Ethiopia Facts - Compassion International

Compassion has been working in Ethiopia since 1993. Through our work there, we gather Ethiopia facts about children in poverty. These Ethiopia facts and statistics provide a good picture of the reality of poverty and how Compassion is making a difference.

Poverty is a common problem in the country of Ethiopia but Compassion is working to change this. The Ethiopia facts tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. Our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time.

Don't let the hopelessness of Ethiopia facts overwhelm you. You can make a difference to a child in Ethiopia today!


Compassion partners with churches and denominations to help them provide Ethiopian children with the opportunity to rise above their circumstances and become all God has created them to be.

Compassion's work in Ethiopia began in 1993. Currently, more than 110,000 children participate in more than 470 child development centers.

Learn About Ethiopia

Ethiopia is the oldest independent country in Africa and one of the oldest in the world. Herodotus, the Greek historian of the fifth century B.C., describes ancient Ethiopia in his writings. The Old Testament of the Bible records the Queen of Sheba's visit to Jerusalem. According to legend, Menelik I, the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, founded the Ethiopian Empire. Missionaries from Egypt and Syria introduced Christianity in the fourth century. Following the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Ethiopia was gradually cut off from European Christendom.

Known as Abyssinia until the 20th century, Ethiopia was ruled by the powerful kingdom of Aksum in the first centuries. In the 15th century, a Coptic Christian empire and the system of rule by absolutist monarch were established. After the 1500s, Ethiopia divided into a number of small kingdoms, which were reunified by Menelik II in the 1880s. Emperor Haile Selassie I succeeded to Ethiopia's throne in 1931. He was deposed in 1974, and a socialist state was instituted under Mengistu Haile Mariam. A year later, the monarchy was officially abolished and Ethiopia became a republic. Mengistu was ousted in 1991 by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which took over rule of the country. In 1995, the government, run primarily by members of the EPRDF, proclaimed the country the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

President Meles Zenawi and members of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE) pledged to oversee the formation of a multi-party democracy. The election for a 547-member constituent assembly was held in June 1994, and this assembly adopted the constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia in December 1994. The elections for Ethiopia's first popularly chosen national parliament and regional legislatures were held in May and June 1995. Most opposition parties chose to boycott these elections, ensuring a landslide victory for the EPRDF, originally formed in 1989. International and non-governmental observers concluded that opposition parties would have been able to participate had they chosen to do so. The government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was installed in August 1995 with Meles Zenawi as the acting prime minister. Mr. Zenawi remained in that position until his death in August 2012. Former Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn became prime minister, marking the first peaceful transition of power in decades.

Source: The World Factbook, 2014.


The typical school year runs from September through June. Public education is free from the primary to the college level. 

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has traditionally been the center of education since the fourth century when Christianity was introduced into the country. In fact, literacy was limited to the church until Menilik II introduced modern education into the country about a century ago.

For a long time, the educational system catered to the needs of the civil service and bureaucracy with little or no attention to the development of vocational skills. This focus resulted in a distorted perception of education, giving support to the society's negative attitude toward manual laborers or skilled people. Artisans are looked down upon by society. The general attitude has been, "An educated person must hold a white collar job." Education is generally regarded as a means of getting out of abject poverty, especially from manual labor. Communities are putting pressure on the government to build schools.

The Ethiopian educational system is beset with a high percentage of children who don't attend schools, high rates of school dropouts, low rates of girls' participation, and high proportion of "educated" unemployed due to the failure of the curriculum to generate useful skills relevant to the economy.


Religion is a secure and accepted element of everyday life in Ethiopia; even the language is full of references to God.

On the central plateau, the Ethiopian Orthodox church dominates. Priests and deacons abound in their often colorful robes, carrying their staffs and ornate crosses that people frequently kiss as they pass. Christianity came to Ethiopia in ancient times and became the official Ethiopian religion in the fourth century. The Orthodox Church has many connections with ancient Judaism.

Islam is also very strong in many parts of Ethiopia, frequently existing peaceably alongside Christianity. The city of Harar, in the east of the country, is officially the fourth most holy Muslim site in the world. In the lowland areas, animistic and pagan religions are still commonly found among tribal peoples who live in simple communities.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government generally respects this right in practice; however, on occasion government authorities infringe on this right. The government officially recognizes both Christian and Muslim holy days and continues to mandate a two-hour lunch break on Fridays to allow Muslims to go to a mosque to pray.  

Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.



Traditional Ethiopian art, such as paintings, are an expression of religion, especially the Greek Orthodox religion. Paintings have a medieval style and people are painted with large, almond-shaped eyes. 


Ethiopia has a strong tradition of music. Popular music is played, but most musicians also sing traditional songs and most audiences choose to listen to both popular and traditional styles. Ethiopian music uses a unique modal system that is pentatonic, with characteristically long intervals between some notes. This creates a somewhat "unfinished" and anticipatory atmosphere to the music. Folk instruments include the masenqo (fiddle), washint (flute), kebero (drums) and krar (lyre).

Holidays and Festivals

Ethiopian New Year's Day, Sept. 11 
Victory Day, April 6 
Labor Day, May 1
Victory Day, May 28: Celebrated as a victory day for the current government and also marks the Fall of Derg.

Christian festivals include Maskal, or the Feast of the Finding of the True Cross; Christmas; Timkat or Epiphany; and Good Friday according to the Coptic calendar. Christmas in Ethiopia is primarily a religious observance. 

Muslim festivals include the ninth month of the Muslim calendar devoted to Ramadan, which is marked by fasting. The greatest Muslim feast of the year is 'Id Al Fatr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan. The 'Id al Adha is the feast marking Abraham's sacrifice

Sports and Games

Ethiopians enjoy soccer, volleyball and basketball.

Typical Foods

For Ethiopians, the coffee ceremony is an important social event that brings people of the family or community together. It is an important cultural ritual that’s been passed from generation to generation. According to legend, a goat herder named Kaldi discovered the coffee bean by way of his goats in the Kaffa region of Ethiopia around A. D. 800.

Ethiopia's staple food is injera, a spongy bread made of a unique crop only grown in Ethiopia called "teff." Injera is baked in a clay pan and eaten with sauce made of either meat, ground grains, beans or vegetables. The following recipe for Misir Wat is served with injera, which you can buy from an Ethiopian market or restaurant. If you would like to make your own injera, get a recipe online and visit your local health food store to buy teff in the bulk grains section. 

Misir Wat
2 cups lentils, split
6 cups water
2 cups red onions, chopped
2 Tb. oil
1 Tb. ginger
1 tsp. garlic
1/4 tsp. black pepper
4 hot peppers (green)
salt to taste

Wash lentils and boil in water for five minutes. Cook onions in oil, stirring gently so onions don't turn brown. Remove lentils from heat; drain and reserve water for later use. Add lentils to onions. Add reserved water, stirring to prevent mixture from sticking to bottom of pan. Add ginger, garlic, black pepper, peppers and salt. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serves six.



(How are you?) 

The word tena means "health." If translated literally, it would mean, "May you have Health." Implicitly, it would mean, "May God give you health." To respond, one would say, Egziabeher yimesgen, Dehena negne. This means, "God be praised, I am fine."


To ask, "How are you?" in this language, say, Naguma, Fayuma or Naga, which are interchangeably used depending on regions or locations. 

Compassion in Ethiopia

Child Sponsorship Program

Children 11 and younger meet at the child development center for 3 hours on Saturdays and an additional 4 hours during the week. Older children spend 2 hours at the center on Saturday, in addition to 4 hours during the week.

Light snacks are provided at the center, especially when children come from school to attend tutorials and skill trainings. In most cases, light snacks include bread, tea and crackers. Every three months, supplementary food grain and cooking oil is provided for families. Nutritional intervention is made per a physician's prescription when there is an evidence of malnutrition.

Children are involved in various clubs at the child development centers including various sports activities. They are also encouraged to participate in tree planting and environmental cleaning events. Moreover, children actively participate in different campaigns that focus on child protection, road traffic and so on. Children are also provided with recreational and educational trips that help them widen their knowledge.

Ethiopia Facts and Figures
Capital Addis Ababa

96,633,458 (2014 estimate) 

Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS, which results in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, and lower population growth rates than otherwise expected.

Languages Oromo 33.8% (official working language in the State of Oromiya), Amharic 29.3% (official national language), Somali 6.2% (official working language of the State of Sumale), Tigrayan 5.9% (official working language of the State of Tigray), Afar 1.7% (official working language of the State of Afar), other 23.1%, English (major foreign language taught in schools), Arabic (2007 census)
Religions Christian 62.17 (Ethiopian Orthodox 43.5%, Protestant 18.6%, Catholic 0.7%), Muslim 33.9%, traditional 2.6%, other 0.7% (2007 census)
Literacy rate

Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write.
Male: 49.1%

Female: 28.9% (2007 estimate)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources

Urban: 96.6%

Rural: 39.3%
(2011 estimate)
Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities

Urban: 27.3%

Rural: 19.4%
(2011 estimate)
Climate Tropical monsoon with wide topographic-induced variation
Percentage of population urbanized 17%
(2011 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 58.43 years

Female: 63.15 years (2014 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate

(2012 estimate)

GDP per capita $1,300 (2013 estimate)
Monetary unit birr (ETB)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 785,600 (2012 estimate)
Percentage of population living below
$1.25 a day
31% (2007-11 study)

Sources for facts:
The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014