When Melat* first arrived at our girls’ centre Deborah House, she was shy, reluctant to talk to adults and detached from girls she didn’t know. She didn’t know exactly how old she was but she thought she was around 9 years old. Melat was relieved to have somewhere to get clean and fresh clothes to change into but she was most excited at the prospect of catch-up education at the centre.
Every time she had counselling sessions she opened up a little more, clearly glad that someone was interested in her. Melat revealed she came to Addis Ababa with her older step-sister to start school. But she said she had been in her sister’s house for 3 years helping as a domestic worker.
Over time, she told the social worker that her step-sister never wanted to send her to school, even though she asked again and again. Instead of attending school, Melat was expected to look after their young baby boy, wash clothes, clean the house, cook and make coffee day in day out; otherwise her step-sister beat her. When her step-sister and the husband went far away from the house to visit their relatives Melat escaped their home and came to live on the streets of Addis Ababa. Luckily, a policeman found her and she was able to come to Deborah House.
Once Melat was ready to return home our team started the process of find her family, this was difficult as she had forgotten the exact village she came from. After failing to find any members of Melat’s family, we contacted the Women and Children’s Affairs office for help. After several days they contacted us with a lead, the father of a child had reported that he lost a girl who went to Addis Ababa with her step-sister 3 years ago.
Once we confirmed that the man was Melat’s father we arranged a meeting. When she saw him she started to burst into tears and both hugged each other, in tears and unable to control their feelings for long minutes. In the meantime, the social worker and driver smiled at each other as her father welcomed her with hugs and love and tears in his eyes.
Tragically, much had changed in the 3 years that she had been separated from her family. Melat’s 4 younger siblings had passed away due to typhoid fever and her mother had died due to a complication of pregnancy.
Melat’s father had remarried and, together with his wife, welcomed her back home once more. Melat was also excited to learn she also had a baby sister. With Retrak’s support, Melat’s father and step-mother are committed to ensuring she continues the great progress she made in the catch up education at our centre.
These are the pictures taken during reintegration.
*Name changed to protect the child’s identity