Senedu Araya-Sellasie,11, knew what she wanted to do as soon as her class arrived in the Kobo area of Wollo province to help Ethiopian orphans.
Seven hundred fifty were standing in front of her. “The eyes of the children haunted me,” said Senedu. They made her think of ways to help the needy.
Her chance came more than 30 years later, in 2004, when she took an early retirment from a comfortable life as a manager in corporate America, sold her house and created Vision on Africa, an organization that provides health care and job training to thousands of young people.
Bringing the vision into focus
“One of our crowning achievements,” said Senedu, now CEO of the organization, “is the mother and child health center we have established” in Ethiopia.
It provides such services to mothers and children as pre-natal care, immunization, family planning, counseling, health education, laboratory tests, voluntary counseling and testing, with special emphasis on the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV/AIDS.
The NGO refers those with the virus to a hospital for anti-retroviral treatments a drug that helps prevent the transfer of the disease from mother to child.
One of the unique attributes of Vision on Africa, said its founder, is its ability to provide skills training to mothers and youth.
“They can learn easy skills with affordable material, produce and sell finished hand-made products to generate income and sustain their livelihoods,” explained Senedu.
The training last five months, running two shifts a day. Women are taught to design patterns, coordinate colors, sew and crochet. They also develop strategies for marketing their products.
Pottery and crafts with natural fibers
Vision on Africa also provides training in making a variety of pottery: pots, jars, bowls, pitchers, canteens, flower vases, candle holders, oil/potpourri burners, chafing dishes and miniature ornaments representing the Ethiopian history and tradition.
“Each creation is unique,” said Senedu. “No two are alike.”
Vision on Africa recently got involved in making eco-friendly womens’ accessories from banana fiber and sisal grown in the Gurage zone of Ethiopia.
Students learn how to sort, soak and hand beat the sisal to retrieve the fibers, which are twisted into strands and dyed in an appealing variety of colors and patterns. The final products, she said, are innovative and eco-friendly.
They include trendy laptop sleeves, cell phone bags, wallets, market totes and hats. The hand bags come with natural cotton fabric lining, short handles or long straps closed with a zipper pulled by cowrie shells or handmade buttons from sisal.
Senedu has received broad recognition for her efforts.
Three years ago, she was made honorary daughter of the Blue Nile Rights of Passage, an organization of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem dedicated to the moral, spiritual and cultural development of youth.
In November 2008, France recognized her work with its highest honor, l’Ordre National de la Legion d’Honneur.