Selamta as a Model for Change

The Selamta Family Project (SFP) builds new families by matching female caregivers with children who have been orphaned or cannot remain in their family of origin.

The aim of the project is to raise orphaned and vulnerable children (OVC) in Ethiopia within stable, permanent families. Individual attention from consistent caregivers provides a foundation for the successful physical, emotional, mental, and social development of children and adolescents.

SFP partners with Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs (MOWA) to identify OVCs in need of permanent placement. There is no age-limit and large sibling groups are accepted.

Following assessment of the child’s situation, current caregiver interview, and home visit, a course of action is determined.

Selamta Family Project’s Outreach Program

One option is SFP’s Outreach Program, which is designed to support children who have a living relative willing and able to provide care if provided with financial assistance. The Outreach Program allows ailing, often HIV positive parents or relatives and aging grandparents to continue to care for a child despite a lack of income.

In order to be accepted in the Outreach Program, HIV positive caregivers must start a treatment program, including ARV medication. Another stipulation is that children must be in school.

Selamta Family Project’s Children Center

If the Outreach Program is not a viable option, we welcome the child into Selamta Family Project’s Children’s Center. Upon intake into the Children’s Center a child’s family history is recorded and whenever possible siblings who have been separated are reunited. The child receives a full medical evaluation and treatment for existing conditions. An educational assessment is completed so that the child can enter school.

Children spend three to six months at the Children’s Center where they stabilize physically and emotionally, absorbing the reality that SFP is a place where they are safe, respected, and valued. Children are given plenty of nutritious food, medical attention, and taught proper hygiene. During this time we observe child interactions with Selamta caregivers and other children in order to form a suitable new family unit.

Recruiting and Evaluating Caregivers

Caregivers at the Children’s Center are identified through MOWA and referred by trusted community members. We aim to help vulnerable women who have been marginalized by poverty, death of a husband, or other circumstance and who need a new place in society. SFP’s caregivers complete a training program the most qualified are chosen to apprentice at the Children’s Center for three months under the guidance of the Head Mother.

Creating a Permanent Family

After the transition period at the Children’s Center, the SFP staff carefully match up to nine children with two female caregivers. We consider factors such as temperament, age, and bond with caregivers when placing children in families. Biological siblings always remain together. One caregiver at each family home is a full-time mother, a single woman who sleeps at the home. When a woman becomes a Selamta Mother, she makes a life-long commitment to being the primary caregiver for up to nine children. Mothers frequently bring a biological child who is integrated into the SFP family. A second caregiver known as the “Auntie” assists the mother at the SFP home during the day, returning to her own home in the evening.

SFP family homes are dispersed throughout the Bethel neighborhood, walking distance from each other and the private school the children attend. Placement of the homes within the neighborhood promotes integration and socialization with members of the community. Children naturally absorb knowledge of social and cultural norms. The relative anonymity of the families decreases stigma associated with being deemed AIDS orphans. Family homes are close enough to encourage a strong support network within the SFP community.

SFP Caregivers receive ongoing training and support to help them succeed at parenting and running a family. Trainings include budgeting, psychosocial support specific to OVCs, parenting skills, health, sanitation, nutrition, and First Aid. Trainings on grief, trauma, and depression prepare caregivers to identify children who are struggling and need extra support. Volunteer psychologists or SFP staff members provide individual counseling and also family mediation. The Selamta caregivers come together for a support group every other week with Selamta staff.

Caregivers also participate in the Selamta Parliament, which is a group of elected youth and adults who help resolve conflicts and address the needs of the Selamta community.

SFP meets the physical needs of each child by providing a safe home where s/he is protected from abuse, exploitation, neglect and violence. Each child enjoys nutritious food, adequate clothing, clean water, proper sanitation, health care, and hygiene.

Small Families Yield Big Success

Small family size allows for the individual attention children need to fulfill emotional and social needs. It is within a family context that children learn how to interact with one another and acquire social skills necessary to successfully integrate into society.

SFP fosters an atmosphere of caring and love through the careful selection of mothers and continual training and support. Children feel secure knowing that there is no age-out when they will be forced to leave their family home. As in a natural family, the point at which a youth moves out is based on individual needs. SFP families are permanent units and when one youth moves out another child does not take his/her place. We promote the natural family cycle that prescribes that children will help support their caregivers as they age.

SFP encourages continued bonds with biological family members whenever possible through visits and telephone conversations. If necessary, SFP collaborates with living relatives to advocate for the child’s inheritance rights to parents’ land and property.

SFP promotes the value of sports and physical activities for the emotional, physical, social and mental development of youth. The children engage in soccer leagues, gymnastics, and dance programs. SFP also fosters emotional expression and creativity through art. Volunteers offer workshops on various topics from theater to drawing.

Children learn cultural norms through exposure to media, holiday celebrations, opportunities to practice their faith, and interaction with the community on an ongoing basis. Trips to museums, cultural dance performances, and day-trips outside of Addis serve to enrich knowledge of their country and culture.

Empowerment Through Education

One of SFP’s goals is to reduce poverty by empowering youth to be contributing members of society. Life-skills training, vocational training, and formal education serve to prepare SFP youth to be productive citizens. SFP children attend an excellent local private school and engage in after-school tutoring. Leadership training, along with involvement in the SFP parliament, and weekend family meetings enhance social and communication skills, as well as boosting confidence.

SFP prepares youth for successful integration in the workforce through skills training including woodworking workshops, gardening, summer employment, and promotion of small business development. The first business project was completed by a group of young women who received a loan from SFP to open a hair salon for the summer. SFP hopes to expand its vocational training and small business development program as children reach adolescents.

One of SFP’s goals is to prevent transmission of disease, prevent unwanted pregnancy, and empower SFP children to live healthy lifestyles. SFP youth participate in trainings about first aid, hygiene, puberty and sex education, and intensive workshops about HIV/AIDS.

Scalability of the Selamta Model

A constellation of homes is complete once ten-eleven family homes are established in one neighborhood. In order for the families to remain anonymous, the neighborhood should not be inundated with SFP homes. It would be more challenging to foster a tight-knit community with more than ninety children and twenty-two women.