Awassa FAQ

Volunteers are an integral part of the Awassa Children’s Project (ACP) mission: to provide services and opportunities to the youth of Awassa with a focus on HIV/AIDS education and awareness.ACP provides care to children between the ages of 5 to 20, many of whom have lost their parents due to HIV/AIDS.Volunteers work on-site under the supervision of both the Children’s Center.

ACP welcomes nurses, doctors, teachers, actors /performers, counselors, social workers, martial arts instructors, business leaders and others with technical skills in computers, woodwork,electrical work, and metalworking, as well as anyone over the age of 18 who is a highly motivated self-starter with a demonstrated interest in any of the above areas and experience in or a commitment to international development volunteer assistance.

Volunteers should speak English fluently and have a true love for children, especially those struggling with difficult circumstances.

Below are frequently asked questions about the Visiting Professional Program, with additional questions please email the ACP Volunteer Coordinator.

Visiting Professional Program Frequently Asked Questions Index

Volunteer Overview

Living in Awassa

Cultural Concerns

Health and Safety Issues


1. What does the Awassa Children’s Project do?

The Awassa Children’s Project operates the Awassa Children’s Center, which provides housing,education, vocational training, healthcare and support to approximately 80 children, most of whom have been orphaned by AIDS. We believe that the children, by their presence, will have an immeasurable impact in the fight against AIDS.

2. Where is Awassa?

The Awassa Children’s Center is located in Awassa, Ethiopia, which is approximately 5 hours south (275 kilometers) of the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. Aside from being a cultural and natural life mecca, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the Organization of African Unity have their headquarters there. The national languages include Amharic and English although there are nearly 70 other languages and numerous ethnic groups in this diverse East African country.

3. How do I become an ACP volunteer?

All volunteers must fill out an application, write a brief project proposal and pass a background check.

4. How do I get to Awassa?

Awassa does not have an airport. We recommend that volunteers fly into Addis Ababa and travel by private van or local bus to Awassa. We can assist in arrangements to pick you up from the airport and provide transport to Awassa shortly after your arrival in Addis.

5. What are the financial expectations of Volunteers?

Financial arrangements will be made on a case-by-case basis. Volunteers are generally expected to pay for travel and health related expenses.ACP is currently unable to offer any stipend or other financial assistance with traveling to Awassa or for volunteers’ time there. However,we are eager to assist volunteers in obtaining funding through other sources if they should have access to them and need ACP to verify their activities to receive such funds.

6. What communication is there between the Center/Campus and board members in the United States?

The board communicates with ACP senior staff on a regular basis. They can be contacted should an emergency arise.

7. What is the organizational structure for the Children’s Center and Youth Campus as it relates to volunteers?

Volunteers report directly to the director of the Children’s Center. Volunteers are expected to be self-motivated, self-directed, and self-sufficient. Due to the limited resources of the ACP,volunteers must be able to work independently with a minimum of direction. ACP is looking for volunteers who have the creativity to develop effective plans and the skills and resources to make them a reality.


8. What are the housing arrangements for volunteers?

On a first come first serve basis, there is available housing at the Children’s Center. “Host-Housing” or “home-stay” and other arrangements can be made on a case-by-case basis.Volunteers will have the option of partaking in communal meals while self-catering is also available.

9. What does the infrastructure of the town provide visitors?

Awassa has a branch of the Dashen bank with limited hours and an ATM machine that works most of the time. You MUST have your passport to exchange money. There are several internet cafes in the downtown area as well as restaurants, local retail stores, tailors, and small grocery stores.Western Union is also available in Awassa.

10. What is the exchange rate?

Although the exchange rate can fluctuate at any time, it is usually about 8 birr (local currency) to 1 U.S. dollar. To give you an idea of what that means in practical terms, a breakfast can be purchased for about 3 birr, not including tip. Also, most banks will NOT accept bills that have peculiar markings, are ripped or are in very poor condition.

11. Can I use travelers checks?

Travelers checks are not accepted in Awassa at this time.

12. Are credit cards accepted?

Credit cards are not accepted in Awassa at this time. The Sheraton in Addis Ababa allows a cash advance from your credit card for a 10-15% commission fee.Room, food, and gifts may also be purchased at the Sheraton using your credit card. Please be advised many credit card companies charge an international exchange rate convenience fee. Check with your provider prior to departure to see the amount of this fee.

13. How can I get around Awassa?

While in Awassa it is very convenient to walk or ride a bike. However, taxis (called “Baj Jaj”) are usually 50 US cents (8 Birr) or less one way and a horse and buggy (locally known as a garry) costs 25 cents (1 Birr) or less.

14. Can I drive in Awassa?

To drive in Ethiopia you need an International Driver’s License that must be obtained PRIOR to leaving your home country. We recommend garries, taxis and the bus or van system for their convenience, cost effectiveness, safety, and minimal environmental impact.

15. What is the postal address and other contact information?

Mailing Information: Volunteer’s Name c/o Awassa Children’s Center P. O. 1224 Awassa Ethiopia.Note for mail from the US: If you plan to stay for a month and you expect regular mail, make sure you allow 3-4 weeks for it to get to you. Effective 8 January 2006, only a limited number of items can be sent by United States M-bag (60-90 day ship travel) at the cost of $1 per pound.These include but are not limited to books,sheet music, and printed matter. Please check with your local postmaster should you wish to send items prior to your departure.

16. What kind of food is served in Ethiopia?

A typical meal would include injera bread (made from teff, a grain of fine grass seed grown in the highlands, wheat barley, or maize) and spicy sauces. Expect to eat with your right hand. Most of the meals are vegetarian, heavily spiced and quite tasty. Fresh fruit and pastries can be purchased easily, but vegetables are limited. As the original home of coffee, Ethiopia has a wide variety of this delicious beverage that often concludes lunch. In addition, fresh roasted coffee is served weekly in a traditional, elaborate ceremony.

17. What should I bring?

We recommend you consult a Travel Guide such as the “Lonely Planet” or “Africa on a Shoestring” to get an idea of the basics. Also,depending on your role you may want to bring materials to support your specific volunteer work proposal. For example, an English tutor may want to bring stickers, picture books and other school supplies not easily found in Awassa.Some of the basics include: flashlight,towels, work clothes, umbrella, body soap, nice clothes for special occasions,good books, personal medical supplies, hand/body wash wipes, electrical outlet converter, rechargeable batteries with charger, and an Amharic-home language dictionary. Many items can be purchased in-country cheaply.

18. Is there a place to service my personal care needs?

There are beauty salons and stores where hair needs and personal hygiene items like soap and shampoo are available in Awassa.

19. What can I do on the weekends?

Awassa is a youthful town with entertainment opportunities that include movies, discos, religious centers, a beautiful lake and hiking opportunities among others. The wildlife in Awassa is unbelievable, including hippos, camels, porcupine, eagles, and hyena. You may also choose to join the AIDS Awareness theatre production on one of it’s tours, prepare lessons plans, learn Amharic, tutor, travel, or simply relax on the weekends. There are many quiet spots throughout Awassa, on Mt. Tabor and around Lake Awassa for yoga or meditation.

20. Can ACP help me with tours to other parts of Ethiopia or East Africa?

Our local staff is very knowledgeable about Ethiopia. There are also local travel agencies in Awassa that can provide you with reliable travel information.

21. What costs can I expect for housing and food?

A hotel can be from $10-$35/day, depending on the type of hotel. For $10, you can get a relatively decent hotel, and for $35, a really nice hotel. These prices do NOT include food.

Costs for homestay or to rent a room in a private house are between $50-$100/month. This would be 1 room in a family compound, more than likely with a shared bath/toilet. Depending on what the individual is looking for in terms of food, this could include 1-2 meals/day, breakfast and supper at the homestay, with lunch in town, or at AYC.

Another option for big groups or long-term volunteers would be to rent a full house for $150-$250/month.

As for food, if a volunteer plans to eat all meals in town everyday (at nice restaurants) they should budget at least $10-$12/day.The option of the AYC kitchen is also open to volunteers- there is a fridge and a stove and volunteers are welcome to buy and prepare their own meals there.

The range in prices is due to the inequalities that exist in Awassa and Ethiopia, in general. Some can live off less than $1/day…and some not less than $1000/day.

ACP can accommodate a range of volunteer needs;our staff in Awassa just needs to know their budget and what they are looking for in regards to accommodation and dining preferences.


22. Can I study Amharic while in Awassa?

We recommend you learn several ‘survival phrases’ prior to your arrival,including: Good morning (Andumen addeurk), Good afternoon (Andumen walk),Good evening (Andumen amesheuh),Excuse Me (Yekirta), How are you? (Tenastilign), Thank you (Amesegenalehu),Yes (Ow), No (Yellem), Okay (Ishee), Water (Woha), and Goodbye (Dehnananu). You will naturally learn Amharic as you interact with the children and the overall community. The local staff or older children can also serve as interpreters and unofficial tutors.

23. What can I expect on the ACP campus?

Once you arrive in Ethiopia, you become an ambassador of your HOME country. As an ambassador, your highest priority should be to respect the local customs. Additionally, as a ACP volunteer, you are representative of the organization. For example,it is expected that you greet individuals when you enter a room, preferably with a handshake or similar gesture. You will learn many of the customs during your stay and our local staff can provide assistance in this area. A good guide is if they don’t do it, you shouldn’t either. Also,for the comfort of others do not smoke or consume alcohol on the campus or children’s center unless it is offered to you on a special occasion by a member of our staff.


Ethiopian culture is more conservative than that in developed, Western countries. If you are a couple, please be discrete about showing affection, especially around the children.

Try to avoid discussions involving money, particularly wages from other countries. The relativity of these amounts may be difficult for others to grasp and even if you consider yourself a poor volunteer/student, the mere fact that you have traveled to Awassa indicates you are in a much stronger financial position. Discussions about money and wealth require extremely careful discretion as they often may lead to friction and conflict.

Be advised that certain religious holidays may take precedence over the normal schedule. In addition, Ethiopia operates on a dual calendar and dual time system.

Often we expect things to happen at the pace we are accustomed to in our home countries.Please try to be flexible and understand things happen at a different pace, but they do eventually happen.

24. What should I wear?

The clothing mirrors that of most fairly conservative societies. For women, being culturally sensitive includes rather modest dress (preferably NO shorts) and hair coverings if you wish to attend Orthodox religious services.The weight of the clothing depends on the season in which you travel. For example,Ethiopia can be c and rainy in June and July,so please bring a warm jacket during these months. Take precautions with the sun,use sun block and a wide brimmed hat if working outdoors for extended periods of time.

25. What can I bring to assist the Awassa Children’s Awassa Children’s Center and Awassa Youth Campus?

Volunteers often ask what the children need, in case they have extra room to bring things to leave in Awassa.Small items such as books, art supplies, circus/theater equipment, musical instruments are always needed. Additionally,depending upon where a volunteer is coming from and the timing of the volunteer’s travels to Awassa,ACP may have small packages of donated items waiting to be carried to Awassa with which volunteers can assist as couriers.


26. How safe is Ethiopia?

Please visit the US State Department for information about travel in Ethiopia , more information can be provided upon request.

27. What safety concerns are there in Awassa and staying at the Youth Campus? How serious are those concerns?

Just as in any city with high poverty, muggings do happen and short-term visitors should never walk alone at night.

28. Do I need to take water purifying tablets?

At this time the water in Awassa is not safe to drink for travelers. Bottled water is easily available (please recycle the bottles).We also recommend tablets,boiled water and the specialized water cleansing bottles that can be purchased in your home country.

29. Is there a possibility of getting malaria or other illnesses?

There is always a risk of getting malaria. There have been no cases of malaria among volunteers but there are cases in the town in general. We recommend you talk to your doctor about travel health precautions, for additional information on malaria, protection from insect bites, general travel medicinal prophylaxis and anti-malarial drugs. For additional information, please visit the CDC Travelers’ Health Website

30. What health services are available?

The Children’s Center has a small medical clinic and registered nurse on-site. In addition, there are several private and public health services with internationally trained and certified medical staff.

31. What are the personal hygiene facilities like in Awassa?

Washing is done using a basin filled with a combination of boiled hot water and cold water. Toilets are pit latrines. Indoor plumbing, flush toilets and showers are available only in the nicer hotels in Addis. Modern conveniences like dependable electricity, microwaves, refrigerators, hot water heaters, and indoor plumbing are not readily available for the majority of Ethiopians and are not widely available in Awassa.

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