Today Abiy is 23 years old and lives together with his mother, his stepfather, and his three younger siblings in the Shiro Meda area of Addis Ababa. He is in 10th grade now and amongst the three best students of his class, as both, Abiy himself and his stepfather proudly point out. These are in fact not the kind of school results you would expect from a former street kid, who kept afloat by selling lottery tickets, begging, and committing minor thefts for four years.
Abiy left his home to live in the street, when he was ten years old. Back then his family was very poor. His stepfather sold lottery tickets, while his mum was begging for money. Together they didn’t manage to generate enough income to support Abiy and his younger siblings. Due to the economic pressure his family experienced, Abiy started selling lottery tickets like his stepfather, helped collecting fares for minibuses, or cleaned pedestrian’s shoes. Instead of going to school, he spent his days in the streets, working, begging, stealing, or whatever else it took to make enough money to get by. He became more and more frustrated with his life at home and angry with his family, who couldn’t feed him and enable him to go to school like “normal” children. As his network on the street grew, he became increasingly independent and finally left his home to live in the street and completely look after himself.
He had now gained independence, but quickly realised that the life in the street wasn’t any easier. Nights were tough and cold, fights happened on a daily basis, and he became addicted to drugs. After three years of living and sleeping in the street, he came in contact with Sport – The Bridge. Two team members approached him, when he was playing football with his friends around Arat Kilo, where he spent most of his time. He was keen to join the programme, as he loved playing football and he learned that Sport – The Bridge could offer him exactly that. The next day him and two of his friends went to the STB compound and started participating in the daily programme along with the other 1st year’s children.
When we asked Abiy, how he remembers his time at STB now, eleven years after he first joined the programme, he mentions the sports training, especially the football, the nutrition, the heath care, he benefitted from, but most of all he points out “the STB staff members gave love to me, something I was really lacking in the street.” He also mentions that the kids regularly fought with each other, but at the same time they made progress every day and learned a lot “with each other and from each other.” After joining, him and his friends attended the programme regularly and never dropped out.
Talking to Temesgen, the social worker, who supervised and guided Abiy at the time, we learn that Abiy was in fact very difficult to handle. He was aggressive, started a lot of fights with other kids on the compound, and it was not easy to approach or talk to him, because he would not accept any authority, nor would he provide any information, when asked about his family and his life situation.
Temesgen searches out some old photos of Abiy. There is one, which shows him managing a fire with a stick in preparation for the Buhe celebration. Temesgen tells us, “this is the one, which shows Abiy exactly the way, I remember him.” He was quite rebellious, strong-minded, and sometimes he could be incredibly stubborn.
Within a few months of joining STB’s programme, Abiy opened up a bit and finally agreed to talk to his mother, whom he seemed to be on very bad terms with. But he still refused to return home and live with his family. STB invited his mum to several meetings and Temesgen remembers witnessing a lot of fights between the two. “Abiy was screaming at her, pointing out all the things she did wrong.” At that time he was completely adapted to the street life and it took many attempts to reintegrate him, before he finally decided to sleep at home again.
Temesgen also invited Abiy’s stepfather, Feleke (photo below), to visit the STB compound and to meet with him. During their conversation he learned that Feleke hadn’t found work and was still selling lottery tickets on the street. With his earnings he was hardly able to provide for the whole family. After some consideration STB decided to offer him temporary maintenance work in the infrastructure department. But this was only the start of a long and fruitful working relationship. Feleke turned out to be a very hard worker. Any faults reported to him he fixed in record time. Lilyana, the STB programme manager, tells us how all the staff members were so impressed with Feleke, that the management decided to turn his temporary working contract into a permanent one. He has stayed with STB up to this day and at present works as a guard, ensuring the security of the compound and the STB guesthouse.
After Abiy could finally be reintegrated, it took at last two years for him to readapt to his family life, as Temesgen remembers. But step by step he managed to overcome his anger and frustration, leaving his past behind him. He started school in the 1st grade at age 14, kept visiting the STB tutorial programme and playing football in the STB club system team. Even now he still participates in the training sessions of the U17 team, although he can’t play in the tournaments anymore, because he is too old. After school, when there is no football training, he works on construction sites or as a minibus fare collector for a few hours per day in order to generate some additional income for his family.
When he talks about his present situation, he seems very happy. “I have a better life now, a life like any normal young person. I am successful in school, I have enough to eat, and when I go to sleep at night, I no longer have to be worried about all the dangers, which lurk in the streets.”
For his future he wishes to complete school, study to become a civil engineer, get married, and have two children. In addition to looking after his own children, he would like to become a foster parent for at least two more children, who would otherwise live on the street, and enable them to go to school and live the “normal life” he was longing for so much, when he was a child.
Anna & Madeleine, Addis Ababa, December 2013