someone never stands as tall as when he or she kneels to help a child
During her first years in the country’s high altitude capital of Addis Ababa, Jutta worked at a local kindergarten opposite her house which was run by a priest and his family. In this “pre-school”, about 80 little boys and girls attended the daily education program at that time given by the 15 year old grandson of the priest. The children didn’t have any books or educational materials, were poorly dressed and just sat on the floor which was covered with dust and dirt.
Within a short time, Jutta started to help the priest, his daughter and grandson to improve the “school” compound, to build a toilet, a second classroom, a little school garden and a small playground. She provided books, school materials and games.
She quickly realized many of these children suffered from complex health problems.
In cooperation with the Blue and White Clinic, all children were examined by a pediatrician who discovered that 80% suffered from a variety of diseases: infected skin, respiratory tract infections (asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis …), inflammation of the middle ear, HIV and/or were victims of sexual abuse or harassment, malnutrition and violence.
Jutta went to visit the environment and circumstances in which these children lived and talked to their parents or relatives. It turned out many of these children lived only with their mother or their father due to the separation of both parents or due to one of them being deceased. Some children were orphans and stayed with neighbors or relatives. They lived in extreme poverty, without any access to clean water or sanitary facilities.
Jutta further witnessed that many children also had severe learning difficulties.
Illnesses and family problems (alcoholism, unemployment, divorce, violence and homelessness) wreck the soul of a child and weaken it. Each child feels responsible for the well being of his/her parents. To see a mother cry or parents fight with each other is an enormous burden for a child to carry.
Jutta remembered what she had learned as a teacher of sick and traumatized children during her many years of work in this field in Germany. She realized that if she were to provide the help needed by these children and parents, one day she would have to start up her own school, first by accommodating it on her own compound and gradually expanding her facility as the number of pupils increased.
In addition to literacy, numeracy and art and music education, she started to give both special individual and group therapy to those children with serious mental and physical problems. However, she didn’t want to stigmatize those children with special diseases like HIV or children whose fathers were alcoholics and unemployed. She believed and still believes that keeping all children with their individual problems together in one group helps to create an atmosphere of tolerance and openness and prevents stigmatization. Such a grouping supports the development of social awareness and self-confidence and creates an atmosphere of comradeship which stimulates sensitivity and sensibility.
Jutta continued to work in the pre-school for about 2 ½ years. During this time more and more children and many of their mothers asked for help. Some children even came from as far away as 500 to 600 km from the capital with a variety of physical and psychological problems.
Jutta managed to find ways to send one boy with a severe heart condition to Monte Carlo, where he was successfully operated. Another boy suffering from cerebral paresis received an operation in France. One boy who suffered from a growing bone in his arm stump was treated in Paris and two brothers who suffered from a very severe form of bronchial asthma were also successfully treated in France.
Gradually Jutta learned more and more about the numerous problems facing the mothers of the children. About 90% of these women were illiterate, many of them without job or income, many of them traumatized from early marriage, sexual abuse and violence.
In due course, she also learned about the father’s problems as well. Some of them suffered from illnesses which caused them to be too weak to work all day. Others had lost their job and had started to drink out of desperation. Many of them were also illiterate and therefore incapable of finding a decent job. As daily workers they could not earn an income which would cover their monthly costs.
Unfortunately after a full renovation sponsored by Jutta the school adopted new policies - including an increase of school fees of up to 400% - which led to Jutta terminating her cooperation with the school. It was then that the mothers of the children forced out of the kindergarden due to the increased fees started appealing to Jutta for assistance. This “cry for help” was actually the trigger for her starting to work independently on her personal compound, while she gradually planned to apply for the registration as an NGO.