Meet champions for children: Ahmed Wassie, program director of Hiwot Ethiopia

August 11, 2014

Hiwot Ethiopia adheres a unique approach to child development. It focuses on empowerment of the children. Besides, Hiwot discovered early on that underlying gender issues are essential to solve development issues. Consequently, it adopted “engaging men and boys” as its main method to fight issues such as sexual abuse and exploitation on children, to increase family planning service intake by involving men and paternal involvement. By working for Hiwot Ahmed Wassie dedicates himself to improve the wellbeing of children: “We want to enable children to be in charge of their own life.”

Child empowerment

“We want to enable children to be in charge of their own life. We educate them to become leaders of child initiatives that fight for their own rights. Initiatives like peer-to-peer discussions they organize, for instance. The children they help will spread the word. Due to this snowball effect we reach many more people than solely our direct beneficiaries. Education lasts making this approach a sustainable one. I witnessed both boys and girls transforming from not able to express themselves to active and self-motivated. Although it is difficult to measure these changes in numbers, the children have changed a lot in terms of personality.”

Engaging men and boys

“Hiwot was the first organisation in Ethiopia to adopt a gender sensitive approach when working on development issues. In the fight against HIV and AIDS women face more problems than men because their voices are not being heard. Equal gender relations encourage harmony in families and the entire community. Nowadays, more organisations apply this method but nevertheless, the central role that gender occupies in all our projects remains unique.”

Gender balance at home – my personal lesson learnt

“The division of roles is unbalanced in most Ethiopian households. Men are the dominant sex and thus if we truly want to make a change in families and communities, we should focus on this group. However, most men are not supportive as yet. I must admit that my work at Hiwot has positively influenced the gender balance at home. Now, my wife and I equally divide the household tasks: laundry, cooking and taking care of our children.”

Small business covers tuition fee and rent

“Hiwot’s protection project provides support and protection services to children who have migrated to Addis Ababa from rural areas, and now live in the streets engaged in dangerous work activities, including prostitution. We make sure these children are safe, know where to go when something is wrong, and provide them business so they become self-supporting. With our support, a local girl who moved to Addis is able to sell sweets after school, so she has enough money to stay in school, pay her rent and keep away from prostitution. This makes me realize that my work is so important.”

A heartwarming example of how children take the lead in improving their family lives

“Our trainings with both parents and children are important in changing the lives of many families. After attending one of the child led activities in a sub-city of Addis, a young girl realised that the lack of open discussion within her family, and the violence she experienced at the hands of her father were issues that had to be solved. Therefore, she taught her father what she learned during the child led initiative, and even invited him to join the program. After attending, her father actively changed his behaviour and even started teaching other parents the lessons he had learnt. This resulted in significant improvements in his own family life, as well as in the lives of others.” 

Ahmed works for Hiwot Ethiopia since 2010. Hiwot Ethiopia was established in 1995 as an anti-AIDS youth club to promote a healthy and productive life of young people in Ethiopia.

This article has appeared in the STOP AIDS NOW! Children and AIDS e-news August 2014