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Unifor transforms children’s lives in Ethopia


Unifor National

The Unifor Social Justice Fund (SJF) is working to improve the lives of children with its support of Transforming Faces and Beautiful World initiatives in Ethiopia.

Shauna Wilcox, Unifor National Executive Board member representing health care and Jean Walters, Unifor National Representative, recently had the opportunity to observe the profound impact of the projects firsthand.

Transforming Faces is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for children with a cleft lip and/or palate, one of the most common birth anomalies in the world. A cleft occurs when a baby’s lip and/or palate do not fuse properly during pregnancy, causing an opening in the baby’s lip, roof of their mouth, or both. This impacts more than a child’s physical appearance as children born with cleft lip and palate commonly develop speech and communication problems, even after surgery.

The Unifor Social Justice Fund has been instrumental in launching a brand new undergraduate speech therapy program. This year the first two cohorts of speech students will graduate, bringing the number of speech professionals practicing in Ethiopia from two to eighteen. Unifor representatives Wilcox and Walters were able to celebrate this major milestone by meeting several students from the inaugural class.

“One does not make a visit like this and not be forever impacted. It was truly inspiring to see the smiles on the faces of the young children whose lives have been forever changed and the smiles and tears of gratitude of their parents,” said Wilcox. “I have so much admiration for the people who put the money to use on the frontline; they are truly a committed and dedicated team.”

Additionally, the Unifor Social Justice Fund has allowed Transforming Faces to expand speech therapy services in rural communities, with a partnership with Project Harar to train community speech assistants to provide home-based speech support to rural patients in the patient’s own language.

Wilcox and Walters meet the Project Harar Ethiopia team

“Transforming Faces is grateful for our long-term partnership with the Unifor Social Justice Fund,” said Hugh Brewster, Executive Director of Transforming Faces. “The development of the speech therapy profession in Ethiopia is a true example of the long-lasting, life-changing work that has been made possible with Unifor’s support.”

At Yekatit 12 Hospital, the only comprehensive cleft care centre in Ethiopia, to brief the Cleft Unit on the Unifor Social Justice Fund mission.

The Beautiful World Canada Foundation is also working for a better future by providing secondary and post-secondary scholarships to Ethiopian girls who have academic potential but lack the financial means to pursue higher education opportunities.

“We met young women who are aspiring nurses, doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs,” said Walters. “This experience was an emotional rollercoaster that left me immensely gratified.”

Beautiful World operates in several African countries and has recently expanded into Ethiopia in collaboration with the Reach One Touch One Ministries.

“The support of our program in Ethiopia by the Unifor Social Justice Fund has allowed 25 vulnerable girls the opportunity to achieve their dreams of attending school,” said Sara Dunkley, Founder and Board Chair of Beautiful World Canada Foundation. “They dream of a life free from poverty, of a career that provides a steady income and continuity, of a life much different than the very difficult one they have known.”

Meeting with Beautiful World scholarship families

The majority of the recipients are HIV orphans, being raised by grandmothers or other family members. “The students feel deeply blessed to be in school and are committed to working hard and doing their best,” said Dunkley. “They have big dreams to help their families and community once they graduate.” 

The scholarships provide everything the students require for success, ranging from tuition to toothpaste. The young women also receive additional support through mentorship, employment training and medical care programs.

“I had the honour through Transforming Faces and Beautiful World to visit Ethiopia and witness the inception of two great programs that are making change a reality for children,” summed up Walters. “I am incredibly proud of our union’s support of these charities through the Social Justice Fund.”

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