Open Arms of Minnesota

Letters From Ethiopia: The Orphans Left Behind

By David Plante, Volunteer

On Tuesday, we visited the Mesfin Feyisa Initiative. In 2005, the Initiative began under the auspices of Adama Dawn of Hope
— which Open Arms supports with nutrition and technical assistance — when Mesfin took in a young woman who had been discarded by her family because she was dying of AIDS.

The Initiative recently registered as a separate, charitable organization, independent of Adama Dawn of Hope.

Over the course of seven years, Mesfin has grown that single act of compassion into a well-organized, effective rehabilitation center for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) and an orphanage for the children whose parents “failed to rehabilitate.” This is no small task — the incidence of HIV here hovers around 10%, resources are scarce, and unlike the U.S., it’s impossible to rely on a bunch of active, effective volunteers to accomplish this important work.

Still, the work is miraculously successful. Since 2005, 4,000 PLWHA have gone through the rehabilitation process: they’re monitored, medicated and fed, and when they’re well enough to leave, the Initiative’s staff facilitates ongoing access to their antiretroviral regimen and enough nutrition to help them recover fully. Because of the generosity of Open Arms donors, clients of the Initiative will continue to be nourished throughout their stay; Open Arms covers the costs of the nutrition component of the rehab program.

But not everyone survives, and it’s in the wake of this disease that lies some of the harshest reality of the day: the orphans left behind.

We spent 30 minutes visiting the orphanage connected to the Mesfin Feyisa Initiative. Opened on the original site of Adama Dawn of Hope, it’s a rented amalgamation of buildings on a plot of land smaller than a Minneapolis city lot. Within its walls lies the future of 18 children; 11 are HIV-positive, and almost certainly unadoptable.

All these orphans go to school, thanks to the generosity of fellow Twin Citians who underwrite the cost of tuition. They are clothed, fed, sheltered and cared for by a group of dedicated caregivers. Those who are HIV-positive have access to antiretroviral treatment, and they are monitored by the clinic at the Mesphin initiative site, which is connected but physically separate.

Mesfin’s vision is to turn the orphanage into a boarding school of sorts, where these orphans not only survive but thrive. A lofty goal, but one that I believe can be accomplished because of the passion and commitment of Mesfin and his team, and because of the generosity of those of us who count ourselves as incredibly fortunate.

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