By Deborah Mazon
Ethiopian Television Producer Buktawit Tegabu surrounded by kids who are excited to touch one of the characters in her TV series ‘Tsehai Loves Learning.’ Image: Whiz Kids Workshop
Addis Ababa, ETHIOPIA: In an African country where HIV/AIDS orphans are a normal part of the landscape, one woman is working to create a new life for Ethiopian kids who live without their parents each day.
Her work started as part of a grass roots-movement that began to use media, specifically television media, to reach children at all levels of Ethiopian society.
“Ethiopia counts one of the largest populations of orphans in the world: 13 per cent of children throughout the country are missing one or both parents. This represents an estimated 4.6 million children – 800,000 of whom were orphaned by HIV/AIDS,” said United Nations agency UNICEF in 2006.
As an elementary school teacher working in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Adaba in 2004, children’s rights activist Bruktawit Tigabu had an idea that would revolutionize the way children, who often face life conditions without parents, can learn.
Using television as the medium for education in 2005, Tigabu began a program that began to work by reaching long-range goals to bring Ethiopia’s orphaned kids more opportunity. How? – through pre-school education.
This new program designed and brought to the public in 2008 by Tigabu and her husband Shane Etzenhouser, an American software engineer, was the first program of its kind inside the region. As they set up what they named ‘The Whiz Kids Workshop’ they designed award-winning Ethiopian television with a show designed for ‘Sesame Street’ aged children called “Tsehai Loves Learning.”
This unique program has now reached over 3 million kids. It’s also offered children a chance to learn visually at their own pace in their local language of Amharic, with some episodes dubbed to also reach a diverse Ethiopian kid audience who speak Tigrinya & Sudanese Arabic.
Today Ethiopia continues to suffer as too many children lose their mothers during childbirth. The odds against pregnant women, especially those in more rural areas who have little to no easy access to properly staffed and well supplied medical clinics, is partially to blame. Children often face an extra vulnerability in an uphill climb as the region has suffered for years under family displacement brought on by drought, flooding and conflict.
At the epicenter of Sub-Saharan Africa Ethiopia another nagging problem has also been a central challenge to the region. Those mothers living today with HIV in the region have greatly impacted the region’s children.
“The emergence of the HIV epidemic is one of the biggest public health challenges the world has ever seen in recent history. In the last three decades HIV has spread rapidly and affected all sectors of society- young people and adults, men and women, and the rich and the poor,” said Ethiopia’s federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (HAPCO) more recently in 2012. “Sub-Saharan Africa is at the epicentre of the epidemic and continues to carry the full brunt of its health and socioeconomic impact. Ethiopia is among the countries most affected by the HIV epidemic,” continues the report.
The issues that Bruktawit Tigabu, and her husband Shane, have brought to the orphans of Ethiopia through innovative television is direct, clear and honest. Subjects such as protecting oneself from malaria, dealing with HIV/AIDS, missing one’s dead mother and even children trapped in the slave trade are not off-limit topics.
In 2010 The Whiz Kids Workshop worked to develop the first TV series for teenage youth. With a show created by students for students modern themes for teens has been brought to the screen for the first time. Tigabu was also honored as a Rolex Young Laureate for her outstanding work for children and youth in Ethiopia in 2010. In 2011 she was given a Microsoft Education Award.
Today Tigabu is working on a campaign to bring educational Amharic-language books to 4,000 school children in Addis Ababa with a program launch called Opening Books to Open Doors.
“For many of the children, these storybooks will be their first, and when we recently them to deliver the first batch of books produced by the campaign, they were so excited about being able to take the storybooks home and read them out loud to their families, friends, and neighbors!,” said Tigabu as she works to let the public know about the campaign.
Source: Women News Network
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