Selamta Family Project Help Selamta Create New Families Fri, 29 Apr 2016 17:51:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Truly Wrapped in Love this Mother’s Day Thu, 28 Apr 2016 22:50:56 +0000

The reason that I’m living—that I’m alive—is because of Selamta.
Shibre Feleke Selamta Mother of 10 Years

Moms and Aunts (2)

By Marisa Stam

As babies, we’re wrapped in blankets and snuggled close to our moms. That wrapping is an example of warmth, security and comfort. But for many of our Selamta Family Project youth, their fabric of family was torn apart at an early age by death, disease and extreme poverty.

Frayed and worn, damaged fabric can be rewoven to become stronger. Our Mother’s Day “Enat” Scarf represents the individual threads, or lives, of our extraordinary families. The varied colors and textures come together to create something beautiful and unique.

Each scarf is handmade by women in Ethiopia, working hard to improve the lives of their families much like the women in our Outreach Program. Our Selamta moms pour themselves out daily to raise 8-10 children in their Forever Family homes. Our youth are wrapped in love each day knowing that they have a home, they have a family and they can dare to dream big dreams.

We hope you’ll share this kind of love with the women who mean so much to you this Mother’s Day.

Give a Gift with Purpose this Mother's Day

Order one of our beautiful gifts, donate or help spread the word about our Wrapped in Love campaign.




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Developing the Systems of Family Thu, 21 Apr 2016 22:17:25 +0000

I encourage everyone who is considering making the trip to visit Selamta Family Project to go for it! I can’t wait to go back. – Cori O’Brien Paluck


by Cori O’Brien Paluck
If I start at the very beginning, my Selamta Family Project involvement began with and our Women In Tech group Girlforce. The founder of Girlforce, Joni Martin, wanted to organize a trip to help Selamta find volunteer Salesforce resources to help the organization use the Nonprofit Starter Pack, as well as see if the Nourish Collective could help teach local women how to manufacture and sell high end soaps.
After researching Selamta’ s mission to unite orphaned children and marginalized women in forever families, I immediately signed up for the trip. As the Brickwork product specialist for iATS Payments I have been working with Salesforce for over 4 years, but had just become a Certified Administrator. I was eager to share my love of training and Salesforce with Selamta!
Before getting on the plane, I didn’t know what to expect. I had never met any Selamta Staff in person, had never seen true poverty before, and had never been to Africa. I was nervous. I was excited. I knew it was going to be an amazing adventure that I would never forget.Cori, Lily, Trish
Jump forward over an exhausting 48 hour three-flight journey between Vancouver Canada and Addis Ababa Ethiopia, we finally landed in Africa! After an eye opening drive through Addis enroute to the Bethel area where the Selamta office and houses are located, we walked up the three flights of stairs and settled into our dorm room. One of my best friends Christine was my travel mate and fellow volunteer on the trip, and we were the first of the six women (including an amazing 10 year old!) to arrive. It was 4am, pitch black, and there was no power. This we quickly discovered is quite common in Ethiopia, but that night we were happy to have followed the trusty packing guide provided to us and whipped out our flashlights. As we started to unpack, we suddenly heard the crack of lighting and rumble of thunder as a massive downpour started up outside our third story window. We rushed to look out and saw pre-dawn Addis being completely drenched with rain and torrents of water rushing down the dirt streets. What an introduction!
That first day seems like a dream to me now. After meeting the rest of the team the next morning, (which consisted of Christine and I, Melissa from the Nourish Collective, Trish from Worlds Touch, and Marisa the Selamta Executive Director with her daughter Lily) we experienced a whirlwind of hugs, introductions, fresh coffee, staff meet and greets, and neighborhood tours.
Over the next week we were lucky to be driven around the city of Addis Ababa on supply trips for the Nourish soap projects and to meet the Outreach families. We saw cattle in the streets, buses packed with people, horse-drawn carts, and more diesel smoke than I care to remember. We saw women in ripped dirty clothes alongside others in beautiful wedding dresses. We saw cement huts on the same block as mansions. We saw high-rise condo buildings, multi-story shopping malls, movie theaters.


Within Selamta, we met the nicest, kindest people in the world. Selamta staff treat you like a member of the family. But by far the most impactful experiences of the trip were hanging out in the family homes. Each night we were treated to a delicious home cooked meal by the house Mom and Auntie, consisting of everything from traditional Injera bread (made of teff flour), wat stews, perfectly cooked potatoes and beets, shiro, and so many other dishes I wish I could remember. Sometimes we had pasta with incredible tomato sauce with a hint of mitmita, which is a spice mixture that is just about my favorite thing on the planet these days. We had fresh roasted coffee served espresso style with sugar. Before and after our feasts we would sit in the family living room getting to know the family and learn what life is like in Ethiopia. We learned what school was like for them, what they want to be when they grew up, who their favorite singers were. So many amazing moments I can’t begin to describe.
Before we knew it our two weeks were up. We’d accomplished what we had set out to do and then some, and had taken the opportunity to learn about what life was like in Ethiopia. I encourage everyone who is considering making the trip to visit Selamta Family Project to go for it! I can’t wait to go back.Tesfanesh, Cori, Christine, Tsion, Pauline, Birke, Lalibela, Feb-Mar trip


Volunteer in Ethiopia with Selamta this Summer! Visit our Take a Trip page to learn more.

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Where We’re Going In 2016 Thu, 25 Feb 2016 23:18:51 +0000

By Marisa Stam, Executive Director

You are our inspiration for our 2016 vision.

Your dedication to our organization and the Selamta families we serve fills us with hope, love and drive to do more—to expand our impact—every day.

We shared some incredible successes with you in our 2015 year-end newsletter. Determined to build on those, we see tremendous potential in 2016.

Expanding our Outreach 

While we seek to enhance the opportunities for our Forever Families, we are also growing and developing our Outreach Program. Selamta has always offered both restorative and preventative care to families at risk of breaking apart through our Outreach Program.

In 2016, we plan to dedicate a full-time social worker to our Outreach Families, who will visit them regularly and offer access to many of the workshops and opportunities provided to Forever Family Homes. To do this effectively, we need to add a van, driver, social worker and development materials to our overall program. In 2015, we served 33 children across 16 families in Addis Ababa through our Outreach Program. At the start of 2016, we welcomed an additional five families, including nine children to our Outreach Program, totaling 21 families and 42 children.

It’s our desire to see these families move from their point of crisis, into education and employment and, eventually, on to self-sufficiency.

Outreach - Bethelhem, Tito, Eyob & Tsehay Outreach - Tadiyos, Mikiyas, Addis, Mekdelawit, Abenezer Outreach Families Outreach - Birhan, Mikiyas, Tasew
Emphasis on English

Educationally, our kids are thriving. With seven students at university, two of whom will graduate this spring, we’re learning more about how to prepare our youth in primary and secondary school for this next phase of life.

Ethiopian students must take National Exams to continue their education in grades 8, 10 and 12. English language is an important part of their education as many of their grade school classes are taught in English. The National Exams are in English and all university courses are also taught in English. Having access to reading material and native English speakers is very important. 

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Kindling A Passion for Reading

In mid-February, our kids were blessed with an extraordinary gift! Dale Copps, founder of bookaworld, donated 101 fully loaded Kindle e-readers to Selamta students. Each Kindle contains 1000 books in both Amharic and English. This gift is like providing a full library to each of our kids! Prior to receiving the Kindles, Selamta began a reading program in our Forever Family Homes. Each child is challenged to read 20 minutes per day. Studies show that reading 20 minutes per day increases vocabulary, improves standardized test scores and increases income potential substantially. Between the new Kindles and our Community Center library, Selamta kids now have more access to reading material and bright futures than ever before.

Kindles 3 Kindles
SAT Prep for Success

We recently discovered that international universities consider Ethiopia an English academic country even though the recognized language in Addis Ababa is Amharic. Because there are over 80 languages across Ethiopia, English has become the common denominator. Any students who wish to apply for university outside of Ethiopia, must take the SAT. We are now offering SAT prep for high-achieving students. Our current Selamta Ambassador, Jonas, is meeting with students 3 times a week to build vocabulary and prepare for their first SAT test.

SAT prep

We’ve Moved…Down the Street

We have a new Community Center! We’re still located in the Bethel Neighborhood of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but we relocated a block down the street in mid-December.

Our new facility has gathering space on the first floor including a living room, large dining table, library, future computer lab, clinic and kitchen. The first floor is the hub of Selamta life and where many celebrations, workshops and activities take place. The second floor is office space for our outstanding, dedicated staff and the third floor hosts our volunteers and ambassadors who travel to Ethiopia to serve our families.

Community Center Exterior Community Center Great Room
Do You Love Teenagers?

Last summer, we started our first English Summer Camp over the school break for primary and secondary school students. Do you love teenagers, speak English and want to experience something life-changing? This year, we will continue with English Summer Camp and we invite you to join us in Ethiopia. There will be three teams assembled in two-week sessions to facilitate our six-week English Summer Camp:

  • July 8 – July 22
  • July 22 – August 5
  • August 5 – August 19

Visit the Trips Page of our website for more information and to complete the online application.

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Selamta Family Project would not be possible without your generous support and encouragement. We are grateful for your willingness to come alongside our families, sponsor our children and send your love halfway around the world. We hope you will share the work of Selamta with family and friends so our team can serve even more of the 4 million orphaned and abandoned children still in need of stable, loving family homes.

Forever Families. Bright Futures. Together.

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Right to Love Tue, 25 Aug 2015 12:01:20 +0000

By Emily Gallagher, Selamta Ambassador – English Summer Camp Director

Having never traveled internationally except to the nearby country of Belize (proud Texan here), I prepared for my 7-week excursion to Ethiopia with great deal of excitement and almost as much apprehension. And, I will admit, my first few days here were marred with some wallowing in loneliness…

11238736_10153068334212984_6404212316473098419_nOn day three, however, the sun rose on this beautiful country and on the reality of my situation. I could never be lonely here. Not around the extraordinary children and people that compose Selamta Family Project. The nature of these children is nothing short of astounding. Having persevered through the most hellish form of loneliness- separation from the parents who should be their protectors, nurturers, and purist source of love- these children look forward in their life towards greatness.They want to contribute to the world that turned its’ back on them. Furthermore, they treat all with a respect and love that is far beyond that which most adults I know possess. The most appropriate word that comes to mind when I think of these children is INSPIRATIONAL.



During my stay here, I also had the privilege to visit the government run orphanages for girls and boys over the age of seven. I say privilege NOT because these institutions in any way possessed merit beyond a few passionate caretakers fighting for the welfare of those they housed and the incredible children that lived there. No, these institutions were abhorrent. Basic needs were barely met. There was minimal health, nutrition, and shelter. Adequate love, education, and psychological support would be considered a rare privilege here. So I found the spirit of the orphans I interacted with both shocking and inspiring. They barely differed from those whom I’d met at Selamta. Within their beautiful faces shined the same, innocent spirit of generosity and love. Yes, they sought physical affection in the form of hand-holding and hair-stroking to a greater degree than those at SFP, but their souls still possessed that sacred nature of a child.  Several boys eagerly offered me their rolls of bread during their snack time, despite their physical evidence of malnutrition. The little girls refused to let myself and the other volunteers leave without tying their humble, handmade friendship bracelets around our wrists, despite barely possessing more than the dingy clothes they wore. And everywhere I walked in these orphanages, I had a small, dirty hand clinging to mine, desperately seeking the approval, love, and protection of an adult.  No, these children were not different at all from the children at Selamta Family Project. They WERE the children of Selamta Family Project. I still find myself heart-broken thinking about the restrictive environment these children are supposed to develop and grow in.


The children of Selamta are not fortunate for their placement in this family. Fortune would imply that they are in circumstances beyond what should be ordinary or standard. They are simply receiving a child’s right to love. And with this nourishment of body and spirit, these young ones are blossoming into some of the most intelligent, generous, compassionate, and strongest individuals I have ever met.


Selamta Family Project matters because the lives of children matter more than ours. As adults, as “knowing better,” as more powerful and more capable, it our moral imperative to protect the admirable spirit of a child. We must nurture it and ensure that it has all the opportunities to grow, instead of allowing the cruel and apathetic weight of society to smother it. I have seen the fruits of this labor in the shining lives of the children at Selamta. They will become leaders of this world – the doctors, teachers, politicians, mothers, and fathers.  This is possible for them because they were not restricted from this basic and essential right to love.

Now, as a supporter of Selamta Family Project and its’ children, I, we, must advance forward to ensure this right to ALL of the world’s suffering innocent.

Learn more about how you can Get Involved with Selamta Family Project to make sure every child grows up with the love a healthy family.



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Infinite Welcome Wed, 03 Jun 2015 13:24:38 +0000

Post by Abby Morrow, Selamta Ambassador

I first traveled to Selamta in January of 2013, and my life has forever been changed.

Upon my arrival, my senses found a lot to take in and I absorbed the new sights and sounds with intrigue. Stepping off the plane in the early morning outside on the tarmac, the sun had yet to burn off the thick haze over the city, and the smell was thick and layered with diesel, spices and cattle. The people talked quickly in a language that, while beautiful, I could not understand. The roads are filled with people on foot, taxis, and buses. Everywhere you look in the city, there are people.  

We made our way through the uneven and dusty streets, and the red dirt quickly covered my feet and clothes.  I recognized that, despite the apparent business, life moves at a slower pace and time does not hold the same precise concept that I am used to.

Once we arrived at the Inn which fits snugly in the quiet town of Bethel, a few friendly faces came and left, and greeted me with a handshake, a kiss on the cheek, more words that I couldn’t understand and a friendliness that needs no language. A couple of boys entered through the gate, started scrubbing their laundry and chatting quietly in the courtyard.  This was my view as a visitor in Ethiopia.


As we started to settle in, I grew comfortable in this place that was drastically outside my comfort zone. We began to meet friends, explore this unique place called Selamta and live in community with them. Visiting each home as a guest, the hospitality I found was not simply offered, but rather it was showered upon me. The mothers and aunts set the stage as they go all in with their generosity and love.

A visit would start with them greeting us individually and personally when we entered their home, and would continue with coffee, popcorn and a meal. The kids and teens were always up for a good laugh, a card game, great conversations and a silly walk back to the office through the street at night. Relationships formed quickly and easily as we grew together as friends. The unknown that once intimidated me was now a new sort of normal.


While I was integrating into this community, part of that process was learning to navigate my way through the grid of unmarked streets. The way the houses of Selamta are dispersed throughout Bethel, they are inconspicuous to an outsider, but ever so accessible and present to each other.  During a visit to a family house, it was rare that I would find all the kids at their own home. I would, however, find kids from the other Selamta houses visiting, studying and making themselves at home. The friendships that you find within Selamta are strong, loyal and honest.  The support system is not just within the family, but within the strategic community of Selamta as a whole.


By the time it came to leave Selamta, it felt like my second home. Though I had arrived in confusion, I left knowing every street, every gate, every face and every name. The community welcomed me into their lives, and my eyes were opened to a new culture; one of sharing, respect and love. I was shown what it means to give sacrificially and without reservation, and they showed me tangible love. I arrived as a visitor; I left as part of the family.

That’s the power within Selamta. They welcome each other infinitely more. During my time there, I had the privilege of seeing two new boys enter the Selamta Family as individuals. Boys who had no family, no home, and no hope. At 13 and 15 years old, they were independents. They had been without support for many years, living on the street and in an orphanage, respectively. I watched as, within days, they found love, support and encouragement within a reliable family. They were given an entire community that wants the best for them and is willing to fight for it. 

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The heartbeat of Selamta is contagiously generous and full of life. Living alongside the families, I also began to want the best for each one of them. For me, I know that it means investing my time and resources into them so that they might have the brightest possible futures that they can have.

This summer, I have the opportunity to bring one of three teams to visit Ethiopia. Our goal is to directly impact their futures by enhancing their English skills with a creative story-telling program. I would love for you to join us, experience the hospitality of Selamta, become a part of the family, and invest yourself as a valued part of our team!


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Why On Earth? Fri, 15 May 2015 17:24:32 +0000

Post by Selamta Ambassador, Marianne Van Camp

When I told everyone I was going to spend six weeks in Ethiopia, every single one of them gave me the ‘look’. The ‘look’ that says ‘Why on Earth do you want to go to Ethiopia?’.

I have always been a keen traveller, opting out of the rat race, and choosing to explore the world and trying to revel in all its beauty. And although you have to take the good with the bad, overall I managed to do just that.

But of late, my choice of destinations have been changing. I was growing tired of seeing similar cities, with a few differences here and there, but basically being clones of each other. And I was getting more and more intrigued by the indigenous cultures that were trying so very hard to survive in westernised countries. So I decided to go and learn as much as I could from the historically rich cultures. And if the Ethiopian culture isn’t the richest in history, then I don’t know what is!

My time with Selamta…

I wanted two things: 1. go to Ethiopia and 2. do something worthwhile. So I did my research and I decided I wanted to become an ambassador for Selamta: the project sounded perfect to me, and it turned out to be perfect! It uses a common sense approach, but it really works! Children who were on their own, get to be part of a family again. They’re being cared for by the mothers and aunties and, of course, the very devoted project staff, and that is how these children get the chance to be children again.

The whole project is based on this simple principle, but it’s the enthusiasm, love and hard work of the mothers, aunties and project staff that make it work. I am very much in awe of them, because even though they usually stay in the background, they are key to the happiness and no-doubt bright futures of the Selamta children. Of course, I fully understand why they do what they do: to see the children smile is one of the most beautiful things to see! I say ‘children’, but most of the Selamta children are growing up fast!

One week after I had arrived, there was a big to-do at Selamta. That Friday there was going to be The First Sleepover and I was invited!!! Now, I probably have to admit I am perhaps getting a bit too old for teenage sleepovers, but more likely is that my Amharic was basically non-existent at the time and I didn’t understand much of what was being said. But this has its perks – I didn’t have to participate too much in Truth or Dare *sigh of relief*, and I got the chance to devote all my attention to see the girls smile and giggle! Having fun, playing Truth or Dare and giggling non-stop: that’s what girls their age are supposed to do. It was wonderful to see, and I hope there will be many many many more sleepovers for them!

Take my advice and eat a banana for breakfast

The Habesha people are renowned for their kindness and generosity, and they don’t disappoint! I was privileged to join the Selamta families for dinner each night, and got to be part of their families. Not only could I get a taste of Ethiopian food (I love Injera!!) which the mothers and aunties prepare with love and care, but I could take the time to play with the children (I love Injera Wood!! Not the food, but the card game :) ).

The food is absolutely glorious! One of the mothers took the time to explain to me how to make Injera and even let me have a go at it! It seems easy enough, but it’s an art that takes a lot of practice. Under strict supervision from the best teachers I could wish for (but who couldn’t help laughing at my clumsiness) I made two slightly square and uneven Injera… I promised I would practice with water, and hopefully I won’t make such a mess next time!

One of the first Amharic words I learned was something the mothers kept saying to me, namely ‘bi!’, meaning ‘eat!’. Because the food was so delicious, I needed no incentive, but I quickly learned another word: ‘bakka! bakka!’, meaning ‘enough! enough!’! After a couple of days I had changed my eating habit to allow me to have dinner at the families’ home. I am not kidding, a banana for breakfast and a very small lunch, so I could brace myself for dinner!

Back to school

Part of the volunteer program, was teaching English at the local school, which some of the Selamta children attended as well. I have to admit I was nervous going to the school, but someone from the project staff used to teach there and on my first day he took me to school and introduced me. Everyone at the school welcomed me, especially the students who were very excited to see a faranji at school every day!

I taught conversational English to 2nd, 3rd and 4th grade classes, and even though I was studying very hard to improve my Amharic, I think the language barrier improved the students’ knowledge of English even more. I did not know enough Amharic, so if they wanted to explain something to me, they would have to use either English or their hands and feet :)

It has been quite the experience, and I am convinced it has made me a better teacher. I am deeply indebted to everyone at the school who took the time to help me and make me feel at home. I am happy I can call them my friends.

Melkam Fasika! Melkam Ye Tinsae Beal!

A couple of weeks into my ambassadorship, Easter was upon us. Another treat! Everyone was bursting with excitement and I quickly found out why! As a Belgian, I ‘ve got many fond memories of the Easter mornings, waking up at dawn to look for chocolate eggs which the flying Church Bells from Rome had brought to us. (You can imagine the faces of the children when I told them this :) )

But Easter in Addis is completely different, and just as charming! A true celebration, remembering the sacrifices made, and as a faranji a delight to experience from the front row. Granted, it´s not easy if you are a vegetarian like me, but seeing the families happily enjoy eating the meat they have missed during lent, it felt like they were enjoying it on my behalf!

Why on Earth?

I am not a physicist, but Einstein was right. Time is relative.

My time with Selamta flew by. With a heavy heart I flew back home after six weeks. Of course it didn’t take me long to start missing the children and my friends in Addis – I think I was still at Bole airport when I already started reminiscing. And even though I didn’t take the time to go to Lalibela, Gondar or anywhere outside of Addis, I don’t regret it. It is the perfect excuse to go back as soon as possible.

Besides, I was now fully armed with so many fond memories to convince the people, who had given me the ´why on Earth do you want to go to Ethiopia?´-look, to go there themselves.

Why on Earth? To experience the Habesha way of life, eat the food, watch Amharic movies with the families and trying to understand what is happening, see the stars at night, … The list is endless. But the most important reason why on Earth I wanted to go to Ethiopia, is to do something worthwhile. And seeing the children smile and laugh at me, is definitely doing something worthwhile.

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Outreach – hope for the future Wed, 18 Feb 2015 17:25:03 +0000
Selamta serves 96 youth in 11 Selamta Forever Family Homes who have been orphaned or abandoned. But did you know that Selamta also serves 30 children across 15 families who were at risk of breaking apart before this intervention?

Tadesse Family (2)Selamta’s Outreach Program works with families at a point of crisis who might otherwise be forced to give up their children for lack of resources and the inability to properly care for them. We come alongside families in crisis and work with them until they are able to support themselves again. The Tadesse family (right) is a part of our Outreach Program. Through financial resources, access to education, parental and vocational training, and employment guidance, our goal is to see that cycles of poverty are broken and each family has the hope of a bright future.

IMG_0600These are the Assefa children (left). For about 6 years, these kiddos lived in Axum House, a Selamta Family Home, because their mother could not care for them due to extreme illness and anticipated death. But over time, their mom got well, learned a trade, found stable employment and is now able to successfully care for her children again in their own home. This is an example of the power of family and how the Selamta model of care provides for and encourages this kind of empowerment and reunification.

We look forward to serving more families in need through 2015. Will you help us reach another 30 children through our Outreach Program?

I’d like to introduce you to Nardos and her mom, Nardos & Mom2Nuneyat. Nardos is a 7 year old girl in Selamta’s Outreach Program. Her father passed away which forced her single mother to support herself and little girl all on her own. Her mother works as a daily laborer only earning about $1 per day. Life got too difficult for Nuneyat so she had to ask for help. The Women and Children Affairs Bureau of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia sent a request to Selamta to support Nardos so she can attend school. Nardos is now in grade two and has the opportunity to continue her education. Nuneyat no longer has to worry about school fees and uniforms but can gain the skills she needs to support her small family into the future.

Although they are currently served through our Outreach Program, Nardos still needs a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who financially supports Selamta with a monthly gift of $40 so we can continue the great work of bringing hope and restoration to lives torn apart by circumstance. But most importantly, a sponsor has the unique opportunity to connect with a child or family, build a lasting relationship and know that their contribution and support is going a long way to make a difference. For more information or to become a sponsor, visit our Sponsorship page. 

Forever families and bright futures…what a great way to “be at peace.”


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Ethiopia – Anywhere Road Blog Tue, 27 Jan 2015 18:22:36 +0000

10603833_864822583558591_5938027284802959676_oPost by Christopher Beisswenger

Ethiopia is the only place on my itinerary that I have visited in the 15 years prior to this journey. The three weeks I spent there in 2007 led to years of involvement, in various capacities, with the organization at which I volunteered. Selamta Family Project is a network of children’s homes in the Bethel neighborhood of Addis Ababa that unites orphaned and abandoned children with marginalized women to recreate lasting and stable family units. Although I have stayed up to date on Selamta issues since my last journey to Africa, I have longed to return to Addis Ababa to experience the spirit and hope of Selamta and the vibrancy of Ethiopia once again.

An added benefit of revisiting Ethiopia was that my mom would be meeting me there. As a board member of Selamta, she was also excited to see the children again and help the organization however she could. It had been a couple of months since I had seen any family members, and I wasn’t sure how long it might be after I left Addis Ababa. I was excited to take any opportunity to catch up with her in my travels.

Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, is a city of about 6 million people and 4 stoplights. I’m exaggerating the scarcity of traffic controls a bit (I think), but it certainly isn’t a place where you can expect to have your hand held. Nothing comes easy in Ethiopia. Preparation of injera (the spongy, pancake-like staple of any Ethiopian meal) takes days and requires years of practice. A car will cost you dearly due to the 300% tax on vehicles, and the alternative for most of the city’s population is a network of old vans packed to 300% of suggested passenger capacity. If you want some new shoes, they have good deals at the Mercado. But you probably wont find them in the largest open-air market in Africa.

These are a few of the items that locals might have on their lists of frustrations, but the reality is that much of city’s population doesn’t have the luxury of bemoaning minor inconveniences. They are facing monumental, life-threatening struggles such as devastating disease and hunger with an empty playbook of solutions. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it almost feels like whatever you do to try to help is just a drop in the bucket. But you have to start somewhere.

Selamta Family Project serves 130 children, which is tiny when you think of the millions of orphans around the country. What they are moving towards is creating a scalable model, which, if successful, could reach a much greater proportion of those in need. Representatives from relevant Ethiopian governmental organizations have recognized Selamta as the best model for orphan care in the city. Other children’s homes have sprouted up based on the Selamta framework. It will take time, maybe generations, but it is certainly worth the effort to rebuild these families and equip young people with the education and support mechanisms necessary to thrive and, hopefully, to lead.

10688214_864823060225210_7388387464908840143_oEthiopia is a challenging place for sure, but there are also countless reasons to love it. I have found Ethiopians to be some of the most gracious people anywhere in the world. They welcome visitors with incense, popcorn and wonderful coffee ceremonies. They tend to be modest; even the super rich wear old suits and drive simple cars. They speak quietly and thoughtfully. They are amazing.

Around Addis Ababa there is plenty to do, but you will have to look a little bit harder for entertainment than in your average European or American city. One of our translators for the Tuck project named Betty ended up being a great friend to me and was nice enough to show me around the city. We went to an art show at the luxurious Sheraton Hotel featuring some of her classmates and teachers at Addis Ababa University. We saw the skeleton of Lucy, the world’s first human, at the National Museum. We brushed our teeth with little carved sticks like the locals do it. Most memorably, we watched the sunset over the city from Entoto Hill.

Getting out of the city is advisable, both in order to keep your sanity and to catch a wonderfully different side of Ethiopia. One day, I set out with the Tuck group to see Abay, a natural formation described as the Ethiopian Grand Canyon. On the long drive through the countryside we got a dose of rural Ethiopia, which contains 83% of the country’s population according to UNESCO. It’s not an easy life for the rural population by any means, but there did appear to be tranquility in their simply constructed villages and beautiful surroundings. As for Abay itself, we enjoyed a breathtaking view from atop a skyscraper height waterfall.

Ethiopia has some funny quirks that I came to enjoy once I got past some of its more overwhelming and/or alarming characteristics. Grown men wear jelly shoes, a type of footwear usually reserved for grade school girls in the states. When speaking to an Ethiopian, he or she will take sharp intakes of air that serve the same purpose as nodding one’s head in conversation. Rather than take it for its intended “I’m listening”, I thought my conversation partner was gasping in horror at first. Also, I found the music videos to be some of the best entertainment out there. In one of them, a man was hard at work farming when a homely young woman entered stage left to deliver a sports drink to her beau. The gentleman sipped the refreshing beverage, offered a toothy grin, and then the two of them shimmied in unison for an awkwardly long time. Great stuff.

10537453_864822226891960_3208666145783359756_oComparing the Addis of 2014 to the 2007 variety, I was encouraged to see some changes that I perceived as progress. Immediately upon arrival, I noticed some of progress’s most visible manifestations – huge buildings. With more than a hint of pride in his soft voice, my taxi driver pointed out a slew of shiny new edifices. Also, the frequency of requests for money was far lower than when I was last there. It used to be that I would expect at least a small group to follow me and ask for cash or food as soon as my pace slowed beyond a slight jog. I didn’t experience that this time. Another thing that struck me was that I barely recognized Selamta’s neighborhood, Bethel, after an intense but seemingly well thought through construction spree. And passing below the metro line construction was a reminder that the city is addressing its deficient public transportation (a Chinese company is building the metro system for the city, which is a bit scary given that folks in Addis buy rusty old hardware from the Mercado rather than new Chinese-manufactured hardware of a comparable price point).

Tuck Global Consultancy Project

I arranged the timing of my Ethiopia visit so that I would be there at the same time as a group from Tuck School of Business tasked with providing recommendations to the Selamta board on a number of issues. 2014 was year 2 of 3 for the Tuck Global Consultancy (TGC) project. The board asked this year’s group of five for guidance on how to help Selamta children transition into successful, independent adults. The board also wanted the team to think about how to ensure that mothers receive proper care once the children are grown up and living on their own.

I offered to help the team out however possible. I was thrilled to be included in the vast majority of activity for the first week and half (out of three) before some pressing budget needs required that I shift my attention to other work.

In order to create a recommendation as to how a youth might transition out a family home, we wanted to start by making sure that we understood the academic and professional options for a young adult. Prior to our arrival, the TGC team and Abel, Selamta’s Ethiopian Director, arranged a packed schedule of meetings with representatives from primary and secondary schools, universities, vocational training schools, other children’s homes, government organizations and Selamta itself.

What I learned in these interviews extended far beyond what I had initially thought to be the scope of our research. We delved deep into the complexities of the Ethiopian family structure, education system and demographic trends, and we spoke at length about economic, political and religious issues. Also, we got a window into the dreams and expectations of the Selamta children, mothers and employees during our discussions with them. Some of the conversations got quite emotional and served as reminders about the mission of the organization and why we were there in the first place.

To illustrate some of the topics of research, here are some examples of the questions that a Selamta child might have as he or she moves from carefree primary schooler to independent, successful young professional: What do I want to do when I grow up? What sort of education and/or training will be required to get there? To whom can I talk about careers? Realistically, what career path is achievable? I am six grades behind because I wasn’t attending school while I was living on the streets. What does that mean for my future? What is the passing score needed on the grade 8, 10 and 12 exams (this changes by year)? If I don’t pass, do I go to vocational school or a short-term training program? In which vocational program will the government place me? Will I be ready to decide on a career if my test score is too low for the next level of schooling? If I am in the tiny portion of the population accepted into a government university, what score is required to be matched with my desired course of study (students are matched to a major by the government based on the student’s score and the country’s perceived skill needs)? How long after graduation will it take to get a job? How much will an apartment cost (real estate prices are rising by 25-30% per year in Selamta’s neighborhood in Addis Ababa)? Is my Selamta mother expecting me to support her once I have a job, as would be the case in many other Ethiopian families? Is she banking on the support of her religious community (Ethiopian Orthodox or Muslim, mostly) after I leave home?

As you can see, there was a lot we needed to learn.

In addition to the wealth of knowledge we were able to glean from our interviewees, seeing and participating in the interview process itself was tremendously valuable for me. In the time I spent working in mergers & acquisitions, all of the information I handled was very sensitive. To simply call the expert on the subject was normally out of the question due to confidentiality concerns. In a consulting context, the interviews they conduct are a critical part of the process. To see the way the TGC team approached this part of the project, from the interviewee selection process to the pre-made interview guides and subsequent synthesis of results, was a fantastic experience.

The team worked hard to move from data aggregation phase to analysis phase to recommendation phase (disclaimer: not official B-school lingo) in the matter of only a few weeks. I am incredibly grateful for the unique chance to have worked with such a bright group on this type of consulting project. It made it even more gratifying that we conducted the work on behalf of an organization that has been very important to my family and me.

Selamta budget

About half way through my three-week stay in Ethiopia, I switched my primary focus to the 2015 Selamta budget. There has been some turnover in Selamta leadership recently, and there was a pressing need for review and planning around the organization’s financial condition. I was to work with the staff to check and refine the existing 2015 budget.

I braced myself as I opened the budget excel file, expecting flashbacks from my banking days of indecipherable client models and lonely all-nighters in my cubicle. After a few fleeting New York City pangs, I recomposed myself to see the condition of the budget. Actually, it was quite thorough and well organized. I breathed a sigh of relief.

I worked for most of the remainder of my time in Ethiopia on what bankers call “due-diligence”. First, it involved going line by line to make sure that the file mechanics are working correctly. If you start analyzing numbers only to later realize that something that is supposed to be added is actually being multiplied, then you will have wasted time. Or the user might never catch the error and could base important decisions off of incorrect information.

Next, I worked with Abel, the Country Director, to understand and refine assumptions around the 2015 budget. We addressed questions such as: How much of a rent increase should we assume for 2015? How many students will be at university, and how much pocket money will they need per month while they are there? What programs are we offering for the children, and what do we expect the participation and cost per child to be? These are questions that Selamta will always have to ask and to which the answers will always be changing, so we worked to come up with a framework that would allow some flexibility to rework assumptions in the future as necessary.

The process was surprisingly therapeutic for me. Creating the financial models and discussing each part of the business in detail was what I liked most about banking. Taking complex problems, breaking them down into smaller and smaller pieces, and then rebuilding the pieces to form a comprehensive picture is a rewarding process, and I was happy to be able to help out a bit in this endeavor. Also, after dealing with constant uncertainty and chaos on the road for five months, it was quite rewarding to input numbers into little boxes and have something reasonably logical and orderly come out.

As my time in Addis wound down, I started to think about the next phase in my journey. From the research I had done, India would be possibly the most uncertain and chaotic place I would go. In Ethiopia, it was an incredible blessing having a purpose for my visit. I would have struggled to be there without having a way to help, and it felt nice to use some of what I have learned for a good cause.

For more of Christopher’s journey, follow his blog here.

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Tizita in LA…Difret and Opportunities to Thrive Wed, 10 Dec 2014 19:55:21 +0000

IMG_3480Given the opportunity, children will thrive. Surrounded by love and support, opportunities become realities.

We are seeing extraordinary doors open this week!!!

Our beloved Tizita, age 16, in Selamta’s Gondar House since 2006, participated in an acting workshop enrichment program during a school break a few years ago. During that time, she met a young writer/director, Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, making a film called Difret.

Tizita was cast in one of the lead roles which tells the story of a precedent-setting legal case in Ethiopia that draws attention to the traditional practice of abduction for marriage. The film addresses the issues of violence against women and the changing role of women and justice in Ethiopia. Angelina Jolie is the Executive Producer of the film (BTW, she is so kind and genuine…what a gift to meet her!). When you have an opportunity to see this film, YOU MUST!!!

Two more of our kiddos, Tigist and Nardos, also have appearances in this film. We couldn’t be more excited for our girls!

This week, Tizita is in LA because this incredible film, Difret, is under consideration for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe in the category of Best Foreign Language Film. Seriously!!! Can you believe it?! Totally incredible!

This opportunity and extraordinary experience is made possible because Selamta encourages all of our kids to pursue their interests. We focus on whole-person care knowing that all aspects of personhood must be nourished and resourced. This is only made possible with support from generous donors and, in particular, sponsors.

Our sponsors pledge monthly or annual support of our children, mothers and households. But their support goes way beyond the financial. Real relationships develop between our family members and our sponsors. We all become one family through this connection.

Tizita has repeatedly told me this week how the support and encouragement from her entire Selamta family, including volunteers and sponsors, has made such a huge difference in her life. As our founder, Carol Stone says, “Love multiplies; it doesn’t divide.”

While we celebrate this incredible opportunity and share in the excitement of this week, we remember that there are so many more children and women in Ethiopia who will also find their place in the world and thrive when given the opportunity.

This Christmas, our wish is that we are able to serve many more women and children, just like Tizita, in the future. We believe these opportunities will become a reality…with your help!

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Giving Thanks Mon, 03 Nov 2014 18:14:25 +0000


As we enter the Thanksgiving and Holiday season in the US, it’s important for us to give thanks for the many ways Selamta has been blessed this year. We are thankful for:

  • Happy and healthy forever families in Ethiopia
  • Dedicated supporters who give their time, talent and treasure to ensure Selamta’s success
  • Gifted Ethiopian staff who live out everyday serving our families
  • Volunteers and Ambassadors who travel to live with and serve our families
  • New friends who joined Selamta this year through our Lead the Way 5K and other events
  • Sponsors who build relationships with our children, youth, moms and families
  • New technology that lets all of us connect in new ways even though distance separates us physically
  • Our rich history as an organization and those who laid the foundation on which we build
  • Parter organizations who support us through donations, expertise, training and new opportunities
  • Seeing our kids grow from children to youth to university students – EXTRAORDINARY!
  • Opportunities for our moms to learn new skills and find their own independence
  • Hope for the bright futures of our families!

Our simple Thank You can’t begin to cover the depth of gratitude we hold for each of you who are a part of Selamta Family Project. It certainly takes a village a raise a child and we are so fortunate to have a worldwide village involved in the raising of our families!

Marisa Stam – US Director

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