A Little Goes a Long Way at Kechene

The kids at Kechene School (or, Initiative Ethiopia International Children’s Association, as it is officially registered) are now sharply dressed in beautiful blue uniforms, receive quality instruction, bathe at least once a week and are actually throwing away trash (rather than tossing it over the fence into an abandoned graveyard). This last bit may seem insignificant to some, but if you were at Kechene early this summer, you would greatly appreciate the improved cleanliness of the grounds.

In UNICEF’s 2008 ‘State of the World’s Children’ report, reasons stated for the underlying structural causes of child mortality were: poorly resourced, unresponsive and culturally inappropriate health and nutrition services; food insecurity; inadequate feeding practices; and a lack of hygiene and access to safe water or adequate sanitation. Kechene School is working to care for, love and educate destitute and orphaned children in Kechene neighborhood, one of the poorest in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Currently, Kechene is providing two meals per day, quality instruction, spiritual and character development, hygiene, and love and support to over 80 children in KG-1, KG-2 and 1st grades. The leadership of the school will be deciding, over the coming year, if it is best to continue to grow progressively, adding a new grade level each year or, to operate solely as a pre-school, while sending students to government primary school and keeping the doors open in the afternoon for study hall and an after school meal for Kechene alumni.

Funding and impact will be two of the main factors in making this decision. The leaders seek to maximize the positive impact on the development of destitute and orphaned children in the neighborhood and their families. The question is how to use scarce resources most effectively; it’s a learning process, but I trust they’ll figure it out. The main point of this post, however, is not to overindulge in the operational details of Kechene, nor to highlight the enormous need for such an organization. The intent is simply to express the profound joy I experienced in visiting Kechene today.

I volunteered at Kechene in the early part of the summer; you may recall two posts I wrote concerning Kechene, ‘Kechene Primary School’ and ‘Update: Kechene.’ Kechene today however, is much improved from where it was earlier this summer. This improvement is attributable to Cherokee Volunteers like Katie Wilkerson and Jonathan Page, donors (I won’t mention all of your names, but I can assure you your donations have impacted the school, the children and the community), the hiring of quality staff and teachers, and mainly to the dedication and vision of Kechene founders Nichodemas Buche, his wife Woudenesh, and his partner Wondwossen (Peter) Abera.  

After being away from the school for a few weeks, I was blown away upon entering the school today. The kids were clean (thanks for the shower, Jonathan!) and in their new uniforms, the classrooms were tidy and organized (thanks Katie!), and quality instruction was being served in every classroom along with breakfast and lunch (thanks donors!). Evidently, I was not the only one impressed. Just the other week Children’s Hope Chest (www.hopechest.org), an organization dedicated to sponsoring orphaned children, visited Kechene and immediately begun calling upon donors to sponsor the children.

With any luck, Children’s Hope Chest will succeed in sponsoring all of the children, which will greatly increase the chance of not only their survival, but of them becoming productive citizens who contribute to the development of their native land.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed, and continues to contribute, to this project. It means the world to the kids, literally. I only wish many of you, who have generously supported the project, had the opportunity to visit Kechene and personally witness the impact your donations have on the lives of these children.


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


To make a tax deductible donation to the project, contact Kim Shaw (kshaw@cherokeefund.com) at Cherokee Gives Back and tell her you wish to donate to the Kechene Project you read about on JT Vaughn’s blog. Also, you can email me for more information, jvaughn@cherokeefund.com

Or, contact Children’s Hope Chest through the ‘Contact Us’ link on their website: http://www.hopechest.org. 

In Ethiopia, contact Wondwossen (Peter) Abera at ethiopete@yahoo.com. 

A few pictures from Kechene, provided by Peter Abera, can be found on the ‘JTV’s photos’ link at the right. 

Finding a Way: SABG’s Attempt to Service the Triple Bottom Line in Rural Ethiopia

The following post is a narrative I submitted for the 2nd Annual Base of the Pyramid Narrative Competition, hosted by Cornell University.

In 2007, three orphans, Paulos Temesgen, Mussie Mohammed and Atkelt Girmay, started Selam Awassa Business Group (SABG). SABG is a for-profit enterprise focused on designing and producing appropriate technology for local farmers (crop threshers, manually operated irrigation and water pumps, etc.), contractors (cement mixers, hollow block units) and villagers (solar boxes, stoves). SABG produces many of these products with help from students apprenticing at their in-house vocational training facility. Profits are scheduled to be deployed back into the local community via self help groups (SHGs), based on the ‘Idir’ – a traditional community association for cooperation.

The life of an orphan in Ethiopia is extremely challenging. Paulos, Mussie and Atkelt were fortunate to find a family and sense of self at Selam Children’s Village in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, one of the most renowned orphanages in Ethiopia. Eventually, all three graduated from Selam’s Vocational Training School. After graduation, they were retained as instructors due to their innovation in design and technical knowledge. Envisioning an opportunity for a for-profit enterprise to play a pivotal role in alleviating poverty and environmental degradation, provide vocational training and support the local community, they moved to Awassa and established Selam Awassa Business Group.

Ethiopia is characterized by wide-spread poverty and frequent droughts; 85% of the 80 million people in Ethiopia are employed in agriculture. The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development estimates that, drought due to inadequate soil and water management causes 5-7 million people to require food assistance each year, on average. Affordable rope-and-washer irrigation pumps, such as those produced by SABG, will not only increase farmer’s yield, but also decrease the likelihood of food shortages. Other post harvest technologies, such as crop threshers, greatly increase yield for rural farmers. As yield increases, less land is required for cultivation. The less land that is required for cultivation, the more soil and forests are preserved.

SABG produces many of these environmentally friendly agricultural products with assistance from students in their vocational training programs. Skilled labor is a scarce resource in Ethiopia, and SABG hopes to attain the 100% job placement rate experienced by Selam Vocational Training facility, where they were instructors. Providing students with skills in metal working, welding, and machine manufacturing ensures a life of independence and productivity.

Another advantage of SABG is that it is owned and operated by Ethiopians (with the exception of David Roschli, a Swiss engineer and founder of Selam Children’s Village, who has moved to Awassa to mentor the management team as they launch this venture). For this reason the organization does not have to overcome issues of distrust with rural farmers, faced by many international organizations. SABG has strong relations with farmers and others in the rural community. They can leverage these relationships to convince farmers of the impact an investment in irrigation pumps, plows, or crop threshers, designed to maximize output, would have on their earning potential. SABG also sells their products to international NGOs such as Service in Mission, Water is Life and International Rescue Committee who then give the products to rural farmers or villagers who cannot afford the initial cost, or do not believe in its benefits.

A diversified customer base consisting of NGOs, small farmers and private corporations (Midroc, Al Yust Trading) provides a fairly secure revenue stream. A partnership with Sasakawa Global, a Japanese NGO, has also proven beneficial for SABG. Sasakawa Global covers costs for SABG to develop prototypes in post harvest technology (multi crop threshers, maize threshers, etc.). Sasakawa, focused on creating awareness of the benefits of technology in agriculture, performs operating demonstrations in various regions throughout Ethiopia, using SABG products.

Even with a diverse customer base and the potential to scale the model to other regions in need of improved agricultural technology, SABG still faces many challenges. The decision to operate a for-profit enterprise, as opposed to an NGO, had consequences. One of the main challenges is the inability to raise relatively easily accessible capital from the NGO donor community. Unfortunately for SABG and similar organizations, donors have yet to fully embrace the idea of funding, through investment, for-profit enterprises. Rather than associating profit with greed, donors should embrace for-profit models as a sustainable approach to poverty alleviation.

In the fall of 2007 the SABG management team seized the opportunity to submit a business plan to a socially minded investment organization. The investment organization sees potential in SABG, but the due diligence process has proven longer and more arduous than either organization anticipated. SABG has generated sales revenue of 1,005,300 ETB (approximately $100,530 USD) through the first three quarters of 2008, but this does not provide enough cash flow to cover operating and capital expenditures.

SABG is counting on the investment to expand production facilities, office space and shop area for the vocational training facility. Now that the investment organization feels comfortable with financial projections and thus raising funds for investment in SABG, the pending global financial crisis may delay this deal indefinitely.

The notion of servicing the triple bottom line is quite a task, even in the developed world where it is popular and capital is more easily accessible. SABG, however, is not attempting to create an enterprise that services the triple bottom line because it is popular in the developed world, and certainly not because they expect it to be easy. They recognized the impact appropriate technology, vocational training and supporting self help groups will have on both the natural and social rural environment. With any luck, their model will prove to be one of the best models to a sustainable approach to service the triple bottom line in the developing world.

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

If you are interested in learning more, placing an order, or investing in SABG, contact Atkelt Girmay at atkelt@ethionet.et.

“Current Experience on Existing Small Scale Irrigations,” Yalew Belete, MoARD, Best practices and technologies for small scale agricultural water management in Ethiopia, 2006.

Interview with Cherokee Education Program Alumnus

On a recent trip to Mekelle, I took the time to interview an alumnus of Cherokee Education Program, Mulegeta Adhanom. The Cherokee Education Program provides an opportunity for the top 11th grade Ethiopian high school students to live abroad in the US for one year with a host family. The exchange is primarily an opportunity for the students to experience American culture. Below is a brief interview I conducted with Mulegeta, to get his thoughts on the experience and the impact it has had on his life.

What was the best experience that you gained from spending last year abroad in the US?

It permitted me to see the world in a different dimension…It allows me to know Ethiopia more, because I hear perspectives from the outside.

What was the most challenging aspect of the past year?

The food, and adapting to the cultural norms of the family.

What was your favorite activity?

It was fun to learn with American students and to visit different places [in the US].

What do you miss most about the US, now that you’re back in Ethiopia?

Wow, tough question. Mmm, I would say the people, especially my host family.

How have you changed since you left Ethiopia?

When I was here, I was thinking only of Ethiopia, and it seemed so big. But then when I flew to the US, I felt like I covered half the world…Initially, I had stereotyped the US people as all educated, wealthy and with planned families. Now, I see people more as individuals.

How did last year affect your long-term goals?

[It] inspired me to work harder to achieve my goals and to be optimistic. I remember when I was a kid I had [an] ambition to be just like an American doctor, now I’m even more inspired to do so after getting to shadow US doctors and visit health centers there.

Do you have long-term plans to remain in Ethiopia?

Oh yea, I’m not obsessed with money, and I want to help people and there’s a great need here.

What was the most surprising thing about the US?

The great communication [channels] (via emails, cell-phones, regular mail, etc.) and the design of buildings in Chicago.


Mule is in the process of completing his senior year at Kellamino Secondary School (one of the very best in all of Ethiopia) and will then apply to universities in Ethiopia and the US.


Addis Ababa, Ethiopia