St Matthews Children’s Fund

Location: Ethiopia

Subject: Education

Dates: 1996-2004

Related ACE Cultural Tours: Ethiopia

Mission/Vision

Supporting the work of the local Ethiopian organisation; Jerusalem Association of Children’s Homes. Caring for and educating orphaned children. Primarily victims of drought, civil war and the famine disaster of 1984.

Project History

The fund was established in 1986 and subsequently set up homes in Addia Alem, Reppi, Debre Birhan, Debre Zeit, and Bahir Dar (see on map), each home caring for between 100 and 150 children. The children attended local schools and were taught basic farming skills. The trust was named after St Matthew’s Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia being the second-oldest country to have officially converted to Christianity (during the 4th century). By 1995, the Blue Nile Training School had been established on the shores of Lake Tana in the northwest highlands, providing vocational training for the older children.

Project & ACE

Philip Barnes visited Ethiopia in 1996 and was able to observe the work funded by the St Matthew’s Children’s Fund and administered by the local Jerusalem Association of Children’s Homes. He was impressed by what he saw, and later that year the ACE trustees issued two grants, one supporting an Agricultural Training Programme in Bahir Dar and the other the Selam Vocational Centre in Addis Ababa. The vocational programmes were designed to provide the skills that would turn the children into self-reliant young adults. As the immediate effects of war and famine receded, the emphasis of the St Matthew’s Children’s Fund changed from provision of basic care to education. To meet this need, in 1998 ACE began its support for a Tutorial Scheme for Elementary Students, providing education for both orphans and street children in Bahir Dar. Among the students was Shemelis Mengistu, a blind boy, who had previously demonstrated some musical talent and received training that enabled him to make a good living playing the krar, an Ethiopian lyre, in the hotels and restaurants of the capital. The tutorial schemes received a great deal of interest from local communities and, by 2001, nearly 2,500 students were receiving education, work which ACE participants on study tours to the region were able to witness at first hand. In 2003, we helped fund the extension of the scheme to Debre Birhan, allowing more children in disadvantaged urban areas to benefit from basic education. Reflecting the increasing focus on education, the Jerusalem Association of Children’s Homes changed its name to the Jerusalem Children and Community Development Organisation in 2004. More recently, JeCCDO, as it is known, proposed construction of a community-based children’s library in Bahir Dar, next door to the existing adult library, also built and managed by the organisation. ACE is pleased to be supporting this initiative and we look forward to further progress in the future as Ethiopia continues to rebuild from years of war and famine.