Making homes for Ethiopia's thousands of `famine orphans'

They jumped into our arms and started kissing us. Two of Ethiopia's thousands of orphans from the famine of 1983-85 had just given their own style of welcome to visitors. Here, in a small village, in a clean mud-flooded, two-room hut, six of those children are living with an Ethiopian housemother - all funded by Save the Children (US).

The children, ranging in age from 4 to 11 years old, were found at local food-relief centers.

The idea behind this home and nine others that Save The Children (US) funds in the area, is to keep the children, whose average age is 13, out of a big institutional environment, according to the staff.

By keeping the children in small groups in the villages, the agency hopes that the villagers will help them eventually adjust to life on their own. The children might, for example, become enough a part of the village to be given farm land when they are older.

One misunderstanding has already emerged between the children and the villagers: the children have no parents they must help in the fields, and are thus seen by some villages as ``lazy,'' says one of the staff workers. But, the children have extra time to study and Save the Children provides them with school supplies. Thus, they are ``leading the others in school'' says Debritu Belete, an Ethiopian Save the Children worker.

The famine left at least 16,000 parentless children, according to the government. Many of the parents died. Some were separated from their children during long treks to feeding camps, and some were separated from their children as a result of two heavily criticized government relocation projects.

More than 9,000 of these children have been reunited with family members says Haile Meskel Gemetchu, an Ethiopian official. The rest are mostly in villages in the south, where the government resettled people from areas of poor agricultural potential, or in former relief camp areas in the north.

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