Sir Peter’s Blog ‘from the streets’ Day 4

EVENT: Retrak’s CEO from Addis Ababa to Hosanna, Ethiopia; Day 4 | AUTHOR: Sir Peter Fahy

A five hour drive took us from Addis to the town of Hosanna. It took us about an hour and a half to get out of Addis just because of the way that the city keeps expanding with the road network struggling to keep up. As the government clears some of the shanty towns and slums in the centre people move out to the edges.

After clearing the outskirts we struck African grassland where the Ethiopians grow the cereal ‘teff’ and turn it into something similar to a wrap. There was very little road traffic but hundreds of donkeys, goats and cattle. Donkeys are clearly the main form of transport in these areas. You could also see the traditional round African hut with dried mud walls and thatched roofs.

Hosanna feels like a frontier town which acts as a draw for the wide rural area around. People come to the markets and shops and a very busy bus station is a hub for the whole area. All this attracts children from the surrounding area to see if there is a better life here. It is estimated that there are about 300 children living on the street but the main issue is many children move on quickly from here to Addis and this is exactly what Retrak is working to prevent. As in Addis, we have outreach workers who go on to the streets of the town to engage with the children and encourage them to come to the Retrak drop-in centre. There we can accommodate 15 boys at any one time and we aim to get 60 boys overall back to their families over the coming year.

Retrak also takes a mobile school to the bus station so that the street children there get some basic education. This is a little bit like a market stall on wheels and has also sorts of pull out panels to teach reading and maths. It attracts quite a crowd and we use some of the older boys to keep order.

We have achieved some increased funding recently so this will enable us to increase the number of boys we get back to families and allow us to employ a nurse for the centre and another teacher and indeed move to a better building in another part of the town. Once children come to our centres we are responsible for feeding and looking after them and the increased funding will allow us to have an improved programme of activities for the boys at weekends.

Talking to our social workers there they told me of the particular difficulties of taking children back to remote rural areas. I also spoke to a number of the boys who told me their stories of how they were tricked by peer pressure into believing that life on the street would be better. They now very much want to get home. The social workers told me that, while poverty is an issue, the main reason behind boys running away was poor attachment by their parents, parents who found it difficult to set boundaries and then disciplined their child harshly or did not send them to school. Many times on this trip I have seen how the child welfare issues in Ethiopia are not that different to the UK.

My next blog will be about the work we do in the rural areas to prevent children ending up on the street as I visit another women’s self help group and a school child welfare club. See Sir Peter’s next blog here