Along with several other trustees of Retrak, I recently visited Ethiopia to see our work for myself and to spend some time with our amazing staff and the children and families we work with. This blog post is part of a series of my own personal reflections from that trip.
Children end up living on the streets for a whole host of reasons; they might have run away from home after an argument, they might have run away to escape abuse, one or both of their parents might have died, they might have been trafficked and dumped, or they might be escaping extreme poverty for what they think are the bright and exciting lights of the city. The only common factor is that it is through no fault of their own. No child deserves to live on the streets and I find it heartbreaking that children end up living rough on the streets, fighting for survival.
Living on the streets has a terrible impact on the children. One of our outreach workers described it well: “When children are on the street, they have nothing. No hope, no dreams, nothing to run to.”
To see children rediscover their hope and dreams is incredibly moving. Spending some time at our Drop-In Centre in Addis Ababa, we were with groups of children who are fresh from living on the street and are on the very first step towards reintegration or, maybe, independent living. The children wanted to perform their national dances from their region of Ethiopia as they are really proud of their heritage, and several of them had written poems about their hopes and dreams.
The stories from former street children are many and are inspiring; from the story of a former street child who is now a chef at a fancy hotel, to the story of another former street child who (helped by Retrak) started earning money by shoe-shining, then saved money and trained in tailoring, and is now setting up a tailoring workshop and wants to help street children.
These journeys are many; from no hope, to daring to hope and dream, to realising potential and achieving their hopes and dreams.
I think we can all be guilty of constraining our hopes and dreams at times, but big dreams can be realised and Retrak’s work in Ethiopia has many great examples. A charity that dares to dream of a world where no child is forced to live on the streets? That’s us. How do we go about making that dream a reality? A great example is our work in Hossana, where our staff in Addis Ababa noticed that a surprisingly high number of children living on the streets of Addis came from the region of Hossana. Further research suggested several underlying causes for this including lack of parenting skills, extreme poverty, trafficking and exploitation, and a mis-perception by children about what life would be like on the streets.
This resulted in a really well thought-through programme of interventions; child welfare clubs running in schools, facilitated self-help groups (which aid economic and community strengthening), education on parenting skills, and anti-trafficking work (e.g. educating bus conductors to spot the signs of potential trafficking so they can alert authorities).
These programmes have been running for around 2 years and I was delighted to visit Hossana and see the work for myself. I’ll write about the self-help groups in another blog post but the programmes are having an amazing positive impact; from helping people to lift themselves out of poverty, be better parents, helping children understand what life on the streets is really like, and reducing trafficking. But it is much more than a local impact; early indications are that less children from Hossana now end up on the streets of Addis than from any other region; an amazing shift!
No problem is too big. Hope is a powerful force for change; In street children, in Retrak, in organisations, in teams, and in each and every one of us.
For more information about our work with families and communities, please see this video:
If you can help us to transform the lives of vulnerable children, please see: http://www.retrak.org/donate/
You can find the other blog posts in this series here: