Etagegn Mekonnen was a street woman. It was twelve months ago that she departed from this anguish life and joined the Hawassa branch Elshaday Relief and Development Association. This reporter met her recently in a field visit organized by the Association in collaboration with the Ministry of Women and Children and SNNPs state. Before joining the center, she had been leading her life in the Addis Ababa streets around Bole specifically known as Chereka Sefer.
She was obliged to lead a street life when her husband's business went bankrupt. Etagegn remembers the situation with sadness. Following the economic crisis, the family was enforced to leave in a tiny plastic hut at Chereka Sefer. Then after three months, a police with civil uniform took them to the Hawassa Elshaday center. She joined the center with her husband and baby girl for short term training.
She believed in herself and completed the training the center provides. She was trained in hair dressing. Her husband has been also prominent in the center working as a supervisor.
Currently, Etagegn is working in a little kiosk called Betsinat Buna and sells a boiled coffee to the surrounding customers. "It was a great pleasure to us looking at the change. When we accomplished our trainings, the center helped us to have rent a house and financed us to operate our own businesses in the nearby village outside the center."
She is also engaged in seedling supply to various shops and organi zations at Tikur Wuha, a place located at the outskirts of Hawassa. She called her situation 'a one step stride' in her life. She believes the center is still important place to her two years old baby. She said, "The center fulfills basic needs and education to my baby girl." She decided that she would work hard and pay back for every support that the center gave her in her bad days. She plans to participate and make a better business on behalf of the center. She believes that the current positive political atmosphere is suitable to work and improve one's life.
On the contrary, there are also others who joined the center recently and complaining for living there. Abeba Frasew is living in the center with her infant baby. The center provides her some supports that are not much sufficient. As her baby got strong, she planned to go home within few weeks. "I want to visit my family whom I could not visit for the last four years. I am grateful to the center for its support in the bad days of my life." She suggested that the center might be required to improve its support to the mothers with infant babies since they are unable to move and serve themselves.
Another resident of the center Saladin Densaka, a 20 years old youth, is from Werabe, SNNP state. Before joining the center, he was working in a metal house around Merkato,Addis Ababa. He refused to accept the way he joined the center. "The policemen brought me here without my permission based on the wrong information. I have skills in metal work and polishing. I want the center to let me free so that I plan and do my own job."
On the other hand, Betty Shiferaw is from Adama. She went out to street due to peer influence. Her friend convinced her to go to Addis Ababa and try her own work and get payments. Unfortunately, what she faced was a street life. Living in a plastic house what she called 'Arjin' life was difficult though it had freedom. She has been depressed in the center as she had experienced living in urban areas. "They do not allow us to go out of the center fence. I want to get back home and follow my education from grade six."
Answering to the claims, Dr. Wolde Abrha Hadgu, Hawassa Elshaday Center Director said that the problem is that the children came to the center by security forces and some of them have genuine reason. The center sometimes returns the children back home after investigating their background. "Our goal is to create a disciplined and self-esteemed citizen, not irritable one." The center would support children who have faced street life due to economic and family problems. Accordingly, parental death, divorce and peer influence are problems that triggered the lives of street children. Therefore, the center facilitates basic needs and education opportunities to peoples who have been on street for a long period of time. Children who aged 18 years old participate in various disciplines and get payments in the center.
The center is also giving life-skill trainings to children in civics and ethical education and economics among others. The children would provide information about their background when they come here as strangers. There is also a taskforce recruited from various stakeholders including the state government and the ministries of Women and Children and Social and Labor Affairs among others to conduct follow up on the children who went out of the center while finishing their trainings.
Therefore, some 80 percent of the children who have trained by the center from SNNPs state are back to their regular education. The center has also spent 80 million Birr in running the trainings. So far, 2300 adults who have completed the training went out to run their own businesses.
The major complain of the children mainly emanated from the process of joining the center. They were brought to the center without their permission. Today the center supports about 1500 children who were living in street. Of course, everyone should pay for change after all the center is not a place where they live in comfort unto the end of their lives. The center is providing what it has through beseeching for financial and technical assistance from volunteers. And the adults might leave the center in time when they get psychological strength and pay back for the center deed, as Etagegn did. Ultimately, the center might need to improve its services as per the request of the children; although we all know that they are free.