June 25, 2020 / 10:45 AM / 2 months ago

Sponsor network gives lifeline to Ethiopians struggling under pandemic

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - HIV positive and undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, Ethiopian single mother Zahra Mudesir lost her only source of income when the coronavirus put paid to her brother’s construction job.

But she’s found a lifeline via a monthly donation from the United States, part of a scheme being administered by an Addis Ababa doctor that links sponsors with local families impoverished by the epidemic.

“I don’t have money to pay rent, I don’t have a job as I am still a hospital outpatient. So this assistance has given me a lot of relief,” Zahra said.

The 33-year-old’s face breaks into a shy smile as she, daughter Hayat, 12, and seven-year-old son Kalid sit outside their mud-brick home and chat on screen with their sponsor, Washington D.C.-based nurse Bethlehem Mekonnen.

The laptop belongs to Bilal Shukur, the doctor who helped launch the “My Family” programme in May and of which he says Zahra, whose husband left her while she was pregnant with Kalid, is one of around 900 beneficiaries.

Ethiopia, like many African nations, has no social security system.

No job means no food and, while the medical impact of the coronavirus has been relatively contained there with around 5,000 cases and 78 deaths, many more families have been left destitute by the economic slowdown it has caused.

So the 2000 birr (just under $60) per month that Bethlehem and other sponsors provide can mean the difference between starvation and survival.

“It’s a social safety net,” Bilal told Reuters. “That family will consider the needy family as their own.”

Sponsors can be individuals or organisations, and are encouraged to provide beneficiaries with psychological as well as financial support.

Many, including Bethlehem, are part of the Ethiopian diaspora.

“Even though we all are struggling everywhere in the world... there are people suffering more than we have over here,” she said. “So we are responsible to help and support as much as possible.”

($1 = 34.3100 birr)

Reporting by Kumerra Gemechu, writing by Dawit Endeshaw, editing by Giulia Paravicini and John Stonestreet

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