House of Mercy
One of the main aims of this project is to provide special needs education for children with an intellectual disability. I could see that some had Down’s Syndrome. These children are misunderstood by the community. People are worried they will ‘catch’ a similar disability from them. Orthodox parents take disabled children to holy water to try to cure them and even well-educated parents have been known to hide a disabled child out of shame. Two stories stand out. One child was chained to his father’s weaving wheel while he worked, while another was kept in a cage like a dog for a number of years. Even community leaders maintain that intellectually disabled children don’t exist in Ethiopia.
What I observed at the project were happy children learning at their own level with support from caring staff. They were learning the English alphabet as well as the Ethiopian ‘Fidel’ characters. There was time to eat, play and sleep. Each child was learning interpersonal skills and being stimulated to a much greater degree than would have been possible in their homes on Entoto mountain, just north of Addis.
There are other lessons too. A woodwork class (although a new teacher is needed for this), gardening, (they are able to grow produce for the project and to take home), sports, and dance. The latter was provided by a retired dance teacher. Guest accommodation allows people from countries outside Ethiopia to make short-term visits to share their skills.
I saw the therapy room in use - staff have been trained to offer speech and physiotherapy. One young boy I observed at play time was unable to walk when he first arrived at the project, I was told. Now he can.
Another aim of this project is to run education programmes for young mums and babies. They are taught about healthy food, healthy lifestyles and hygiene. Each programme is for 15 mums and runs in the morning or afternoon every weekday for three months. Some mums work as street cleaners in the early morning, then arrive at the programme after that.
It was great to see that House of Mercy is having an impact. They are justifiably proud of those local children who they have supported and seen enter university. Work with local orphans and vulnerable children is another main aim of the project.
This is a registered Ethiopian charity working to see children enjoy a productive and satisfying quality of life. Looking at the beneficiaries, the project appears to be doing just that, and is fulfilling its vision in a quite remarkable way.