These days it is common to see street children all over Addis Ababa, begging, sniffing glue, or getting by selling small items. They sleep in plastic huts, on the roadside or the sidewalks. There is an increasing number of crimes, rapes and prostitution as a result of this phenomena.
One NGOs that works to rehabilitate the children and re-unite them with their families as well as providing vocational training is Elshadai Relief and Development Association. Capital’s Tesfaye Getnet talked with Yonas Weldetensa’e Deputy Director of Elshadai Relief and Development Association to learn more about how they help the kids.
Yonas Weldetensa’e graduated with a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Mekelle University in 2008. He also worked as a Veterinarian, a training coordinator, a teacher and trainer.
Capital: What is the mission of Elshadai Relief & Development Association in Ethiopia and what are your major achievements so far?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: Initially, Elshadai was founded in 1989 with a mission to rescue war children who are victims of war and reunify families torn apart by civil war at the time. Since then we have been committed to providing better opportunities for more than 1,060 orphaned, abandoned and unprivileged children; endowing them with valuable education opportunities and a brighter future.
The vast majority of the children (more than 900) are cared for and raised in Elshadai Wukro and Kalamino Children’s Villages. They have graduated from universities, colleges and vocational schools and now they are applying their skills in public services, in governmental higher educational institutions, NGOs as well as the private sector in various professional capacities. Elshadai has also made major strides to provide education opportunities to urban and rural communities from kindergarten to grade 8 levels, established a modern agriculture center in Wukro Village owing to provide practical agriculture education to farmers and to serve researchers and university students. Two thousand eight hundred children of socio-economically disadvantaged family members are supported with education materials, school uniforms, sanitation materials and financial support in a distance sponsorship program while they are with their parents or caregivers.
Elshadai has been a pioneer in a number of initiatives. We have initiated governmental and nongovernmental organizations to reintegrate and rehabilitate fellow human beings living from begging and leading a street life. To that effect 52,466 farmers living from begging in Addis Ababa, Adama, Hawassa, and Dire Dawa were reintegrated and rehabilitated into their localities. In addition, 22,499 children living from begging with their parents and 6,681street children were reintegrated to their localities and reunified with their parents or relatives and enrolled in schools to obtain the valuable education they need and deserve. Two thousand four hundred sixty one street youths were provided with life skills, business skills, entrepreneurship, leadership and vocational trainings and are being provided with employment opportunities in national mega projects; in the Renaissance Dam, Sugar corporation projects, in governmental and non-governmental organizations and in Coops.
Capital: Who brings the street children to you and how do you know their case is legitimate?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Addis Ababa City Bureau of Women and Children Affairs and Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs, Addis Ababa Police Commission and Elshadai are involved in picking up the street children. The “pick-up” operation is made from 10:00pm to 6:00am, so that only street children or homeless children are involved in the operation.
Capital: Based on your knowledge why do children live in the streets?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: Generally children are forced to lead a street life due to socioeconomic problems and lack of good governance. Children are migrating from rural to urban areas based on their interest, peer influence while they are distressed and feel insecure about food, education and employment opportunities. Children are also migrating to major cities due to family separation, when one or both parents are deceased or abused by step mother or their step father to take part in adult work, especially when parents are not productive and unable to earn income due to diseases.
Capital: Do you think it’s a good thing to give money or things to street children?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: From our experience; disorganized support like giving money, food and clothing to street children sometimes invites other children to do it. Children those who obtained money, food and clothing on street will go back to their village and show their friends, advertise and provoke others to migrate to cities.
Capital: Is the growing population is one of the factors causing us to see more children on the street?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: The high fertility rate is the indirect factor for more street children. Child labor exploitation, trafficking, violence and abuse also causes an increase in homelessness.
Capital: The life of the children on the streets is miserable, difficult and characterized by lack of food, shelter, security, basic amenities, school, medical care and parental love among others. Is not difficult for you to give vocational trainings for the street children who are occupied by the above challenges?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: In our training and rehabilitation centers children are not provided vocational training; only those who are 18 and above are provided with TVET. As you mentioned, street children are malnourished, living with chronic diseases, exposed for abuse and sexual harassment, and a majority of them are drug addicted. Female children are abducted and forced to have sexual intercourse and are exposed to sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS and encounter Fistula. To cure and rehabilitate the children from these problems; they are provided with new clothes, shoes, bathing facilities, shave their hair (males), cut their finger nails, their old clothes are burnt and buried, and screening/medical check-up/ for communicable diseases is conducted and those who have a positive result are provided necessary treatments and follow up. They are provided with life skill training including how to build a good personality, how to communicate, how to free themselves from addiction, and abstain from unwanted feelings, how to solve conflict, how to settle problems and difficulties that came from their parents/guardians and how to love them. Children are also provided with psychosocial and psychosomatic therapy with professionals.
Capital: Where do you get the funds and how do you manage them?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: More than 90 percent of the funds are covered by the government and the rest comes from income generating activities and international donors. There are three training and rehabilitation centers which are found in SNNP, Amhara; Awi zone, and in Tigray. The budget is allocated accordingly according to their capacity (the number of street children) the centers have. All centers have the necessary personnel including the finance and administration department which is responsible for managing the budget and is controlled by the head office and audited externally.
Capital: A long time ago the children who were reunited with their family and sent back to the place where they grew up, returned to Addis which nullified your work. What can be done about this?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: Very few children among the previously reunified are coming back again to Addis and other cities. A majority of them are new. Elshadai is planning to conduct research on selective Woredas where many children are migrating from, to investigate the root cause to see why reunified children go back again and why new children are coming and to develop a lasting solution.
Capital: What is your response to allegations made in the media regarding contraband trade?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: It is not true. It was the interest of individuals and extreme hatred rate they have toward the organization. They know where Elshadai gets support. Elshadai has never been engaged in contraband trade. Some vested groups were running here and there to soil Elshadai’s good image. We had big stores in Adama where the highest and least standard clothes, shoes, perfume, food items, training and construction materials were put in place. All these were donated from the government.
Capital: What are the association’s major challenges?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: Limited resources, lack of awareness and fatigue from relevant stakeholders are among the major challenges.
Capital: What is your future plan?
Yonas Weldetensa’e: In the coming five years, by strengthening the existing training and rehabilitation centers and establishing new ones in Oromia Region and in Addis Ababa; we are planning to work vigorously in child reunification, protection of child migration to cities. In addition to this, we plan to support 144,788 citizens with TVET, reintegration and rehabilitation, and with distance sponsorship programs. A new training center in Gambella Region is also under construction to host 65,000 youth from Gambella.