaths worldwide, according to a report published by the Lancet. In rural areas, patients travel long distances and sell belongings to receive the emergency care they need. It is often too late to help them by the time they meet with a specialist. For the first time, nurses were trained to provide life-saving surgery in Ethiopia.

Lack of Access

In countries like Ethiopia, lack of access is primarily due to physician shortage. After training for 10 years, many specialists leave the country for better conditions and pay. The current specialist ratio in Ethiopia is less than 1:100,000. This makes it impossible for the majority of the population to gain access to surgery in Ethiopia.

Training Nurses to Perform Surgery

The Ethiopian government began implementing a novel solution to the problem in 2009. Nurses, midwives and other healthcare workers were trained to provide emergency surgery such as cesarean section, appendectomy and laparotomy. Moreover, in the last decade, thousands of healthcare professionals have graduated from the three years training program. This provided people in rural settings access to surgery in Ethiopia. The majority of surgeries done were cesarean sections, which helped reduce the maternal mortality rate by half in 2015. Nurses or trained surgical officers achieve outcomes comparable to that of surgeons. Some medical professionals believe this is due to the experience of these individuals working on the front lines. They can identify emergencies skillfully and provide effective solutions.

Other Countries Are Doing the Same

Nurses comprise 50% of the global healthcare workforce. Many organizations such as the International Council of Nurses argue that nurses don’t currently work at their full potential. Nursing Now, another organization, believes that by utilizing nurses more, we could reach global health goals faster. Despite successes, skeptics are still concerned that nurses will not be able to deliver healthcare as effectively as traditionally trained physicians. However, other African countries including Mozambique and Tanzania have also started similar programs. Additionally, these programs observed that training midlevel providers to do surgery was a cost-effective method to provide long term care in rural areas. Around 90% of the providers stayed in rural locations after seven years compared with 0% of physicians.


Despite the success of nurses in increasing access to surgery in Ethiopia, they are still faced with many challenges. Routine power cuts interrupt surgeries around the country with dangerous consequences. In addition, the shortage of resources such as antibiotics and anesthesia hinders the work of these health care workers. Poor equipment and long waiting times contribute the most to high mortality rates for surgery in Ethiopia and other developing countries. Although emergency surgical workers have expanded the workforce, they do not solve the problem of low resources.

To continue increasing access to surgery in Ethiopia, the country was part of Safe Surgery 2020 in 2015. Safe Surgery 2020 is an initiative that partners with other NGOs to provide life-saving surgery to more of the world’s population in a safe and affordable way. The initiative has taken lessons from training healthcare providers and applied them to Cambodia and Tanzania as well. In addition to training more workers, Safe Surgery 2020 addresses gaps in infrastructure, policy development and research.

Future development programs can support the positive work being done by improving infrastructure and the delivery of resources to rural areas. By training more local experts, more of the world population can have access to basic surgery and healthcare.

Beti Sharew

Photo: Flickr

Ethiopia's GERD
In 2011, Ethiopia announced plans to build the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in the northwestern region of the country where the Blue Nile starts. As of July 2020, Ethiopia has reached the first-year target for filling the dam. Once finished, Ethiopia’s GERD will be the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa.

This project is the principal focus of the rising nation’s development initiatives. In 1991, the East African country was among the poorest in the world, having weathered a deadly famine and civil war during the 1980s. By 2020, Ethiopia is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, averaging 9.9% of broad-based growth per year. With the completion of the GERD, the Ethiopian government anticipates joining the handful of middle-income countries by 2025. Here are ten ways Ethiopia’s GERD will help to reduce poverty and transform the country.

10 Ways The GERD Will Transform Ethiopia

  1. The GERD will quadruple the amount of electricity produced in the country. The nation’s electric supply will increase from 1591 MW when plans for the dam were first announced to approximately 6,000 MW once finished.
  2. Millions of Ethiopians will have access to electricity for the first time. Currently, over 66% of Ethiopia’s 115 million citizens lack power. Once operational, the dam will provide electricity to over 76 million Ethiopians.
  3. The surplus electricity produced by the GERD will be a steady source of income. The enormous dam will generate 6000 MW of electricity, which is more than Ethiopia needs. The Ethiopian government expects to export power to neighboring nations, including Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan.
  4. Clean water provided by the GERD will lower the spread of illness. With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to clean water is a timely concern to Ethiopian officials. Frequent hand-washing is essential to tackling a virus with no vaccine, but this cannot be done without clean water. The Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa has 4.8 million residents, all of whom are well-acquainted with periodic water shortages the city suffers. The completion of the GERD will decrease the risk of contracting COVID-19 and other contagious illnesses.
  5. The dam will greatly reduce sedimentation in the Blue Nile. Sedimentation poses a huge problem for farmers living in the area, as it clogs irrigation channels and hurts the efficiency of hydropower. The GERD will save the costs of building new canals and eliminate the need for new machines to be built.
  6. The GERD will also regulate the Blue Nile’s flow. The dam includes reservoir construction, which will weather the effects of drought and manage flooding during heavier rain seasons. This will provide farmers with a more uniform schedule, rather than being at the mercy of the elements, as it was in the past.
  7. Dam construction is a business that requires tons of manpower. Ethiopia’s GERD is predicted to create 12,000 jobs, which will stimulate both the local and national economy.
  8. The GERD dam will irrigate over 1.2 million acres of arable land. The fertilization of soil will guarantee a successful harvest for millions of farmers. This is crucial to ensuring the growth of Ethiopia’s economy, which is still mostly based in agriculture.
  9. The construction of the dam is transforming formerly arid land to be more useful for the country. The site of the dam was a region of lifeless land about 20km from the Ethiopian-Sudanese border. After the GERD is finished, the artificial lake will hold up to 74 billion cubic meters of water.
  10. Even before the conclusion of the dam’s construction, the GERD will produce electricity. After negotiating talks with Egypt, Ethiopia agreed to extend the filling of the GERD dam from 2-3 years to 5-7. Despite this lengthened timeline, the first of 13 total turbines will be in operation by mid-2021.

With the undertaking of this massive and controversial project, Ethiopia shows it has no intention of stagnating in its goal to reduce poverty. Once Ethiopia’s GERD is completed, Ethiopia’s economy will flourish and the dam will decrease poverty across the nation.

Faven Woldetatyos
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Ethiopia
Located in the horn of Africa, Ethiopia is a developing country that has struggled to obtain structured and stable healthcare in the past. However, in recent years, the country  has made several attempts to provide healthcare improvements. Here are six facts about the efforts to improve healthcare in Ethiopia.

6 Facts About Healthcare in Ethiopia

  1. The number of healthcare facilities in Ethiopia has increased immensely. Within the last decade, the number of healthcare facilities and small clinics have quadrupled from 4,211 to 14,416. Public hospitals have grown in numbers from 76 to 126. With an increase in healthcare facilities, citizens living in rather rural areas will have easier access to healthcare and assistance. Although the country is still making improvements daily, the increase in statistics regarding healthcare facilities exemplifies the overall improvement of healthcare in Ethiopia.
  2. Installation of Social Accountability (SA) has improved service delivery in healthcare centers. In 2006, Ethiopia’s government introduced Social Accountability (SA) to its citizens as a new initiative to promote healthcare transparency. The Ethiopian government desired a transparent healthcare system in which citizens would receive full awareness of healthcare rights and standards. Before the introduction of SA, healthcare in Ethiopia was not easily accessible for the disabled and exemplified poor sanitation, a lack of certain medical supplies and mediocre facility service. Through SA, citizens are now aware of the service standards that healthcare systems must reach.
  3. Reforms within health finance have changed within the last decade. The government has also created several reforms to direct more attention to healthcare systems. The Health Sector Development Plan emerged in 2003 and desired an efficient way of providing extensive healthcare in Ethiopia. The increased funding allowed the healthcare sector to place more emphasis on healthcare governing, healthcare employment and additional equipment. From 2007 to 2011, Ethiopia increased expenses towards healthcare from 4.5% to 5.2%.
  4. Ethiopia’s development plan towards healthcare focused on extensive organization and management. In 2006, the development plan enforced specific facility governing boards that had overlooked healthcare facilities. Approximately 93% of facility government boards emerged in healthcare centers in 2013 in hopes of providing better management.
  5. The Institute of Healthcare Improvement (IHI) provided assistance in advocating better quality healthcare. IHI partnered with a few organizations, one of them being the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health, to create an initiative plan that emphasized quality. Through the assistance of IHI, Ethiopia’s goals consist of testing and launching a model of a desirable healthcare system that portrays improved healthcare facilities and communities. In all, it hopes to create an efficient and simple strategy that will allow for a sustainable healthcare system in Ethiopia.
  6. Established in 2020, Ethiopia’s Health System Transformation Plan (HSTP) has created several goals to improve healthcare in the future. HSTP is an intricate plan that includes several targets the Ethiopian government is hoping to achieve. These targets include a lower infant mortality rate, a decrease in HIV contraction, a decrease in tuberculosis-related deaths and a depletion of cases regarding malaria deaths. By setting these goals, Ethiopia’s government aims to have a clear and distinct outlook on the future.

These six facts about healthcare in Ethiopia exemplify a few of the effective actions that the Ethiopian government took through the use of development plans and organizations. While there is still plenty of work for the country to do, several actions have taken place in attempts to improve Ethiopia’s overall healthcare.

– Elisabeth Balicanta
Photo: Wikimedia

poverty in Ethiopia
There have been both strides and setbacks in recent years in the process of decreasing poverty in Ethiopia. Poverty in the region has been steadily falling. Several factors, including increased agriculture and a decreasing fertility rate, are responsible for this decline. However, the developing nation needs to do much more to stay on track.

The poverty rate in Ethiopia has been on a steady decline for the last 10 years. As a result, the country’s health and quality of life have been improving. The World Bank reported that the national poverty rate decreased from 29.6% to 23.5% between 2011 and 2016. Here is a breakdown of what is decreasing poverty in Ethiopia. 

The Agricultural Factor

One of the main ways that Ethiopia has improved its poverty rate is through increased agricultural activities, which are the backbone of its economy. Data from 2018 shows that the majority of the population, approximately 80%, live in rural areas. Additionally, the World Bank estimated that in 2018, approximately 67% of employment was in agriculture. For Ethiopians, agriculture is a vital part of their income. As a result, one of the most effective ways of targeting poverty in Ethiopia is stimulating the agricultural industry. 

The Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency has been identifying and remedying obstacles in Ethiopia’s agricultural industry since 2010. According to the ATA’s website, it operates “in order to provide a platform to address the most critical systemic bottlenecks constraining fulfillment of agriculture sector goals and targets identified by the government.”

Another project that is positively impacting Ethiopia’s agricultural industry is the Second Agricultural Growth Project. This project began in 2015 and aids in commercializing and increasing agricultural production.

All of this work has been paying off. According to a report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, Ethiopia’s total agricultural output in 2013/14 had risen an impressive 124% since 2004/5. With agriculture playing such a large role in Ethiopia’s economy, a continued focus on expanding and commercializing this sector of the economy should continue to help eradicate poverty in the country.

The Fertility Rate Factor

Another factor affecting Ethiopia’s poverty rates is a decrease in the fertility rate. The fertility rate is a measure of the average number of children per woman. In Ethiopia, the fertility rate has fallen from approximately 6.5 children in 2000 to 4.2 children in 2018. Fertility rates often correlate with poverty because the birth of fewer children results in a smaller drain on the nation’s resources. Countries with lower fertility rates can often offer better resources to citizens because more resources are available to each child.


While the nation is working towards overcoming poverty, it still plagues daily life in many ways. One particular effect of poverty on public health is a lack of resources for maintaining hygiene, which is particularly vital in the era of COVID-19. A lack of running water in the country has led a chunk of the population, around 22%, to practice open defecation. This practice has many health risks for the Ethiopian public, as it often leads to people coming into contact with fecal pathogens.

Another hygiene-related issue tied to poverty in Ethiopia is a lack of running water to wash hands. In Ethiopia, approximately 30% of the population is without a facility in which they can practice basic hand washing. During the era of COVID-19, hand washing is more important than ever, and this lack of washing facilities could be detrimental to the country.

Steps Forward

The Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Project at World Vision Ethiopia has made great strides in providing clean drinking water and sanitation to Ethiopia. WVE’s project “principally aims to reach children and families with a holistic suite of WASH interventions.”

WVE has made a big difference since it started the WASH project in 2011. Between 2011 and 2018, WVE successfully provided 2.4 million Ethiopians with dignified sanitation. In addition to this success, it was also able to make sure that 2.45 million Ethiopians are practicing good hygiene.

In addition to the WASH project, WVE also works to fight disease and sickness. The organization’s programs contribute to the health of more than 3.5 million vulnerable children in Ethiopia. Over the past 10 years, the organization has successfully built a hospital, 55 health centers, 257 health posts and 131 additional maternity blocks. The programs also renovated 11 outdated facilities and worked to provide the facilities with the necessary equipment.

WVE has also committed itself to combating illiteracy in Ethiopia, a necessity in any developing country. It offers a literacy program to children in Ethiopia, which is to help the children further their reading skills.

Over the past 10 years, there have been great steps forward towards decreasing poverty in Ethiopia. While these improvements are cause for celebration, it is also vital to address the poverty that still exists in the developing nation. All too often, people see progress as a sign that efforts are working and that they can simply maintain them or even cut them back. Ethiopia’s recent success is an encouraging sign, but one that needs to spur, not curtail further action.

– Sophia Gardner
Photo: Flickr

Tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa
As tuberculosis (TB) kills more than a million people each year, a new strategy to detect the disease has emerged: using rats to identify TB positive samples. TB remains the world’s deadliest disease, infecting 10 million and killing 1.5 million people in 2018. Tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa is also the main cause of death for people living with HIV.

In Mozambique, where 13.2% of the population has HIV, more than half of the people with TB also have HIV. Along with malnutrition and other diseases, HIV reduces resistance to TB, so people living in poverty are especially susceptible to TB. Those experiencing poverty are also more likely to have fewer healthcare options and spend most of their lives in overcrowded conditions and poorly ventilated buildings where TB can easily spread. However, TB is treatable; it just needs to be caught in time. APOPO, a Belgian NGO, works to detect tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa by training rats to sniff it out.

How Can Rats Detect Tuberculosis?

For nine months, African giant pouched rats are trained to sniff out TB from samples of sputum — the mucus produced from coughs. Much like the Pavlov’s dog theory, trainers condition rats to associate the sound of a click with a reward; the rats only hear a click and receive a reward when they interact with TB positive samples. The rats have to hold their snouts over the sample for two to three seconds to indicate the positive sample. To “graduate” and become heroRATS — the official name for APOPOs rats — the rats go through a testing process where they have to detect every TB positive sample among rows of sputum.

Since 2007, APOPO has partnered with local clinics that send potential TB samples for the rats to check. Health clinics perform smear microscopy tests that often come up negative when they are actually positive. The heroRATS help to correct this problem by accurately identifying the TB positive samples. Their detection rats can check up to 100 TB samples in 20 minutes while the same task might take a lab technician up to four days. After the APOPO lab confirms the TB samples tested by the rats (using WHO methods), they alert the clinic about the results. So far, the rats have screened 580,534 TB samples and prevented 126,375 potential TB infections, raising TB detection rates of partner clinics by 40%.

The Relationship Between TB and Poverty

When medical professionals are unable to detect tuberculosis and treat it in time, the disease can augment poverty rates, making living conditions even worse for people who have it. Because TB is highly contagious, those with the disease are not allowed to go to work or school, leading to a loss of income and education. The stigma surrounding TB is also detrimental; people are often excluded from the community, so they can no longer rely on support from previous outlets. APOPO’s work to increase the TB test’s accuracy and speed helps those infected to know their correct results and then seek more immediate treatment.

Progress Detecting Tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa

The three main countries APOPO operates in  — Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia —  are all considered high burden TB countries.

  • Tanzania: Tanzania has one of the highest TB burdens in the world at approximately 295 TB cases per 10,000 adults. With a poverty rate of 49.1%, almost half of Tanzanians are susceptible to TB’s spread. To help alleviate the effects of this disease, APOPO began in Tanzania in 2007 and has since expanded to 74 collaborating clinics across the country. A new testing facility in Dar es Salaam opened in 2016 and delivers results to clinics in 24 hours. Along with increasing accuracy, the APOPO facilities and rats boost the TB detection rate to around 35%.

  • Mozambique: After its success in Tanzania, in 2012 APOPO developed programs in Mozambique, where approximately 62.9% of the population lives in poverty. In partnership with Eduardo Mondlane University, APOPO built a new testing facility on the university’s grounds in Maputo. This center works with 20 local healthcare clinics and delivers results in 24 hours, which increases the probability of the patient starting treatment because it reduces the time and effort it takes to track down a patient to inform them of the results. Due to this partnership, the TB detection rate has increased by 53%.

  • Ethiopia: With a 30.8% poverty rate, Ethiopia ranks 10th for the highest TB burden in the world. To help identify these cases, APOPO is currently building a detection facility with the Armauer Hansen Research Institute. Additionally, this center will not only partner with clinics in Addis Ababa to test for TB, but will also screen up to 52,000 prison inmates and staff located in 35 prisons across Ethiopia. At the clinics, the goal is to increase identified TB cases by 35% while developing its program to create a long term impact in Ethiopia.

Armed with its innovative thinking — and its heroRATS — APOPO is making progress in detecting tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa and limiting its spread.

Zoë Padelopoulos
Photo: Flickr

Though many areas of Africa are developing thoroughly and implementing infrastructure, food security still remains an issue. Internal displacement, environmental factors and price fluctuations in countries like Ethiopia can be devastating. Predictions from the Ethiopia Humanitarian Response Plan estimated that about 8.1 million people became victims of food insecurity in 2019. Additionally, although about 2.2 million people have been internally displaced in Ethiopia as of May 2019, government operations allowed for the return of approximately 1.8 million people to their areas of origin. These seven facts about hunger in Ethiopia will give an overview of both the issues facing the country and the measures being taken to provide a solution to the food shortages.

7 Facts Concerning Hunger in Ethiopia

  1. In 2019, there were about 8 million people in Ethiopia that needed some form of aid or assistance. Of that total, approximately 4.2 million were children. Not everyone could be reached, however. The aid supplied in 2019 was only projected to reach about 3.8 million people, 2 million of which were children.
  2. Seasonal rains are often delayed in the Ethiopian region, which can lead to drought. Much of the affected population are subsistence farmers and are, therefore, unable to grow crops during this time. Insufficient rainfall to meet standards for crops occurs often, and as recently as the 2017 rainy season. The BBC estimates that droughts can cause the yield for crops to decrease to only 10% of what is expected for a regular season.
  3. Cultural biases, including those towards males, make the challenges already faced by the general population heightened for women and children. Because resources are traditionally directed towards men first, approximately 370,000 women and children in Ethiopia are in need of dire aid due to issues like severe acute malnutrition.
  4. To cope with the hunger crisis in their country, many Ethiopians have been forced to sell some of their assets. Traditionally, respite for Ethiopians is found through selling cattle for a decent sum. However, due to the prices of cattle falling during a famine, families are forced to forfeit their houses, gold, and even their land.
  5. An estimated $124 million was required to adequately serve and protect Ethiopians from hunger and famine in 2019. Due to the novel coronavirus and other health issues arising, these numbers could rise in the wake of the pandemic. Serving the healthcare sector directly benefits the issue of hunger as well.
  6. Organizations like World Vision, Food for Peace (FFP) from USAID and Mercy Corps are acting throughout Ethiopia to provide the necessary resources for surmounting the famine. Investigations and studies of the government’s safety net are being conducted to ensure the safety of the citizens in the future should famines arise again. Additionally, consortiums are periodically being held to provide food assistance to those Ethiopians facing acute food insecurity.
  7. Mercy Corps specifically recognizes education as a barrier to effectively fight famine and poverty in general. The organization’s efforts are concentrated on diversifying the prospective methods of financial gain for Ethiopians so that droughts will not completely wipe out their only source of income. Additionally, the organization is working in health-related facilities around Ethiopia to educate workers on the treatment of malnutrition.

Though Ethiopia has struggled to meet the needs of its people with regards to food supply in the past, current aid and education from foreign nations are assisting in the ultimate goal to eradicate hunger and malnutrition. The issue of hunger in Ethiopia is an immense one to tackle, but with work to develop and improve agricultural techniques for individual farmers, the country can collectively improve the situation.

– Pratik Koppikar
Photo: World Vision

Touching Hands
Touching Hands is a nonprofit that provides free hand surgery to those in need around the world. The organization serves international and domestic communities, such as Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, the United States and Nepal. These interviews detail the intricacies of the organization Touching Hands and its international impact.

Dr. Scott Kozin, M.D., Founder of Touching Hands and Chief of Staff for Shriners Hospitals for Children in Philadelphia, PA.

Q: What was the process of becoming the founder of Touching Hands?

A: “In 2014, I was President of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, and I wanted to make outreach a pillar of the organization. At that point, there were only four pillars: education, research, organizational excellence, and patient care. During my presidential year, I had a singular goal to have one international outreach mission, which was based in Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere. My presidential speech passionately pleaded with doctors and surgeons, stating, ‘We have been so lucky—just look at everything we as an organization have accomplished. Now is the right time to give back.’ The membership responded with their hearts, souls, expertise, and money. The mission to Haiti was a success and a turning point for Touching Hands, which has blossomed over the last six years. We currently have an outreach director who sits on the 13 member Hand Society council and provides a ‘seat and a voice at the table.’ We accomplished our goal and established outreach as a pillar of the organization.”

Q: Can you describe the outreach missions and how you organize the teams for the missions?

A: “Teams vary in size per each mission. There could be a handful of people to 40 people on any given mission. The team members include hand surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists. Many of the doctors and nurses who attend the missions cannot afford a week away from their practice, so we subsidize members with a $1,500 stipend that usually covers the cost of their travel and accommodations. We also try to include a community element to each trip, such as visiting an orphanage, building a school or constructing stoves.

“What really resonates with me about Touching Hands and participating on missions is the Carpe Diem principle. When you are in another country with a team of people whom you love and whom you love working with, there is a common goal. There is no competition; we are all just working towards the same objective. The principle goal is to help the people in need as much as we can. It’s a great thing to do—going on outreach missions—but there are more missions to do and more patients to care for across the globe. There’s always more to do.”

Dr. Rick Gardner, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Director for CURE Ethiopia

Q: Why do you do what you do?

A: “Oh, why do I do what I do? Well, I think for me I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. I’m helping children in a developing world setting and giving them care that we take for granted in the Western World. It gives me deep satisfaction and fills my life with purpose–helping these children.”

Q: Can you explain the relationship between Touching Hands and your practice in Ethiopia? What impact have you seen?

 A: “When I started working for Cure International in Ethiopia, I wanted to help children and train the local surgeons. Here in Ethiopia, there is a population of over 109 million people, and when I started working here seven years ago, there were just 60 orthopedic surgeons. Government healthcare resources were predominantly focused on trauma care with little resources or expertise to care for children with musculoskeletal disability. We care for children throughout Ethiopia, some having to travel for five days to come to our hospital.

[So,] when I heard of Touching Hands, I immediately got into contact with Dr. Scott Kozin. I had a patient called Rahel, born with a mirror hand [Ullnar Dimelia], a very rare congenital condition where the child has eight fingers. He had cared for many similar children and came to visit our hospital for the first time six years ago. He did incredible work, reconstructing her hand, restoring function and appearance. He and Dr. Duretti Fufa have made annual trips since then, caring for children with brachial plexus palsy, congenital hand pathology, Volkmann contractures, chronic burns and many others. They have revolutionized the breadth and quality of our upper limb service and we pass on these techniques to our Ethiopian residents and fellows. 

“Touching Hands transformed our level of care here in Ethiopia. Dr. Kozin and Dr. Fufa have taught us how to take care of these children and restore their lives. They have provided world-class care to these children and have enabled us to continue that level of care throughout the year. Dr. Kozin and Dr. Fufa continue to visit us each year. They have been a huge blessing to us.”

Dr. Fraser Leversedge, M.D., Chief Section fo Hand Surgery at the University of Colorado, Touching Hand’s Team Leader

Q: Can you describe the impact you have seen on your missions to Honduras?

A: “Since 2014, I have traveled twice a year to the Ruth Paz Hospital in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with Touching Hands. In Honduras, our medical teams – made up of members from all over North America – are given the opportunity to witness the impact of helping those who were previously unable to work, care for their families, or contribute to society. By restoring hand function, we are impacting their lives tremendously—not only helping the patient, but influencing the lives of his or her family, coworkers, and community. We [also] do not just help for a week and then leave. We believe in the importance of ‘teaching them how to fish [rather than giving them a fish].’ [Through Touching Hands,] we teach the local surgeons and trainees how to perform procedures that they may not have been taught beforehand. We are passing along our educational expertise to allow them to increase the services they provide to their patients and communities.”

Q: Why do you think it is important for doctors to consider outreach as part of their practice?

A: “I think certainly in the United States or other countries who are fortunate enough to have well-educated, funded and safe medical practices, outreach allows doctors to reset and remember why we do what we do. It also gives healthcare providers [surgeons, anesthesia providers, nurses, and therapists] and all the volunteers a sense of appreciation for what we have.”

The website for Touching Hands provides multiple options for those interested in getting involved with the cause, including volunteering, information regarding outreach missions and donating directly towards Touching Hands’ efforts.

Kacie Frederick
Photo: Dr. Scott Kozin, M.D.

Homeless Children in Ethiopia Ethiopia, especially in its capital city of Addis Ababa, is experiencing a growing homelessness crisis. Young adults and children leave the countryside to try and find work and education in the country’s urban areas, but the cost of living and housing is often unaffordable. Here are seven facts about homeless children in Ethiopia.

7 Facts about Homeless Children in Ethiopia

  1. Forty-two percent of Addis Ababa’s homeless population is under the age of 18. An official survey in 2010 counted 12,000 homeless children in Addis Ababa alone but some NGOs have estimated that the number is much higher.
  2. Family problems are cited as one of the main reasons that children leave their homes and end up living on the streets. Approximately 46% of street children in Ethiopia live with people other than their birth parents because of death, divorce, or separation.
  3. Residential shelters exist for homeless children in Ethiopia, but they must pay their way into them and continue to make money in order to stay there. Shelters are small and fit fewer than 20 children at once. For about 20 birr (57 cents in USD) children can pay to have meals and a bed for a night. One particular shelter, Hold My Hand, has been serving at-risk homeless boys by providing them food at Addis’s largest school, Bole, or by reuniting them with lost family members. Though the shelter’s capacity is small, they have been able to reunite five families with their lost sons and continue to feed children through the Bole Project.
  4. Homeless children in Ethiopia are often exploited. Human trafficking networks have a large presence in the country’s crime rings, and often young girls that are experiencing homelessness in Ethiopia fall victim to these syndicates. Once in Addis Ababa, these girls are forced into slavery-like working conditions in domestic service. Close to 400,000 humans were trapped in slavery in 2016. Retrak Ethiopia helps businesses learn more about the people they employ and then tries to rescue homeless children in Ethiopia from human trafficking.
  5. Many homeless children experience addiction or substance abuse. Glue-sniffing is a popular form of drug abuse among homeless children in Ethiopia because the substance is inexpensive and easy to obtain on the street. Street children sniff glue in order to try and ease the pain of hunger and exposure to the elements.
  6. Ethiopia’s government does not offer any type of public funding for homeless children and has instead relied on a heavy police presence to try and contain the growing crisis in cities. One method used by the police is apprehending children and forcing them back to their hometowns, but this effort has been largely unsuccessful.
  7. Ethiopia’s newest prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has charted a new path for the way the country addresses its growing homeless youth population. His new stance is the “Children on the streets have a right to live” which is a far cry from mottos of the past like the one in 2017 that emphasized “Cleaning Addis Ababa’s streets of children.” Now, Ethiopia’s government involves more conversations with on-the-ground NGOs. Habitat for Humanity has opened an Ethiopian chapter to try and rebuild old housing units and provide new ones for the country’s homeless population. Sanitation services in Ethiopia are unavailable in 80% of urban areas, so Habitat focuses on creating communal points of access for water distribution and hygienic purposes in cities like Addis Ababa.

-Grace May
Photo: Flickr

How Can We End World Hunger?
The Borgen Project has published this article and podcast episode, “How Can We End World Hunger? Travel Expert Rick Steves Visits Guatemala and Ethiopia to Explore Answers,” with permission from The World Food Program (WFP) USA. “Hacking Hunger” is the organization’s podcast that features stories of people around the world who are struggling with hunger and thought-provoking conversations with humanitarians who are working to solve it.


Rick Steves is no stranger to exploration. The renowned travel expert has built his career around investigating the nooks and crannies of Europe and sharing his discoveries with curious travelers. Recently, however, Rick ventured beyond Europe to explore one of the most pressing problems of our day: the problem of global hunger. He documents his journey in a new TV special, Hunger and Hope: Lessons from Ethiopia and Guatemala.

On this episode of Hacking Hunger, we caught up with Rick to discuss what this project taught him about the challenges and innovative solutions to solving global hunger and the inspiring people and organizations (including WFP) he met along the way. Listen and discover what he found.

Click the link below to listen to Rick Steves’ views on how the world can end hunger.



Photo: Flickr