Displaced women and men, migrants from all over Ethiopia, returning migrants, refugees from other countries and vulnerable people, are the beneficiaries of a pilot project launched in Addis Ababa at the end of 2020 by the Global Solidarity Fund (gsf), in collaboration with female and male religious congregations. The project has the aim of involving private companies and international organisations, in an effort to sustain congregations in their efforts to improve the lives of vulnerable people. The phenomenon of returning migrants is a fairly recent one, involving Ethiopians who had emigrated to Yemen and are returning due to the ongoing conflict, and even larger numbers of Ethiopians forced to return from Arab Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia, because of government measures on irregular migrants.
Almost all of them return with nothing. 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, in an attempt to improve their lives and find work, among them more than 60,000 “street children” , who come to the city from all over the country. They sleep in manholes or under bridges, steal for food, sniff glue and, at times, they are forced into prostitution to survive.
Fr Petros Berga, head of the Socio-Pastoral Commission of the Archdiocese of Addis Ababa, which coordinates the gsf project, and Apostolic Visitator for Ethiopian Catholics in Europe, tells me that people arriving at the airport located three kilometers from St Michael Training Centre, were expelled from Saudi Arabia and have spent two years in prison for buying food in Yemen, a war zone. “They arrive traumatized”, he says. “We take in as many as we can, and try to give them a life through training”.
Among the displaced people from rural Ethiopia or Tigray, there are many young women between the ages of 18 and 25, 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 them free assistance in childbirth. The women stay at the House of Charity in Addis Ababa for three months, where they deliver their babies, as the missionary sisters give them advice on how to care for their little ones. Some of them do not want to keep their babies, but Mother Teresa’s nuns try to accompany them along a journey of awareness and preparation for motherhood, which almost always brings them to accept their pregnancies. The nuns and social workers try to understand the young women’s interests and talents, and then send them to two centers established by the gsf project, where they are able to live with their babies during the training period. Depending on their interests, the young women can attend courses in fashion design, cooking, domestic work and computer science, at Mary Help of Christians College run by the Salesian Sisters (Daughters of Mary Help of Christians); courses in leather-working, furniture-making or graphic design at the Salesians’ Don Bosco Children Center; or courses in clothing production at the Ursuline Sisters’ Sitam boarding school. The 38 young mothers housed with their children in the Nigat Centre of the Missionaries of Charity “are mostly enrolled in the fashion design course at the Mary Help College”, explained Girma Anto Muane, head of the gsf project for the Missionaries, “and when they are in class, their children are looked after, here, by us”. Thanks to the training they received, they will soon find employment in small clothing companies in Addis Ababa, which have a great need for skilled labour. The problem however, is in finding accommodation since rents are often too high compared to their wages. “We help three or four of the young women find housing together”, Muane says, adding that they also help them pay their rent.
Sememu Hibistu, an internal migrant from Debra Marcos, 300 kilometers from Addis Ababa, found accommodation with other female workers near the company where she works. Having lost a leg to an infection when she was only 11 years old, every movement is a struggle for her. Derartu Karle, a graduate in tourism management who comes from Metu, Oromia, 500 kilometers from the capital, turned to the Sisters of Mother Teresa for help after being raped and falling pregnant. This year, she obtained her Cisco computer certification after taking a course at Mary Help College. She has been working as a data encoder at a beauty school in Lewi, and lives at Nigat Centre with her young daughter. Endashaw Tesfaye came to Addis Ababa from the city of Sodo in south-central Ethiopia, in search of work. Thanks to the Missionaries of Charity and the gsf project, Endashaw studied welding at Don Bosco’s Mekkanissa Centre and is now a supervisor in a laboratory. Endashaw lives alone and bends over backwards to pay her rent, but she looks to the future with confidence.
The other Salesian training centre included in the inter-congregational network is the Don Bosco Children Center, which welcomes migrants, internally displaced persons and street children. Most mornings, Fr Angelo Regazzo, Treasurer at the Centre, drives out with his van and brings back street children so that they may participate in the ‘Come and see’ first contact program. “Migrants and children have no money to go to school or train”, Fr Yohannes Menghistu, Centre Director explains. “Here, they can study from morning until three in the afternoon. In the past, 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”.
In addition to being in charge of business training and self-employment, the Jesuit Refugee Service ( jrs ) is first and foremost committed to welcoming refugees arriving in Addis Ababa from refugee camps in the suburbs. “The refugees find emergency health care, sustenance, recreational activities and initial training and informal courses in English, computers, music”, explains Alemu Nisrane, project coordinator for the Jesuits. They are also offered enrolment in the vocational training run by the Salesian Sisters’ Mary Help College, the Don Bosco and Mekkanissa centers and the Ursulines’ Sitam.
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”, Fr Petros Berga says. 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.
By Alessandro Di Bussolo
from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia