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The struggle to give children hope


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Catherine Miller, RN, founder and president of Children of the World, a non-profit organization that built and funds an orphanage in Ethiopia, has met lots of people around the globe. "There are all kinds of people doing wonderful things," she says. "But so often, it seems to be nurses. Nurses are always involved."

Miller couldn't help but get involved. After 17 years working as a labor and delivery nurse in Alaska, her focus became global. She started an orphanage for 43 children in Ethiopia in 2005, which is where the first part of our story left off on Monday.

Sadly, orphans are not tough to find in Ethiopia. It is estimated there are 4.6 million orphaned children, 75% of whom do not attend school. Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, with about 82% of the population living in absolute poverty, surviving on less than $1 a day. And it is part of Sub-Saharan Africa, which has about 10% of the world's population and 60% of the world's HIV cases, which leaves many children without mothers or fathers.

"If you allow children to grow up on the streets, eventually they are going to become adults," Miller says. "This is a serious concern. You can't expect children to grow up like animals and then become productive citizens."

But the problem is enormous. Along with AIDS, Ethiopia battles with disease, famine, and extreme poverty. But Miller chooses to change her focus. Instead of looking at problems that are too big, she focuses on small ones she can mend.

"I mean, some days I think it's a drop in the bucket, but I have 43 kids that are healthy, doing well in school, and have huge dreams," Miller says, of the children who were selected by the state to be in the orphanage. "They work so hard in school because they know they were given a chance. They want you to know they are working as hard as you are. And they'll grow up and help other children. They want to be doctors and teachers. They never say they want to be rich."

Children of the World isn't rich either. Last year, the organization operated on a budget of $45,000.

"If you want to go to Africa, it's part of your personal income," says Miller, who makes a few 28-hour plane rides each year. "As far as administration fees, they are nominal. We manage the money heavily. If people donate, I have a fiduciary responsibility to make it go as far as possible."

Still, she struggles. There was a recent drought in Ethiopia, forcing the food prices to double. Like in the United States, gas prices are climbing at dizzying rates.

"We're in crisis in the third world," says Miller, who has sent an extra $1,000 twice in the past six weeks in addition to the $4,500 regular monthly costs. "Thankfully, there are a lot of really good people."

Like Ester Petrie, an ER nurse in Alaska who is giving Miller 200 pounds of medical supplies to take over. Like Miller's dentist who donated toothbrushes. Like Miller's hairdresser who donated an ear piercing gun. Like the Rotary Club in Anchorage that is helping with a water sanitation project.

"A lot of this is just word of mouth," Miller says. "The money is not big. It's a scrape."

Miller spends about six months out of the year in Ethiopia, managing the orphanage and providing healthcare wherever it's needed. She works with the community through Ethiopian Red Cross. In her other life here in the states, she just graduated from Alaska Pacific University with a degree in business administration and management. She's now seeking a master's degree.

But her focus for the next six weeks or so will be on the orphans, the children she has come to call her own.

"I have the same hopes for them that I have for my children here—to not live in poverty and to get an education," Miller says. "Education is the key to good health, sustainability, and to change Ethiopia."

And, for Miller, it was those hopes that changed the focus of her nursing career.

"Anybody can change a kid's life, even if it's in some small way," she says. "Even $100 goes a long way toward changing a kid's life."

Editor's note: For more information on Children of the World, visit www.childrenoftheworld.info.