In 1933, Einstein went on to found the International Rescue Committee in order to ‘Assist Germans suffering from the policies of the Hitler regime.’ Since then and close to nine decades now, the IRC has gone on to help millions of people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future. In Ethiopia, Shewaye Tike, has served the IRC in realizing its mission as a seasoned project coordinator for close to 20 years. Shewaye, throughout the years has been diligently devoted to bring lasting changes to the lives of refugees and vulnerable groups. She sat down with Capital to share the rich history and current projects of the IRC in Ethiopia. Excerpts;
Capital: IRC has been in existence in Ethiopia for two decades now. What have been its major contribution to Ethiopia from the organization’s perspective?
Shewaye Tike: Over the past 20 years the IRC has been supporting disaster or conflict affected populations through humanitarian interventions. Its main contributions are:
The IRC Ethiopia CWI implements GBV response and prevention activities. Since 2015, the IRC provided case management services to 6,077 GBV survivors; enrolled 5,307 refugee adolescent girls in a mentor-led, curriculum-based life skills program called Girl Shine; reached 34,284 displaced diverse women and girls through dignity kit support; and provided business skills training and startup cash to 450 clients. The CWI team also conducted sessions with 4,375 community members in the Engaging Men through Accountable Practice (EMAP) program since its rollout in 2018. Through various awareness-raising activities, CWI has reached over 387,120 individuals to bring the community into discussions on power, gender, and practical pathways for building safer and more gender-equitable communities.
Ethiopia has a youth bulge, currently estimated at 30% of the total population. However, the job market is not keeping pace where youth (ages 15-29) are 4 times more likely to be unemployed, leading to irregular migration. The IRC, through Private Sector Reinforcement Initiative to Stem Migration (PRISM) project, was able to reduce irregular migration in Somali and Sothern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) region by 51% through creating local level economic opportunities for youth and women. The IRC also supported 12,600 disaster-affected households through cash transfer and multipurpose cash transfer.
The IRC has been involved in supporting IDP children in SNNP region through building temporary learning spaces, providing school materials, facilitating psychosocial support, teacher training, school feeding, accelerated learning programs (ALP) and accelerated school readiness (ASR). These interventions have made the IRC one of reputable organizations in Ethiopia to implement Education in Emergencies (EiE).
In December 2010, the IRC completed the construction of one of the largest water systems in the country; the Melkadida water system. The Melkadida water supply system intake stations were constructed at the bank of the Genale River. Since the first week of February 2011 until today, the water system is serving close to 194,000 refugees in Bokolmayo, Buramino, Heloweyne, Kobe and Melkadida camps of the Somali region.
The IRC quickly responds to people affected by natural disaster and conflict through non-food items that include emergency shelters and household utensils.
To contribute in combating high cases of malnutrition and acute emergency health needs, the IRC created its own Mobile Health and Nutrition Team (MHNT). The MHNT has been primarily serving areas where there is no access to healthcare or insufficient number of health workers. The MHNT, in collaboration with local health offices is providing medical consultations, treating different disease, providing delivery and family planning services and referral linkage for advanced cases and nutrition services for communities in need. Through its MHNT, the IRC has reached a total of 1,059,673 clients affected by drought, diseases and conflict.
Capital: What have been the main humanitarian challenges in Ethiopia over the years?
Shewaye Tike: The main humanitarian challenges in Ethiopia have been reoccurring draught, internal conflict, flood, and most recently, desert locust invasion and COVID-19.
Capital: What are the main activities that IRC has been doing with regards to refugee education in the country?
Shewaye Tike: The IRC provides technical and capacity building support to the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), which is responsible to run primary schools. The technical and capacity building support include professional teacher development for refugee through intensive teacher training, provision of much needed textbooks, reference teachers’ books, laboratory equipment, school materials and furniture. This technical assistance aims to improve the quality of education in refugee schools and increase enrollment and retention.
The IRC’s Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) program-an education program for children between age 3-6 to prepare them for primary school is provided to refugee children in Tigray and Somali regions. Within the ECCD classrooms, the IRC employs the PHC (Pre-school Healing Classroom) approach to ensure the classrooms are safe and predictable places for children to cope with their difficult living circumstances. Children learn basic literacy and numeracy skills to express their needs, play cooperatively, follow rules and manage their feelings. These skills are developed through consistent, nurturing interaction with adult caregivers that provide children with a sense of comfort, security and confidence. Through the PHC approach, trained ECCD facilitators support children to learn a sense of control, belonging, and pride and how to develop positive social relationships to help young children boost their holistic development.
Capital: What projects or programs have been started in 2020 so far and at what stage are they in at the moment?
Shewaye Tike: There are more than 10 projects that the IRC started in 2020. The biggest project that the IRC started implementing in 2020, however, is the PlayMatters project. PlayMatters is a new initiative aimed at delivering play-based learning to refugee and host community children in Ethiopia. The initiative, led by the International Rescue Committee alongside a consortium of partners, aims to strengthen children’s resilience and build their social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and creative skills. PlayMatters is working with various actors including parents, caregivers, educators, and policy makers to explore avenues of mainstreaming learning through play as a method of teaching among learners aged 3-12+.The project started at a critical time when school learning has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the closure of schools in March, the government and other education partners have been supporting home-based distance learning to assist children learn remotely through television, radio, and digital platforms. To complement these efforts, PlayMatters in Ethiopia developed and distributed family-friendly learning packets for children, and an educator’s guide containing simple learning games which can be played at home. PlayMatters also supported the airing of educational radio shows to complement the learning packets used at home. This support will continue when schools fully reopen. The project is now laying foundations for fostering learning through play within existing learning structures and teaching curriculum in schools and other learning centers.
The 5-year PlayMatters project is led by the IRC, and includes Plan International, War Child Holland, the Behavioral Insights, Team and Innovations for Poverty Action in partnership with LEGO Foundation.
The overall grant is $100 million covering Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Uganda. PlayMatters in Ethiopia is being implemented in Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Somali and Tigray regions.
Capital: How is your organization coping with the global pandemic here in Ethiopia. What challenges have you faced and how have you coped with them? What projects have currently been ongoing or finalized during the COVID times with regards to refugee works here in the country and its borders?
Shewaye Tike: After movement restrictions and school closures were imposed in Ethiopia, the IRC was forced to temporarily suspend many of its activities. After movements restrictions were lifted, the IRC, by recognizing the potential devastating impacts of the disease on disaster and conflict affected communities and with the objective to reduce the negative consequences of the spread of COVID-19 in humanitarian settings, has been responding to the needs of the clients we serve across the country. Working with our partners and government offices, the IRC has been able to mobilize funds and staff to respond through both preventative and responsive measures, in targeted districts. Here is our reach by the number:
Over one million people reached through refugee and local WASH and health programs with social and behavior change communication (SBCC).
275,000 people reached through Emergency Rapid Response (ERR) with COVID-19 messaging such as signs and symptoms, ways of transmission, treatments, prevention and control.
18,630 solar radios were provided to students to facilitate distance learning during school closures.
18,907 students benefited from home learning packets distributed in Tigray and Somali regions during school closures.
Over 26,500 personal protective equipment and products provided to women and girls, steering committee members, and school gender club members.
Over 18,600 Hand washing facilities built at household level, institutions and public areas.
84 COVID-19 prevention and mitigation trainings conducted targeting internal staff, external incentive workers and partners, and social workers.
Capital: In recent times, the number of internally displaced persons has been on the rise of which most of them do not get enough support. What has IRC been doing in this regard?
Shewaye Tike: The IRC has been responding to the needs of internally displaced persons (IDPS) with the following interventions:
Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH): the IRC supports short term potable water provision through water trucking for IDPs; distribution of household water treatment chemicals with containers; rehabilitation of existing water systems; construction of gender-sensitive, accessible, and culture and age-appropriate emergency latrines; construction of waste disposal pits; and community mobilization to raise awareness on beneficial WASH practices. Nutrition: The IRC responds to acute malnutrition in many parts of the country through sub-awards to other agencies. These responses adopt the community management of acute malnutrition (CMAM) approach and support the existing government health system if overwhelmed by the increased malnutrition cases.
Health: In response to outbreaks, the IRC supports health facilities in case management, through training and provision of essential drugs, supporting government’s mass immunization activities, and conducting integrated disease surveillance and response. The IRC also deploys mobile health and nutrition teams (MHNTs) to remote areas to ensure IDPs have access to health and nutrition services.
Non-Food Item (NFI) and Cash Distributions: The IRC distributes non-food items such as food preparation supplies, dignity kits (sanitary napkins, flash lights, clothing, and other suppliers for women and girls of reproductive age), and shelter kits of bedding and materials to repair damaged homes. The IRC also provides cash assistance to affected households to meet basic survival needs.
Education in Emergencies: The IRC builds Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) to create access to learning in a classroom. Teaching and learning materials and energy biscuits are provided for students to pursue their education. Teachers receive training on psychosocial support and learner-centered teaching and learning methodologies.
Protection: The IRC provides psychosocial support to women and children in IDP sites, conducts community mobilization and awareness-raising sessions aimed at reducing the risk of GBV, and training for local government staff on preventing and responding to GBV. The IRC also provides trainings on preventing sexual exploitation and abuse (PSEA) for internal and partner staffs.
Capital: In the recent military offence in the Tigray region between the federal government and the TPFL, in an unfortunate event, some of IRC workers were killed in Hitsats Refugee Camp in Shire, Ethiopia. Can you kindly expound more information on this?
Shewaye Tike: The IRC confirmed the killing of one staff member in Hitsats Refugee Camp in Shire. Communication with the area is still difficult and we are still working to gather and confirm the details surrounding the events that led to the death of our colleague.
Capital: Regarding the conflict in Tigray region, government has also been warning the Eritrean refugees to stop their participation in illegal acts. What has IRC been doing on this front?
Shewaye Tike: We don’t have information regarding this.