Article from Lilyana Ahmed, Program Manager STB Ethiopia
It is a significant change in the history of Sport –The Bridge (STB) Ethiopia to see the rising number of street children who come from various regions of Ethiopia in search of a better life in Addis Ababa. In 2006 out of 35 participants there were about 5 from outside Addis. Today, after 10 years, it is the reverse: only 5 out of 35 do not come from outside. Since 2012 STB has reintegrated every year – within the program-cycle going from October to September – between 30 and 45 children into different parts of the country. Although no issue-related institution did a research, all of the organizations working with street-children agree that this time there are not many children from Addis Ababa found living on the street. At least they seem to be organized differently while still being affected by other poverty related causes. As a consequence of these developments STB started working more and more with street children from countryside areas and focusing on uniting them with their families.
Interventions in the work with street children need follow-ups because it is a reality that issues of relapsing occur very often, especially in combination with drug abuse or mental disorders. In Addis Ababa STB has put in place an effective follow-up system to maintain and support the process of re-socialization of the reintegrated children at home, at the school and in the community. However, when it comes to children who are reintegrated with their family outside of Addis Ababa the follow up work is more difficult because of the distance. There are some big challenges we face every time:
- When children repeatedly come to Addis to live on the street, our social workers cannot intervene quickly enough to bring the children back to their home because of issues of geographical distance.
- Every child decides the time of being reintegrated to the countryside whenever he or she is ready. So, it may be odd or even impossible to enroll these kids into school during the reintegration (depending on the beginning and time of the school year). Regarding the time resources the question arises how it can be managed efficiently to register these children for school.
- Normally, when there are parents of the street children who need support for generating income, STB can provide that support, but because of the distance, it is difficult to involve parents in income-generating activities. It is difficult to ensure support with a sustainable effect. This is why drop-outs occur most likely when parents or legal guardians are having income problems.
As mentioned, for five years STB has brought back between 30 and 45 street children to their families in countryside areas. Although it is difficult to estimate how many of them have come back to Addis Ababa, it should be less than 50% on average – at least we do not encounter more returned children.
The numbers for 2016 are satisfying so far: from 44 reintegrated children only 3 came back to Addis Ababa and one of them already went back home again, with the support of his older brother.
STB is working on establishing a system, which should be effective and can be put into practice within the given framework. What we are already doing today: Almost all of our beneficiaries – even from rural areas – have a mobile phone, or have at least access to one, which was not the case some years ago. So, nowadays, we make regular phone calls to the person who is responsible for taking care of the child. We are also planning to implement this callback system with the responsible government office and with the schoolteachers of the integrated children. This activity helps us to check the situation of each child from a distance and to help solve problems before a child decides to go back to street-life.
Additionally STB is also planning to build up measures to prevent children from coming to Addis Ababa in the first place – always in the hope for a better life, while in most cases they unfortunately end up on the street. In the course of a pilot project STB has proved that it is possible and even very fruitful to work with relevant government offices, schools, and volunteers while dealing with this issue.
In future, working for children coming from other areas of Ethiopia will entail the following: support in obtaining school materials as well as providing awareness raising activities about problems related to street-life for parents, responsible government office workers, and whole communities.. The goal of this new type of prevention activity is to encourage and enable the community itself to take care of the young generation.