Ethiopia is an ancient country rich with culture and tradition located in the “horn of Africa” (eastern Africa). Many believe that Ethiopia was established around 980BC. That makes it nearly 3000 years older than the United States.

Ethiopia is a land of natural contrasts, with spectacular waterfalls and volcanic hot springs. Ethiopia has some of Africa’s highest mountains as well as some of the world’s lowest points below sea level. Ethiopia is famous for its Olympic gold medalists, rock-hewn churches and as the place where the coffee bean originated.

Ethiopia was one of the first Christian nations in the world, having officially adopted Christianity as the state religion in the 4th century. Ethiopia still has a Christian majority. Of particular interest, is a set of rock-hewn churches built around the city of Roha, which has since been renamed Lalibela. Though the dating of the churches is not well established, most are thought to have been built during the 12th and 13th centuries. These churches, carved out of the living rock, deserve to be one of the wonders of the world and are a remarkable monument to the skill and craftmanship of Ethiopians.

Ethiopia has a population of over 80 million people, but is one of the five poorest countries on earth according to the 2010 Prosperity Index. The average life expectancy of Ethiopians is only 53 years (78 years in the U.S.) and Ethiopia’s literacy rate is only 36% (99% in the U.S.). The average annual income in Ethiopia is well under $1000. Since the 1980’s, Ethiopia has been synonymous with famine and hardship. Little support is available to those living in extreme poverty and the desperately inadequate healthcare system and limited access to schooling and education both present major obstacles in Ethiopia’s pursuit of lasting and positive change.

Although conditions are drastically better in cities, all of Ethiopia suffers from poverty, and poor sanitation. In the capital city of Addis Ababa, 55% of the population lives in slums. Although there are some wealthy neighborhoods with mansions, most people make their houses using whatever materials are available, with walls made of mud or wood. Only 12% of homes have cement tiles or floors. Sanitation is the most pressing need in the city, with most of the population lacking access to waste treatment facilities. This contributes to the spread of illness through unhealthy water.

Ethiopia counts one of the largest populations of orphans in the world: 13% of children throughout the country have lost one or both parents to disease or other misfortune. This represents an estimated 5 million orphans and homeless children – 800,000 of whom were orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The needs are enormous; many of Ethiopia’s orphans live on the streets or in crowded institutions.

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