Stand-by-me, a charity organization established in the UK, rescues children from around the world and provide care. The organizations care work creates a safety net programs for thousands in Bekoji town, located 220 Km from the capital city, Addis Ababa. Another project office is located in western Oromia region, in Dembi Dollo town, 600km from the capital. Since its opening in 2013, it has followed in the Bethany Schools footsteps, caring for and educating over 400 children. Stand by me looks after vulnerable children and kids from poor living backgrounds in Bekoji town, helping them reach their potential. One of its achievements to date is that 10 of its children have reached a university level in their studies and are hopeful to send a further 100 students in the next five years. Apart from tackling the obstacles of child labor, medical problems, early death and extreme poverty, they also provide food and rent support which enables families to send their children to school. Biruk Mekonen is the project manager for its Bekoji project, in Ethiopia. Dawit Tolesa of The Reporter has sat down with Biruk to discuss the activities of the organization. Excerpts:
The Reporter: Tell us about the support Stand-by-me provides for students and what is the reason behind choosing Bekoji town?
Biruk Mekonen: Well, one of the main programs that Stand-by-me focuses on is education. We have 112 students in high school and preparatory levels, and we provide with food, uniforms, supplementary books and different resources. We also have 56 students studying in the various universities. We provide them with a monthly support ranging from 800 to 2500 birr. The 800 birr monthly support goes to students studying in government universities and 2500 birr is provided for college students, for a monthly tuition fee and house rent. In general, Stand-by-me has been working in Bekoji town for the last eleven years, bringing a significant change to the community, particularly for kids. One of the reasons we worked in Bekoji is because the poverty level is really massive and we want to address that. We have a school in Bekoji called “Bethany School” which currently has 401 children. Alongside the school, we provide a homemade breakfast, lunch and all school necessary materials including teachers.
What are some of the projects undertaken by Stand-by-me to help children so far?
In the project, we have 27 children with a 24 hour home care service. These children were abandoned, or have lost both of their families. Apart from that, we hired them a counselor, a cook, babysitters and ten staff members that look after them. So, I can say that it is like a lifesaving organization in Bekoji. After it was founded, many individuals have visited us with children that were abandoned. Most of them don’t have families or any responsible person. Hence, Stand-by-me has really saved their lives and help them start anew.
What makes it different from other charity organizations?
Well, we don’t only look after the kids, we also looks after their families. We provide a monthly support to those families who are really poor, in a program called Keeping Family Together (KFT). There are 111 families and we provide them a monthly payment support ranging from 500 to 1500 birr for each family, to aid them in looking after their families, pay rent and manage accommodations. This is a monthly payment for old age families. We also have around 87 families with HIV/AIDS and we provide them nutritious foods like peanut butter, onion, coffee and others. Stand-by-me also provides house repair services for these families, especially during the rainy season.
What are the progresses made by the organization?
Well, with the help of the town administration, we were able to get 4000 hectares of land. We want to expand our projects more, to build more classrooms, sport fields, a standard library for the town and we want to provide more to vulnerable children and their families. Now we have 56 staff members on the ground. Elsewhere, we are also in the process of starting a water project in the compound of our organization.
Who is the foremost supporter of this project?
Honestly, stand-by-me spends millions of birr in this project and it is a huge investment. Established in the UK, its support mainly comes from the UK. We have a sponsorship scheme whereby every kid in the project has a sponsor. These sponsors contribute monthly to Stand-by-me in its UK offices and the UK office mobilizes the fund from government or non-governmental offices through different activities. Then after, they send it to us and it is a massive investment. The main thing is they truly understand what humanity is. That is the only reason they provide a lot of effort, money and resources.
There are a number of charity organizations in Ethiopia aimed to support people in need of assistance. However, some of them only focus on temporary support rather than following-up. Hence, how does Stand-by-me look after these kids while they are studying and after finishing their studies?
What makes it different from other charity organizations is that we have a virtuous follow-up mechanism. We evaluate every student not only in Bethany school, but also university students. For those studying in high school and in preparatory levels, we have an education coordinator team. This team has a responsibility to look after those students. The team has a responsibility to contact teachers and follow-up on their education performance, collect their grades and evaluate academic results. We have a group on telegram, to follow university students, and also we have a telephone contact with their lecturers. One of our oldest kid from this organization will graduate in accounting this year. So, we provide all the necessary assistances until graduation.
What about after graduation?
In fact, what we do is once they graduate we provide some amount of money so that they can look for a job. Once they get a job, they can leave the organization and we shift the budget onto other kids. That is how it works. Elsewhere, we have a program called Income Generating Activity (IGA). So, in IGA we have 13 families that can create a business and earn money. We gave them money to start their own business. Currently, there are families who have started farming, animal husbandry and opened shops. The minimum amount of money we grant them ranges from 25,000 birr to 30,000 birr. So, if any graduated students are interested in working in our organization, our door is open. But, they have to go through the normal process, like anyone else who applies for the job.