Reclaiming hope snatched by the streets – Dese’s story

Monday 14 August 2017

Dese, 13 years old

Like many other children who leave their rural villages for Addis Ababa, Dese, 13, was positive that the big city would present opportunities for better life. To his dismay, the city snatched all his hopes, but a centre for street children in Addis Ababa has helped him to regain them.

Dese, 13, came to Addis Ababa on a whim. He was in bad terms with his school teacher, and together with his friend who had a bit of money, he decided to go to Addis Ababa. Dese carried with him high hopes that life would get better there. A day after the two arrived in the capital, Dese’s friend left him, using his last money to go home. Dese turned a lone kid on the busy streets.

“The first day I was here, I was really happy to be in the big city. But, alone, penniless and hungry the next day, I felt so helpless that I wanted to cry hard” says Dese.

All by himself for the first time in his life with nothing to eat, Dese, like so many other children, ended up living by the main bus station in Addis Ababa. That is where social workers from Save the Children’s partner, Retrak, found him. They took him to a centre Retrak has set up for street children.

Thanks to the Let’s Play for Change campaign, the centre is now home to 28 boys who are given the opportunity to play, catch up with their education and have a safe place to stay. The staff in the centre work tirelessly to reunify the children with their families, or to find other guardians so they can reintegrate with their communities.

“Children come to Addis for different reasons. The main driving factor is poverty, so many flee home for survival. But some children are escaping abuse or are being trafficked,” explains Henok Dana, a social worker at the centre, who worked with vulnerable children on the streets of Addis Ababa for six years.

Many children and families in rural areas do not know anything about the hard life that awaits children who migrate to the city. Going to the big city is seen as an opportunity, an escape from poverty and a path to a better life.

Dese’s experience shows a different reality: Living in the streets, Dese says, “You can expect two things – you will have miserable life and engage in petty theft for survival.”

Apart from providing counselling services and access to education, the centre participates the children in playing various games as an important part of its work to prepare the boys for a better life.”

Dese* and Kasu**, 13 and 15 years old, during class in a Save the Children supported centre for street children in Addis Ababa.

*We have changed Dese’s name for child protection purposes.