Organization for Prevention, Rehabilitation and Integration of Female Street Children (OPRIFS) is an Ethiopian Residents’ charity, Non-government, humanitarian, organization working for the benefit and welfare of female street children. Established in the year 2000, the organization runs several programs for the prevention and protection of children from abuse. Capital’s Eskedar Kifle spoke to Zinash Bezabih, Executive Director of OPRIFS, about the organization’s work for the past 15 years and explores the changes it has made in the lives of young girls.
Capital: Tell us about your background and your work as Executive Director of OPRIFS
Zinash Bezabih: I started off in the medical field as a nurse, then I studied management and now I am in social work. I have always worked in the helping profession. I have served governmental and non-governmental organizations for the past 20 years and it has been almost 8 years since I started working for OPRIFS.
Capital: Give us a brief history about OPRIFS
Zinash: OPRIFS was established in the year 2000. There are many studies indicating that young girls suffered from abuse both inside and outside the home so the organization was established to minimize these abuses.
From the start the major focus has been helping young girls but we knew that this was not enough so we devised comprehensive strategies which will involve communities in the fight to protect girls from abuse.
We worked out a five year action plan that began in 2012 and will continue through 2016. Within this action plan, there are four major programs.
The most encouraging program is abuse prevention. We work intensively on prevention because once the abuse occurs, rehabilitation is a very difficult journey and the child will likely be scarred for life. When health centers provide services for young girls that have been abused it is also very expensive.
When we drafted our five year action plan, we involved all stakeholders including the children. We talked about how to strengthen prevention and we decided that because abuse happens in society as a whole we need to work with society to help prevent it.
For example, we try to prevent children from being abused at school but if they have already experienced it we help them get the services they need. Because a lot of children we work with come from low income families we try to address their economic situation by making sure they have school materials, tutors, and personal hygiene products as well as making sure the educational environment is appropriate for them.
If the girls are not able to get these materials and services, they are bound to feel inferior and will likely drop out of school. To improve their self esteem we also provide girls with counseling and guidance.
In Addis Ababa we work with 6 selected schools which have students from very low income families.
We also work on family focused child care. Through this system, we build the economic capacity of families as well as increase their involvement in society. We offer them life skills and parenting trainings. These trainings will build their capacity so they can better take care of their children.
In addition to other shelter options, there are volunteer mothers that are willing to give children temporary shelter so they won’t have to be on the streets.
Capital: You said that you also work with family capacity building and mothers, does that mean you focus on single mothers only?
Zinash: Yes, we focus on single parents. The programs we run regarding family capacity building have been proven to be more successful on women, but that does not mean that we do not work with men as well. We work with young boys in schools as well as working with fathers.
Actually, the request mostly comes from the women, they tell us you should work with our husbands and sons, and they also need to learn. So that is the way we are going to curb abuse on girls, everyone needs to be involved.
Capital: What are some of the changes you have seen regarding abuse against young girls? Is the situation getting better?
Zinash: This needs research and study. But I, myself, since I joined this organization, I can see that some things are getting better. For example, a few years ago, nobody was willing to expose abuse, nobody talked about it, especially in the case of children. But now people report cases of abuse. This is something that is very positive; one of our goals is to see a society that does not tolerate any kind of abuse.
There are also some changes when it comes to parenting. Families are now actually thinking about how to raise their children, working on what to provide for them, and in general just taking time to think about these issues. Family planning has gained momentum and many are benefiting from that.
There are many things that are being done from the government’s side as well. Although there are still some gaps, I think the government is doing many things right. NGO’s and government bodies are working together to solve problems.
Capital: What about the legal aspect and the implementation of the child protection laws, do you think they are providing the services meant to be provided?
Zinash: Well, that depends on many things. When you look at the different government institutions as institutions, they are doing what they can but when you look at individual cases of children for example, and the fast and delayed response they get, that depends on the individual, handling the case.
The commitment is there from the institutions, but the individuals that are involved also contribute to how everything plays out. Over all, there is a spirit of cooperation.
When you look at the police for example, there are some that go beyond their responsibility to help others. They sometimes give shelter to abused girls within the police station until another arrangement is provided.
Unfortunately there are also some problems with that as well, like children being abused within the police stations as well. The reason we have established emergency shelters is because children seeking shelter at police stations have been abused by the police. The same thing is true with school guards; we don’t want them to spend the night at school when they face problems because they also get abused there.
Since the emergency shelters have been established, children now know that they can go there when they face problems, instead of the above mentioned places.
The issue of children and women is still big, not only here but also all over the world, even places that are well developed. But I believe some things are getting better and will continue to get better in the future. For that we all need to work together.
Capital: NGO’s are constantly having problems raising money to support their work, are you facing that problem?
Zinash: Most of our funding comes from abroad, but it is true that there is usually a shortage of funding. The cost of living is always going up, especially with regards to rent which is always skyrocketing and that is a big burden for us because we need to rent a variety of places for shelters, offices and other facilities.
We also don’t have the habit of giving in this country, unless it is individuals making small contributions to homeless people, nobody really makes donations to NGOs. On our part, we haven’t really done much to promote that kind of giving as well.
Even though our country is poor, there are some that are in a position to give and help, we need to work on winning their hearts so they can make contributions.
Capital: Do you have different projects you plan to do in the future?
Zinash: In the future, we want to work with people that have the capacity to help and provide funding, we want them to know and understand OPRIFS’s goal and then become our partners.
Surprisingly a lot of volunteers usually come from the lower or middle class but what about those that actually have the capacity? Encouraging those people to get involved should be part of our job, right now there is a gap there, but we will work to fill that gap.