- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 12, 2006

DEBREZEIT, Ethiopia

our years of saving by the Ethiopian Evangelical Church in Northeast Washington came to fruition over the weekend with the opening of a shining new orphanage and village financed by contributions from the congregation.

The Joshua Youth Academy will eventually have 2,520 beds, as well as classrooms, vocational training and medical care for the youngest and least fortunate members of this beautiful but impoverished country.

“Christianity is not only preaching; we have to demonstrate what we preach,” said Hanfere Aligaz, senior pastor of the EEC, who conceived the project after seeing large numbers of children begging and alone during a visit to Addis Ababa nearly a decade ago.

“I wondered how many of them could have been doctors and lawyers if they had a chance,” said Mr. Aligaz. “I couldn’t get it out of my head. Even as I was driving around Silver Spring, it would come to me that I had to do something.”

Mr. Aligaz, accompanied by a dozen church elders and parishioners, looked overjoyed on Saturday as the orphans, clad in dresses, shirts and trousers of traditional bleached muslin, expressed their appreciation in song.

The first residents of the center, about 50 boys and girls, have already moved into clean and homey group houses, complete with bedrooms, a dining-room table and a housemother.

It is a stark contrast to the dingy dormitory-style orphanage in the capital that the children used to call home.

Ethiopia has one of the highest concentrations of unparented children in Africa, with 4.5 million orphans and other vulnerable children. At least 720,000 children have lost one or both parents to AIDS, according to UNICEF.

The U.S. Agency for International Development last year found “the population of street children in Ethiopia is massive and apparently growing, although no one has exact statistics on their numbers.”

Actor Brad Pitt has visited the country twice to raise awareness of their situation.

The Ethiopian Evangelical Church, located between Eastern and Georgia avenues in the District, conducts services for about 2,500 parishioners in Amharic, the dominant language in central Ethiopia.

“We all remember where we came from. We want to help our home,” said Mr. Aligaz, a former pilot for Ethiopian Airlines who believes God sent him to the United States and then called on him to create an ambitious orphanage that will educate and train the children who live there.

Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians fled their country in the late 1980s, during the brutal communist rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam. At least 100,000 have settled in the greater Washington area.

The Ethiopian government, which relies heavily on foreign economic assistance, has embraced social service contributions from nongovernmental organizations and religious groups.

The first phase of the Joshua Youth Academy cost about $970,000, not including the 13 acres donated by the government.

Ethiopian President Girma Woldegiorgis pledged on Saturday to work with other groups to undertake similar humanitarian and development work.

“What government, by itself, can handle all the areas it needs to?” Mr. Girma asked in an interview after touring the facility about 20 miles east of Addis Ababa.

“The situation of the orphans is terrible,” he said, “and expanding because of the AIDS epidemic, plus the economic problems.”


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