Kids Raising Kids: The Reality of Child-Headed Households in Africa

Last week I went on a trip to Ethiopia with Food for the Hungry.  I knew that a portion of our trip would be spent visiting the homes of sponsored children, so that we could see the way child sponsorship was transforming their lives. When I saw the schedule for our time in the village of Zeway, there was one description that gave me a catch in my throat upon reading: Child-Headed Household.  I’ve heard this term before, and understood that it refers to a house in which there are no parents. As an adoptive parent and orphan advocate, the idea of children living without an adult, left to fend for themselves and care for young siblings, has always  evoked a profound sadness in me. I knew that these visits would be emotional.  We visited several families in Food for the Hungry’s program for Child-Headed Household.  Each family was overcoming incredible obstacles . . . and each family was thankfully having their basic needs met by a sponsor in the US.  I cannot imagine what live would be like for these children without help.

  • image-2 1 of 7
    I wanted to share the story of five child-headed households with you. Their stories are incredible, and their resilience inspiring.
  • The story of Mehret, Lydia, and Bedilu 2 of 7
    The story of Mehret, Lydia, and Bedilu
    Mehret is 16, and she is raising her sister Lyda, 14, and brother Bedilu, 10. Their parents died of AIDS and all three children are living with HIV. Food for the Hungry staff described this family as one of their most challenging cases. The children were very stigmatized in the community because of their HIV status, and denied access to the public bathroom serving houses in their village. Food for the Hungry built a bathroom in the children's home, and also helps the children with food, clothing, school fees, and medical expenses. At holidays, they take the children on a recreational trip to mitigate their loneliness. Mehret is taking classes to be a hair stylist, and the younger children are in school. They have started ARV meds and have a bright future thanks to sponsorship.
  • The story of Tihune 3 of 7
    The story of Tihune
    Tihune is 17 years old, and is raising her three siblings. Prior to being sponsored, she was working two jobs trying to make ends meet, which meant the kids were often unsupervised. She is now going back to school, and her siblings are in school as well. I asked what her biggest challenge was, and she said that food prep for her family was difficult. It was hard not to contrast her situation to the life of a typical American teenager. Tihune was shy and quiet, but it was clear that she was a doting parental figure to her siblings.
  • The story of Jibril 4 of 7
    The story of Jibril
    Jibril is only 13 years old, and raising 4 children. As a mom of 4, it was hard to comprehend how he was doing this at his age, all while trying to attend school. Jibril has a 12-year-old brother, 9 and 7-year-old sisters, and a 2-year-old brother born shortly before their parents died. When asked, he shared that the hardest part of his life was doing laundry, and keeping his siblings from fighting. Upon being sponsored, Jibril started school for the first time in his life. At 13, he is now completing 3rd grade and hoping to catch up with his peers in order to go to college. He would like to be a doctor when he grows up.
  • The story of Meseret and Mickey 5 of 7
    The story of Meseret and Mickey
    Meseret is a mom of 4 children, and yet they have been enrolled in the child-headed household program because it is likely they will be orphaned in the near future. Mesert is living with AIDS. When she found out, she had all of her kids test, to reveal that her middle son Mickey was also living with the virus. She now struggles, in her poor health, to get Mickey to the only nearby clinic, over an hour away, to get his weekly ARV meds. Now that they are sponsored, their expenses are covered so that Memeret can focus on her children and her own health.
  • The story of Bona 6 of 7
    The story of Bona
    Bona is 17th years old, and was a great example of the long-term benefits of child sponsorship. As a result of being sponsored, he has been able to attend school and is graduating first in his class. His mom passed away nine years ago, and his father passed away when he was 16. He now has goals to become a doctor, and the sponsorship program has allowed him to tour local universities. Bona had an incredible personality and resolve to rise above his circumstances. I can't wait to see where he ends up . . . his future is bright.
  • Food for the Hungry 7 of 7
    Food for the Hungry
    Fortunately, each of these families is thriving due to the help of a sponsor through Food for the Hungry. If you are interested in learning more about the program that sponsors these child-headed households, click here.


You can find Kristen blogging at Rage Against the Minivan, or avoiding housework over at Facebook or Twitter.

Posts you might enjoy:

The impact of child sponsorship: Gadissa’s story

Why is there an impulse to blame victims in the face of tragedy?

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Article Posted 4 years Ago
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