OROMIA PRECINCT, ETHIOPIA–There are an estimated 6 million orphans in Ethiopia, a country of 82 million. There are a number of causes for this shockingly high number — periodic droughts, food insecurity, lack of access to contraception and exceptionally high birthrates in rural areas among them. What it all boils down to, though, is that this is a desperately poor country.

Still, even amid a situation this tragic, I came across a place of hope and inspiration. On the outskirts of Addis there is an orphanage sponsored by SOS Enfants Ethiopie, a French charity. The orphanage cares for over 300 children ages 5 to 18 and is also something of a community resource center. Children come here from a separate SOS Enfants Ethiopie sponsored orphanage that cares for children from zero to five. Once they arrive, they are provided health care, education, meals, and around the clock care. And of course, there is play-time.

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Some of the children are placed in foster families in the community. Those who are not remain at the orphanage until the age of 18. For children who qualify for university (by passing tests equivalent to an American SAT) the orphanage will pay student fees and a stipend. For the students that do not qualify for university, there are a number of on-site vocational training facilities, including a metallurgy shop (welders are in high demand around Addis), a woodwork shop, horticultural training, clothes making and embroidery. Members of the outside community are also given training here, free of charge providing they send at least one of their children to school.

The orphanage has about 40 staff, including cooks, cleaners, teachers, expert crafts men and women who teach in the vocational schools, a full-time staff member dedicated to finding employment for graduates, nurses, a pediatrician, farm hands, security guards, social workers and couple of managers. Perhaps most shocking is that the orphanage employs all these people, cares for 300 hundred children, maintains its facilities, and engages in extensive community outreach with annual operating budget of under $600,000.

Of course, considering the scope of the problem, orphanages like this are fighting an uphill battle in Ethiopia. Still the dedication of the staff was truly inspirational.

More pictures with captions after the jump. Check out SOS Enfants Ethiopie for more information about their important work.

I dropped in on a Sunday school class. Most, but not all of the children here are Ethiopian Orthodox Christians.

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Some of the kids act out a play they wrote.

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A woodwork shop is one of three vocational training facilities.

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