April 21, 2006 Visiting Abebech Gobena Orphanage

Yoko Mitsukawa
Corporate Planning Office

“We're going to Ethiopia!” Those were the words of our president Masashi Takahashi towards the end of last year (2005). It seemed a bit strange at first; why on Earth would we be going to Ethiopia? As I listened to the plan in more detail however, it soon became apparent that the aim was to provide support for an Ethiopian orphanage as part of our CSR activities. As one of its employees, Mitsue-Links' devotion to corporate social responsibility activities has always been one of the reasons why I like the company. So when I discovered that, rather than simply making a donation in support of the orphanage, the intention was to provide a more visible form of support in Mitsue-Links' inimitable style, meaning that members of staff would go to Ethiopia to see the situation for themselves, I signed up right away.

The Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa

Once all the necessary preparations had been made and our schedule finalized, we set off for Ethiopia on April 9 as a three person team consisting of President Takahashi, Atsushi Tamagawa from the Motion Picture Team, who was in charge of shooting, and myself as the English interpreter. From our departure from Haneda Airport to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, stopping off in Dubai along the way, took a total of 20 hours. As we set foot on Ethiopian soil, we were greeted by crystal clear blue skies, clouds that seemed much closer than in Tokyo (due to Addis Ababa being situated 2,500 meters above sea level) and an unbroken line of green hills surrounding the entire area. Seeing such beautiful scenery on the plains of Ethiopia came as something of a shock in that it was nothing like my previous impression of Africa.

On the roughly 30-minute journey from the airport to our hotel in the city, we were able to catch a glimpse of day to day life in Addis Ababa from the car. Women walked by dressed in skirts and ethnic shawls wrapped round their shoulders and men grazed goats on the side of the main streets, as young people strolled around in jeans and t-shirts. There were wooden huts along the side of the road selling various things such as bananas and other fruit, meat, shoes and canned food. With so many people walking around and the roads continually filled with cars, taxis and buses, it was certainly a vibrant city. Just a stones throw away from the paved main streets however were large expanses of exposed rocks on the bare red earth, areas in which you could barely even walk. At the end of the road was a row of simple tin-roofed buildings packed tightly together, with poor looking children playing out front.

Abebech Gobena Orphanage

The following day we visited the Abebech Gobena Orphanage in Addis Ababa. The orphanage originated from the activities of its founder Ms. Abebech Gobena, who came to the aid of two orphaned children during the drought and famine that hit Ethiopia in 1980. Ms. Gobena's efforts to rescue children increased in scale year by year after that, resulting in the establishment of the orphanage, which is named after her. We had the opportunity to meet with her and hand over the donations raised by Mitsue-Links staff in person. She was delighted that we had come all the way from Japan and gave us a truly warm welcome as members of staff kindly showed us around the orphanage. Although we visited the orphanage expecting to see nothing more than a home for children who were unable to live with their families due to poverty, the orphanage compound also included a school for children aged from kindergarten to eighth grade, a clinic for pregnant women and a vocational training school designed to teach women skills such as cooking and house keeping, as well as accommodation for children. As the orphanage does not have a permanent sponsor to provide funds on a regular basis, it supplements its running costs through activities such as baking and selling Ethiopian staple food injera (a type of bread) to nearby restaurants, manufacturing and selling clothing and growing agricultural produce, all of which are intended to provide women living in the local area with job opportunities. With everyone from children to adults living and working together, the impression I got was like that of a small village.

To be honest, I had imagined that the children at the orphanage would be living in far worse conditions. Despite the surrounding poverty however, everything at Abebech Gobena Orphanage was kept perfectly clean. We looked in on some of the children during one of their classes and were able to see for ourselves that they are in an environment amongst members of staff with specialist knowledge and are really able to apply themselves to their studies. According to one of the members of management staff who showed us round, the orphanage's goal for the future is to take in even poorer children from the surrounding area that are unable to go to school or even feed themselves in some cases, so that they can live in the orphanage and receive an education.

In addition to crippling poverty, Ethiopia is currently facing serious problems with HIV and AIDS, with the rate of infection increasing every year, resulting in more and more children losing their parents. The orphanage also runs educational activities designed to teach local people have to prevent infection from HIV and AIDS in an effort to reduce the number of orphans. With all of these programs tying in with one another, the orphanage is a lot more than merely somewhere for children to sleep and get food to eat. I really identified with the way in which the orphanage is run, striving to give children a degree of independence, to enable the organization to run independently and to help resolve the various social problems in the area.

“Growing up together”

The theme that President Takahashi has come up with for this orphanage support project is "Growing up together", which also reflects the nature of Mitsue-Links as a company operating in the still relatively new field of IT, a company that was only established 15 years ago and whose workforce has an average age of just 28. I am confident that efforts to support the Abebech Gobena Orphanage will develop into a give-and-take relationship; in addition to helping others, there is also a lot that we can learn.

Although our five-day trip was just a short one, the opportunity to meet the staff and children at the Abebech Gobena Orphanage and to actually talk to Ethiopian people such as Ewnetu, our driver who took us around every day and acted as our guide, and his family face to face has really made me appreciate that Ethiopia is not just a country suffering from poverty and famine; it is also a beautiful country with a long history and a rich culture. I am determined to make sure that this experience will not go to waste and that it will form the basis for further exchange with the people of Ethiopia so that we can put our heads together to think of ways to improve their situation. I intend to make every effort to ensure that we can continue to engage in support activities such as these in the future in Mitsue-Links' own inimitable style.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express our sincere gratitude to Hiroki Ohkuma from the NPO Musashino Club, which supports children in Ethiopia, for all of his help during our stay in Ethiopia.

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