Ethiopia: Welcoming IDPs and migrants in GSF project changes lives
By Alessandro Di Bussolo - Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Displaced women and men or migrants from all over Ethiopia, those returning, after having emigrated, refugees from other countries, and vulnerable people, are the beneficiaries of the pilot project launched at the end of 2020 in Addis Ababa by the Global Solidarity Fund (GSF), in collaboration with female and male religious congregations.
The project aims to work together with private companies and international organisations to strengthen the congregations' commitment to improving the lives of the vulnerable.
The phenomenon of those who are returning is a fairly recent one, which involves Ethiopians who emigrated to Yemen and are returning because of the conflict in the Arab country, but above all, Ethiopians forced to return by the Arab Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, because of government measures against irregular migrants.
The drama of the exiled, IDPs and 'street' children
They return, almost all of them, with nothing left. The Ethiopian government gives them a small amount of money to return home, but many remain in the capital, Addis Ababa. They thus join the many internally displaced people who move from rural areas, to improve their lives and find work.
Then there are the 'street children,' more than 60,000 in Addis Ababa, who come to the city from all over the country, sleep in manholes or under bridges, snatch for food, sniff glue and, at times, forced to prostitute themselves to survive.
Father Berga: they are traumatized, we try to give them a future
Father Petros Berga, head of the Socio-Pastoral Commission of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa, which coordinates the GSF project, and Apostolic Visitor for Ethiopian Catholics in Europe, tells me that, at the airport, three kilometers from the St Michael Training Centre where I meet him, people arrive who have been expelled from Saudi Arabia and have spent two years in prison for buying food in Yemen, a war zone.
"They arrive traumatized," he tells me, "we take in as many as we can, and try to give them a life through training.”
Mothers taken in by the Missionaries of Charity
Among the displaced people from rural Ethiopia or Tigray, where there was fighting until November, there are many young women, between 18 and 25 years old, often with unwanted pregnancies already in their seventh or eighth month. Many have been taken in by the Missionaries of Charity of St. Teresa of Calcutta, who offer free assistance in childbirth. In the House of Charity in Addis Ababa, where they deliver their babies, they can stay for three months, as the missionary sisters give the young women advice on how to care for their little ones.
Some do not wish to keep their babies, but Mother Teresa's nuns, try to accompany them along a journey of awareness and preparation for motherhood, that, almost always, brings young women to accept the unplanned-for pregnancies.
The nuns and social workers, dedicated to understanding their interests and talents, send them to two centers, which were created thanks to the GSF inter-congregational project, where they live with their babies during the training period.
The 'home' at the Nigat Centre and the search for accommodation
Depending on their interests, they attend courses in fashion design, cooking, domestic work, and computer science, at the Mary Help of Christians College of the Salesian Sisters (Daughters of Mary Help of Christians); in leatherworking, furniture making or graphic design at the Salesians at the Don Bosco Children Center; or in clothing production at the Ursuline Sisters' Sitam boarding school.
The 38 young mothers housed in the Nigat Centre of the Missionaries of Charity with their children, 'are mostly enrolled in the fashion design course at the Mary Help College,' Girma Anto Muane, head of the GSF project for the Missionaries, explains to me, “and when they are in class, their children are looked after, here, by us.”
Thanks to the training they have received, they will soon find work in the small clothing companies in Addis Ababa, which have great needs for skilled labor. The problem lies, however, is finding housing accommodations since rents are often too high compared to wages earned. 'We help them find housing for three or four together,' Muane tells me, noting they also offer some financial assistance in paying the rent.
The voices and stories of Sememu, Derartu and Endashaw
Sememu Hibistu, an internal migrant from the Ethiopian city of Debra Marcos, 300 kilometers northwest of Addis Ababa, the protagonist of our video, found accommodation with other female workers near the company where she works, especially since every movement is a struggle for her, having lost a leg to an infection.
Derartu Karle, who comes from Metu, Oromia, 500 kilometers south-west of the capital, a graduate in tourism management, asked the Sisters of Mother Teresa for help after suffering violence and becoming pregnant. This year, she obtained her Cisco computer certification after a course at Mary Help College, has been working as a data encoder at a beauty school in Lewi for the past ten days, and lives at the Nigat Centre with her small daughter.
Endashaw Tesfaye, the third voice in the video, came to Addis Ababa to look for work from the city of Sodo south-central Ethiopia.
Thanks to the Missionaries of Charity and the GSF project, Endashaw studied welding at the Mekkanissa Centre of the Salesians of Don Bosco and today is a supervisor in a laboratory. Endashaw lives alone, juggles a bit to pay the rent, but looks to the future with confidence.
Don Bosco Children and Don Angelo's children
The other training centre of the Salesians included in the inter-congregational network is the Don Bosco Children Center, which welcomes migrants, internally displaced persons and street children who almost every morning are picked up by Father Angelo Regazzo, the Salesian community treasurer at Don Bosco Children, and involved in the 'Come and see' first contact program. Don Angelo is a point of reference at the Don Bosco Center for helping those in need.
"Migrants and children have no money to go to school or train," Father Yohannes Menghistu, director of the Salesian community, tells me. "Here, they can study from morning until three in the afternoon. Before, however, we could only give them a certificate and help them look for a job.
“Today, thanks to the GSF project, they have many more job opportunities in companies and can receive assistance for opening their own business.'
Welcoming refugees at the JRS Centre in Addis Ababa
While in the consortium of the five congregations, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) is in charge of business training, JRS also takes seriously, first and foremost, its commitment to handle the reception of refugees who come from the refugee camps in the suburbs to Addis Ababa, to its centre in the heart of the capital.
Here we find Alemu Nisrane, project coordinator for the Jesuits.
In this place, Alemu says, “the refugees find emergency health care, sustenance, recreational activities and initial training and informal courses in English, computers, music." He also recalls their offer to enroll them in vocational training run by the other members of the consortium, such as the Salesian Sisters' Mary Help College, the Don Bosco and Mekkanissa centers and the Ursulines' Sitam. For entrepreneurial training and self-employment, we take care of that at JRS.”
A single reception point envisioned for the future
The pilot project, as the consortium hopes, is expected to turn into a definitive and structured project 'so that we can assist the people who come to us in a very systematic way,' Don Petros Berga tells me.
They are thinking of 'a single coordination point for all those who come to us' a reception hub, so that the migrants who come to us can know step by step what is needed to go through the training process.
The location for this reception point is also being prepared, in a plot of land a few meters from the Catholic Archbishopric of Addis Ababa and the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The point will be in a training centre dedicated to St. John Paul II, and will also house new courses in multimedia production, solar panel installation, domestic work, and nursing.