Holt’s Family Preservation program in Ethiopia
“The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”–Matthew 7:25
By Ashli Keyser, managing editor
In the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus uses a parable to speak about faith and trusting in Him. He discusses two builders, a man who built his house on an unsteady foundation of sand, and the other who built his house on a rock – a firm foundation of faith and trust.
While the two houses in Jesus’ sermon serve as metaphors for obeying the word of God, I couldn’t help but ponder this parable as I observed two very different houses set atop a small piece of land in southern Ethiopia. Standing in front of one structure was *Ejamo, his wife, *Almaz, and their five children, waiting for our team, including Holt President and CEO Kim Brown, to arrive.
I had seen this family in a photograph, just over a year ago, and was taken aback by how different each of them looked today. The parents no longer had gloomy expressions of hunger on their faces. The children no longer wore tattered rags of clothes. They each stood, happily, in front of their new house, a strongly built hut, made of durable wood and thickly packed mud. Flowerpots lined the windowsills – a mother’s special touch to a home that she could be proud of.
To the right of the family stood another house – a weak and dilapidated hut made of eucalyptus leaves, straw, and misshapen pieces of wood and branches – a house that looked to be more of a nest than a home suitable for two parents and five children. Today that nest-like shack serves only as a devastating reminder of what this family’s life once looked like and what it will hopefully never be again.
What an amazing moment for Ejamo, I thought. Showing off his family’s new and improved house to Kim Brown and the rest of our team. “Look what I’ve accomplished, look what you’ve helped me to accomplish.” The smile on Ejamo’s face matched his equally large 7-foot frame. This family, no longer weak and wanting – like the broken-down house they once occupied – has made a fresh start and stands strong beside their house, a new beginning and a renewed hope.
“We are going to help this family,” said Phil Littleton, Holt’s senior vice president, standing with Ejamo in 2009, in the beginning stages of Holt’s intervention. “We are going to give them what they need to build a better life for themselves.”
Before their acceptance into Holt’s Family Preservation program, Ejamo’s family was in a critical state. Ejamo, sick with malaria, was unable to maintain his farming duties – the family’s main source of income. Their 7-year-old son had lost his eyesight due to a Vitamin A deficiency, and their other son’s health was failing. The eldest daughter, Tirunesh, 14, lived in Durame as a servant.
Desperate for the health of her children and the return of Tirunesh to their home, Almaz petitioned the local government for assistance. A Holt social worker was contacted and the Holt Committee stepped in to assist the desperate family.
The Holt Committee, made up of a tribal leader, a government representative, a village agricultural extension worker, a church representative and a Holt social worker, identifies “the poorest of the poor” families in Ethiopia, studies their situations, identifies weaknesses and strengths and proposes an intervention strategy. Currently, there are 120 families in Holt’s Family Preservation program spread throughout four villages in southern Ethiopia.
Holt does not simply give handouts to families in need. We provide families at-risk of losing their children with start-up supplies and assistance to get them back on their feet, including health and hygiene education, medical assistance and regular follow-ups by social workers. Many of the children in family preservation are also in Holt’s sponsorship program.
Holt gives families the tools they need to build better lives for themselves. Once families have reached a place of stability, they transition out of the program.
Ejamo had a gift for farming. To build on this talent, Holt gave him seeds to plant on his land, a four-month supply of grain and a donkey for transportation from village to town. The family also received canned milk, new clothing, bed sheets and blankets, and training on health and sanitation. Ejamo and his son received medical treatment, and the family was linked to a micro financing institution.
Today, Ejamo’s family has plenty of food to eat and a garden full of vegetables to sell. Ejamo regained his health and, in the summer of 2009, Tirunesh returned home and now attends school with the rest of her siblings. The family saved enough money to purchase a cow, and wood for building a new and stronger house.
“The initiative these families are taking is amazing,” says Larry Cahill, Holt board member. “Their willpower is even more amazing.”
Like the man who built his house on a firm foundation in Jesus’ parable, Ejamo took the skills he had learned and the supplies that he had been given and turned them into a better life for his family – a home built on a foundation of faith and strength.
“My father never gave me anything,” said Ejamo, his hand placed gently on his daughter’s shoulder. “Holt International has been like a father to me.”