Youth Release works in the second largest city in Ethiopia: Dire Dawa. Dire Dawa is located in the eastern region of the country and has an estimated population of around 450,000 people. This area has been harshly affected by massive unemployment, near famine, and recent flooding which devastated the city. In 2006 the banks of the Sabian river flooded and rampaged through the city killing over 500 people and displaced a further 10,000 people. As a result of this natural disaster, there has been a huge increase in homelessness, commercial sex trade, drug addiction and has left many children orphaned and homeless within the city of Dire Dawa.
Youth Release works in the Gende Tesfa community ( ‘The Village of Hope’). The area we are working in has the highest ratio of Orphaned and Vulnerable Children (OVC) in Dire Dawa. There are just under 4,000 registered OVC’s in the area and that doesn’t include the number of street children, or migrating children. There is likely to be a greater influx of children coming from neighbouring Somalia as well as rural areas where the food crisis is prevalent. Needless to say, the children certainly need our support, we are starting small with the number of children being supported at 250 but we hope to expand our services and programs in the coming year and also help more children.
He spoke to us about his experience growing up in Genda Tesfa. This area was once an agricultural area where people with Leprosy were placed outside the city. There was huge discrimination about the people living in this community as it was known as an area of Leprosy. He spoke about the huge psychological impact that, that stigmatisation from decades has left on the community and continues today. We visited some of the homes of the beneficiaries’ of the children and saw the victims of this disease. There are huge improvements in medical treatment and education about this disease compared with the past but many of the children’s parents that had leprosy still face decimation from others that they are infected. Tofik spoke about this affecting parent’s attitude to send their children to school, in fear that they would be bullied by their peers.
“I am working at the Youth Release centre since the beginning and I am glad to say there have been huge improvements in this community since the programs for the youths have been implemented”. This program is invaluable to the community as it allows children to attend school. Many families in this community cannot afford to buy exercise books, school uniforms, shoes for their children. The program can facilitate this which promotes enrolment in school. Another important factor is that the parents of the children are uneducated and previously have not understood the value of education. “Education is the only way out of poverty for this community”. We have seen a difference in the attitude of family members; we have coffee ceremony’s where we educate the families on how to parent their children, how to deal with challenging behaviours and the importance of education. We have seen a steady improvement in the children’s grades since the beginning of the program. They now have resources, daily tutorial classes, a library and psychosocial support. There has been a certain level of trust gained within this community, with more parents asking for support for their children to attend this school. There are many children that would like to include on the program and we hope in the future we will be able to support more families within our capacity.
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