New Year, potable water- How we spent our Ethiopian New year holiday

By Simon Odong

Kule Refugee Camp, Gambella, September 11, 2014- While the Americans were commemorating the 13th anniversary of 9/11 attack  on the world trade centre, the Ethiopians celebrated their 2007 new year day, we were with the South Sudanese Refugees in Kule settlement camp turning swamp water into safe drinking (potable) water.

Kule Refugee camp, opened in May 2015 and it  is home to over 50,000 refugees who fled from South Sudan due to conflict. The recent rains in Gambella coupled with run-off from the high lands channelled through Baro River, have already caused widespread flooding in Lietchuor Refugee Camp and Itang Town. The same rains have rendered most roads in Kule and Tierkidi Refugee camps making them inaccessible by large trucks. This means, nearly half of the population in Kule cannot be served with potable water through water trucking.As a result, women and children had to walk between two to four Kilometres to the nearest water point within the camp, while others resorted to drinking surface water.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong A Refugee Woman Draws water from the Swamp on September 11 before completion of emergency water treatment installation

In Response to this, The UN Refugees Agency (UNHCR), have ordered an immediate repair of all roads starting with the overburdened spots. While the roads are being fixed by Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam with support from UNICEF, today installed an emergency water treatment kit (EmWat) to minimise the health risks of using surface water and to reduce the burden of women, boys and girls hauling water over long distances.

The EmWat kit is donated by UNICEF, installed by Oxfam with technical support from UNICEF and UNHCR. As a stop-gap measure it will provide safe drinking water to some 12,000 refugees residing in the hard to reach portion of the. Until a time when the in-camp roads are accessible by water trucks. The kit works on the principles of aided sedimentation, filtration and disinfection before distribution through a tap stand connected to a raised storage tank.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong EmWat kit sedimentation tank

The long term solution to this problem however, is the construction of a piped water scheme. With an estimated US$2.5Millions, UNICEF is supporting this sustainable solution through designing the system; construction of water reservoir tanks and technical support to partners implementing the other portion of the system. Once completed, between April and May 2015, it will serve some 120,000 persons including the surrounding host communities of the two camps (Kule and Tierkidi).

In the WASH sector, UNICEF is supporting the Gambella operation in emergency areas such as this by pre-positioning essential supplies and equipment; support to sector coordination; mitigating the effects of the displacement on the host communities; looking beyond the emergency and providing ad-hoc technical support to partners.

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© UNICEF Ethiopia/2012/Odong Refugees accessing clean potable water from the EmWat Kit

One refugee woman had this to say after fetching water from the installed kit, “Yesterday was my first day to drink water from this swamp after I felt tired of walking to Zone C, why didn’t you people bring this thing (meaning Emwat Kit) yesterday?”  This was how we spent our Ethiopian New Year, thanks to Oxfam who is now running the kit.

Making Shebelle river water clean and safe a priority

By Frehiwot Yilma


SOMALI REGION– Yahas Jamal is a village located 20 kilometres from the town of Gode, its residents live along the banks of Shebelle River. Although the village is situated close to the river, fetching water is a hazardous task requiring the person to risk attack from basking crocodiles. It is because of these crocodiles that the village got the name Yahas (meaning crocodile in Somali). Fortunately, UNICEF, through the Development Regional States (DRS) Joint-UN Programme, has started constructing river intakes in Yahas Jamal and Sankabar villages to improve safe access to water.

Fartun Hassan, 25, mother of 4, pour water for cooking in Yahas-Jamal Keble in Somali region of Ethiopia. This village which is ODF (Open Defecation Free), is waiting for the completion of water intake project to have a regular access to water.

Fartun Hassan, 25, has four children. Besides her household chores she supports her husband through farming and looking after cattle. Every day she undertakes a two-hour journey to reach the river to bring water back to her family. “Luckily I have two donkeys so I only go once a day to fetch water. I bring four jerry cans and it is enough for the day. I know people who have been eaten by crocodiles and most people have lost sheep and goats. I am scared every time I go to the river,” she says. “When they finish this water project, I hear that we will have clean water in the community and our children will not get sick. I wish that it will be completed soon,” she says. Istahil Sohane, 28, has four children. She needs to go the river twice a day because she only has one donkey. “I am eagerly waiting for the river project to finish so I do not have to go to the river twice in one day, which is very tiresome. I cannot send my children sometimes when I am tired because I worry the crocodiles will eat them. Better me than them.” Getting water is costly for those who do not have the means to truck water. At the moment people are paying between 10 to 20 USD per month. When finished, the Yahas Jamal river intake will provide a reliable service to 300 households in the area, while the cost of water will reduce to only two or three USD per month.

Emergency treatment mechanism for day-to-day use

UNICEF/JICA/Regional Government Joint DRS and WASH MIssion to Somali Region
Seada Sheik Abudi, 30, mother of 5, fetches water at a water point in Debaldek Village in Ber’aano Woreda by Shebele River in Somali region of Ethiopia. This water was treated with the emergency system which was set up several years ago but the habitants are still using it to fetch water.

Near Yahas Jamal is a small village of Debaldek. The villagers still use the Emergency Water Treatment System (EMWAT KIT). Although the treatment is no longer available they use the system to avoid crocodiles. Seada Sheik Abdi, 30, has five children and is fetching water using the EMWAT kit. “It’s better to get water here. It is safer. We are not worried that our family will be attacked by the crocodile,” she says. “If there was clean water I would not have to make four trips here in a day. I need eight jerry cans of water, which takes up the majority of my time.” The district administrator, Aden Mohammed Gile, acknowledges the need for a more reliable water supply: “We would like to move the community to a more sustainable water supply. But currently we have no other alternative and we are waiting for the river intake project to finish. There are other villages far from the river intake and they are also using the EMWAT kit for daily water use, we really need more resources to provide to every village,” he emphasises.

Sustainable technologies for resilience

Today, UNICEF is developing a mitigation plan in the Somali Region to deliver a sustainable supply of water by tapping into existing water sources that will provide an adequate quantity and quality of water throughout the year.

UNICEF/JICA/Regional Government Joint DRS and WASH MIssion to Somali Region
Filtering tanks are filled with gravels inside one of 3 filtering tanks of a river intake construction by Shebele River in Yahas-Jamal Kebele in Somali region.

Besides the emergency response to seasonal flooding or drought, UNICEF is focusing on making its WASH programmes resilient. “The river intake programme in Yahas Jamal and Sankabar when complete will support around 1,300 households and is one of the means to provide clean water to the people. But we need more funds to construct more river intakes in villages along the Shebelle river basin so people living close to a water resource do not have to struggle with crocodiles and disease,” says Samuel Godfrey, UNICEF Chief of WASH.

In the coming few months, Yahas Jamal and Sankabar villages will have clean water. Other villages are waiting to see if the time will also come for them to also get the new infrastructure. But for now, Istahil and her neighbours have to endure the time consuming and life endangering task of fetching water like the rest of the women in the villages.

 

In Ethiopia, Nationwide Polio Vaccination Campaign Reaches 13 Million Children

Somali Region, Ethiopia, 12 May, 2014 – Ethiopia kicked off a polio vaccination campaign on 3 October 2013, targeting 13 million children across the country following an emergency response that began in the Dollo Ado refugee camps in June 2013.

In July 2013, Ethiopia Reports First Wild Poliovirus Case Since 2008.

Ayan Yasin, a four-year-old girl, was one of the first confirmed polio cases in Ethiopia. Ayan lives with her father and mother, a typical pastoralist family, in their house, made of tin, wood and woven bed sheets in a remote secluded area three kilometers from Geladi Woreda in Ethiopia’s Somali Region. Living next to the Somalia border means that the family move frequently between Ethiopia and Somalia – making routine immunisation practices difficult.

When Ayan fell sick, her father took her to the nearest hospital in Somalia where he was told there was very little hope. After many visits to various health posts, Hergeisa Hospital finally confirmed she had Polio. “We call this illness the disease of the wind. We know that there is no cure for it, and that it can paralyse and even cause death. My daughter hasn’t died but it has disabled her forever,” says her father.

Polio vaccines arrive in Warder
Bukhari Shiekh Aden of UNICEF helps in moving polio vaccines of an airplane which just arrived in Warder district, Somali region of Ethiopia for a campaign as a response of a recent polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Sewunet

Close to 50,000 health workers and volunteers and 16,000 social mobilisers have been deployed all over the country as part of a campaign that includes remote and hard to access areas. With the support of the European Commission- Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO), UNICEF has procured vaccines to support immunisation efforts particularly for children and the refugee population being hosted in the Somali Region. In total, 135,000 vials or 2.7 million doses of bivalent Oral Polio Vaccine (bOPV) were procured to immunise 2.43 million children with a polio vaccine – a critical input to immunisation activities in the Somali Region and Polio high-risk areas. The support from ECHO has also helped to airlift the Polio vaccine to hard-to-reach zones of Afder, Gode and Dollo in the Somali Region.

Synchronised cross-border polio outbreak preparedness and response

Supplementary Immunisation Activities (SIAs) were conducted in Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, and Djibouti to accelerate progress towards ending Polio in the Horn of Africa. The synchronised SIAs were an outcome of the Horn of Africa Countries Cross-Border Polio Outbreak Preparedness and Response Meeting in Jigjiga, from 21 to 23 May 2014, where Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya and Djibouti agreed to strengthen cross-border collaboration to eradicate polio from the Horn of Africa.

To reinforce support and strengthen Polio eradication efforts in the Somali Region, a high-level delegation consisting of Dr Kebede Worku, State Minister of Health, Mr Abdufatah Mohammed Hassen, Vice President of Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State and Head of the Somali Regional Health Bureau, Dr Pierre M’Pele-Kilebou, WHO Representative to Ethiopia, and Dr Willis Ogutu, Head of UNICEF programme in Somali Region, visited Warder in Dollo Zone, the epicentre of the wild polio virus outbreak in Ethiopia, on 14 June 2014. The delegation, together with the Warder Zonal Administration, launched the ninth round of Supplementary Immunisation Activities (SIAs) in the outbreak zone and formally inaugurated the Zonal Polio Outbreak Command Post, which had been established in April 2014 to improve coordination of response activities.

Polio vaccination in the Somali region of Ethiopia, as a response of a recent polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa
Polio vaccination in the Somali region of Ethiopia, as a response of a recent polio outbreak in the Horn of Africa ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

Sustained interventions to ensure long-term success

While the campaigns to vaccinate children against Polio in the Somali Region have been going well, ensuring long-term success in eliminating the disease will require sustained interventions.

Abdufatah Mohammud Hassen believes the best solution is to immunise every child and ramp up routine immunisation activities in the region. “The campaigns are just to stop the emergency but the main thing that we are doing is to reach every child by strengthening the routine EPI and ensuring that the health facilities have the capacity to respond to the demands of the public”

With the help of developing partners like ECHO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rotary International and the Crown Prince of Dubai, UNICEF together with the Ministry of Health is continuing its efforts so that young children like Ayan Yasin living in the region are protected from the disabling symptoms of the Polio disease.

UNICEF provides much needed clean water to new refugees from South Sudan and the local communities hosting them

By Elissa Jobson

Refugees cross the Baro river
South Sudan refugees cross the Baro river, which is the border between South Sudan and Ethiopia. Crossing the river means that they have reached Burebiey entry point in Gambella, Ethiopia . ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Sewunet

GAMBELA, ETHIOPIA, 27 JUNE 2014 – The swollen Baro river marks the border between Ethiopia and it western neighbour, South Sudan. It’s fast-flowing waters are all that stand between those fleeing the brutal civil war in their home country and safety in Gambella. Dotted along the banks on the South Sudanese side are men, women and children, clutching their meagre possessions, waiting to be transported across the muddy-brown waterway in white plastic canoes. With battered suitcases and woven baskets on their head, those refugees – dusty, exhausted and in need of food and water – who have successfully made the river-crossing trudge towards Burebiey and the UNHCR registration tent, half a kilometre away.

Deng Gatek spent three days waiting to cross the Baro as he tried to scrape together the 30 birr (USD$1.5) fee he needed to secure passage for himself, his wife and his four children. He silently fills his yellow plastic jerry can with crystal clear water from UNICEF’s EM-Wat (emergency water) facility.

“We walked through the bush with hyenas and snakes. Many bad things happened,” Mr Gatek recalls, weariness and relief etched on his face. He can’t remember how many days the journey took from his home in Walang, in Jonglei State, to the border. “It was difficult to find water on the way. When we arrived at the border we were able to drink the river water. The water from the tap is much better than the river water – there is no dirt in it. I can take clean water to my wife and children now. They are at the registration centre,” he adds, pointing to a clutch of tents in the distance.

WASH Gambella region South Sudanese refugees  reception centre
David Luk Both, himself a refugee from South Sudan, is in charge of the EM-Wat treatment plant. Here he tests quality of the water pumped out of the river before going through the process making it ready for drinking. 26, June 2014 Burbiey South Sudanese Refugees Reception Centre in Gambella, Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

David Luk Both, himself a refugee from South Sudan, is in charge of the EM-Wat treatment plant. Before the fighting broke out he had worked as a technician for MSF Holland for seven years. “The water is pumped from the river Baro into two 12,000 litre sedimentation tanks,” Mr Both explains. “The water sits in the tank until all the debris and mud has sunk to the bottom; aluminium sulphate is added to help the process. The pH of the water is tested to check the levels of acidity before it is pumped into a chlorination tank that kills all the bugs and germs in the water. It is then ready to drink.”

If needed, Mr Both and his team can provide up to 36,000 litres of clear water a day. “The refugees come all day to the taps. If I don’t treat the water they can’t drink it. I’m very happy because I’m helping my people,” he says.

Conflict prevention

More than 147,000 South Sudanese asylum seekers have arrived in Gambella since fighting erupted in Juba in December last year. This has placed a tremendous burden on local authorities which were already stretched – Gambella is one of the poorest regions in one of the most food insecure countries in the world, and was host to around 76,000 refugees from South Sudan before the current influx began.

Pel Puoch is head of the Water, Energy and Resources Office in Mokoey woreda (district). Nyien Nyang town, close to Leitchor refugee camp, is under his responsibility. “Before the provision of shallow wells in Leitchor camp, the refugees had started to use the water pumps in Nyien Nyang. This created a burden for the community,” Mr Puoch says. “UNICEF immediately understood the problem and increased its support to the wordea and the burden has been greatly reduced.”

This year UNICEF has installed 9 pumps in Nyien Nyang. There are 35 in total, serving a population of around 18,000, nearly half of which were constructed by UNICEF, including two at the local the hospital.

“The focus of all the NGOs and UN agencies has been on the refugees. At UNICEF, our focus is always on both the host community and the asylum seekers,” says Basazin Minda, WASH officer. “We identified the burden on the local services at an early stage and decided to increase the number of shallow wells in the area in order to create a balance between the host community and refugees.” He believes that the creation of the additional shallow wells and pumps has prevented potential conflicts over this precious resource between the indigenous community and the refugees they have provided sanctuary too.

A new lease of life

Mr Puoch has seen many benefits from the construction of water pumps in the heart of the community. “Having the pumps close to their homes means that the women will save time collecting water. Previously, when they had to go to a faraway pump they would not use the water for hygiene. But because they can access water in the local area at any time, sanitation has improved,” he insists.

“When the pumps were some distance away they would break often. Now they are close to the homes the community takes better care of them.

At Dobrar village, Nyarout Jok, a mother of four, uses the UNICEF water pump twice a day.
At Dobrar village, Nyarout Jok, a mother of four, uses the UNICEF water pump twice a day. It’s just 300m away from her home and fetching water now takes less than 20 minutes a day. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

At Dobrar village, Nyarout Jok, a mother of four, uses the UNICEF water pump twice a day. It’s just 300m away from her home and fetching water now takes less than 20 minutes a day. Before the tap was installed she had to walk over a kilometre each way to the nearest water source, which took at least an hour. “I use the extra time to grind flour and take care of my children,” she says. “I have also returned to education. I’m a grade 5 student.”

So why did she decide to go back to school? “I need to do my own job,” she says. “I will be able to earn my own income and I will become more confident. I want to be either a doctor or an engineer.”

Click here for latest update on South Sudan refugees status in Ethiopia.

Education in adversity: South Sudanese refugee children insist on their right to attend school

By Elissa Jobson

Child protection Kule Refugee camp  1 and 2
Crowd of around 100 children, some as young as 6 or 7 years of age, who have gathered outside the chicken-wire fence of the school compound in Kule refugee camp demand to be allowed onto the school’s premise 23, June 2014 Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

GAMBELLA, ETHIOPIA, 25 JUNE 2014 – “School is good for the boy and the girl,” sings ten-year old Nyanget Tohok, her voice, cutting through the midday humidity, rings out clean and clear. “SCHOOL IS GOOD FOR THE BOY AND THE GIRL,” chorus the crowd of around 100 children, some as young as 6 or 7 years of age, who have gathered outside the chicken-wire fence of the school compound in Kule refugee camp.

They have not come for lessons. They are not there to collect their schoolbooks. They are there to demand their right to an education. “We are singing for school,” says Nyanget. “We need to learn but there is no space.” The school only has room for 1,200 children but more than 6,000 students registered and are waiting to enrol when the space allows. The exiting places were allocated on a first come, first served basis.

“When we don’t come to school we cannot be happy. We have seen our friends coming to school but we are not given a chance to learn,” laments Majiok Yien, aged 9. This young boy wants to be an English teacher but his dream has been violently interrupted by the civil war raging in South Sudan, which forced him and his family to seek refuge in Ethiopia.

On land provided by UNHCR and the Ethiopian Administration for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), four 6m x 4m classrooms have been built by Save the Children with vital support from UNICEF. The school operates two shifts: one in the morning from 8am to 12pm and a second from 1.30pm-5.30pm. The class sizes are huge – 150 children each – and the whole curriculum is being taught by just 10 teachers, all recruited from the refugee community.

Returning to normality

Education
South Sudan Refugee Students attend a class in a makeshift classroom 25, June 2014 Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

“School is important for the children. When they are in school they forget what they have seen in the war. School is the first priority to help remind them of normal life,” explains School Director Lam Chuoth Gach, himself an exile from South Sudan’s bloody conflict. The students have been through a terrible ordeal, he adds. They have seen people – for some their parents and siblings – killed directly in front of them. They remember the sounds of the bullets and the long, arduous journey to safety in Gambella. “When we started classes it was difficult to bring their attention to the teaching but now they are listening,” Mr Gach continues. “That is why are worried about the children who are not yet in school.”

Jael Shisanya, Education Adviser for Save the Children feels that the teachers are doing a good job under extremely difficult circumstances. “They are lesson planning and they have written a timetable but the challenge we have is that the numbers of students are overwhelming. We don’t have adequate space,” she says pointing to the four tents made of wooden poles and plastic sheeting that serve as classrooms. Early childhood education is taking place under a tree which doubles as a church on Sundays, Ms Shisanya says, but if classes are to continue during the imminent rainy season a more suitable location will have to be found. “Funding is an issue. We could do much more. We could build better structures. But we need more money for education,” she insists.

“The children are eager to learn and the community itself is yearning for school. ‘We can look for food but we can’t easily get education for our children,’ the parents tell me. They don’t want their children to forget what they have learnt,” Ms Shisanya says.

Adolescents not catered for

Education
14 year old Buya Gatbel. He is one of the lucky few who have secured a coveted place in a makeshift classroom in Kule South Sudanese refugee camp Gambella Ethiopia, 25 June 2014 . ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Ayene

For the children themselves, education is a lifestyle, an essential part of their weekly routine. “I need to go to school. On Sunday I must go to church and on Monday I must go to school,” asserts 14 year old Buya Gatbel. He is one of the lucky few who have secured a coveted place. Buya is happy to be in school but he wishes that the situation was better. “There are no desks. The classroom is very small. We need pens, uniforms, bags and umbrellas for when it rains. There are no exercise books or text books and many children are outside. You need to build more schools, and build a library,” he says.

Currently the school is only teaching grades one to four. “I’m studying grade four but it is not really my grade,” Buya explains – in South Sudan he was in grade eight. His best friend, Changkuoth Chot, aged 18, is in the same boat. “I want to go to grade eight but it is better to be in grade four than to not be in school,” he says.

Ms Shisanya is particularly concerned about those adolescents that are not currently in education: “Teenagers are saying they are so depressed. There is no work.” There is no school.” Tezra Masini, Chief of the UNICEF Field Office in Gambella, is also worried. “Donors are more interested in providing education for younger children but it is protection issue for the older ones. If we don’t provide them with school they may go back to South Sudan to fight.”

Dech Khoat, age 19, bears these fears out. He joined the rebel White Army when the conflict began in December last year. “I’ve come for a rest from the fighting,” he says. In the future I will go back but if I can continue my education I will stay in the camp.”

Click here for latest update on South Sudan refugees status in Ethiopia.

Divergent Journeys – Child Marriage and Education

 By Indrias Getachew

Famia Abadir and Rasso Abdella are teenage girls living in Sheneni Village of Dujuma Kebele, located 20 kilometers outside of Dire Dawa town in Eastern Ethiopia. They both share dreams of attending university and working as professionals to advance the rights of girls and women. To succeed, however, they must overcome substantial hurdles. Poverty, traditional views on gender roles and the practice of child marriage threatens to derail their ambitions. Their experiences illustrate some of the challenges that girls, particularly in rural areas, face as they strive to achieve their right to an education.

“No one told me to go to school,” recalls Rasso. “I used to spend my time in the hills with my friends shepherding goats. Some of my friends went to school in the mornings. They would write what that they had learnt in school on stones using charcoal. They would write the alphabet and when they asked me what ‘A’ is, I didn’t know. I told them that I wanted to go to school but I couldn’t afford to buy books. They agreed to share their books with me. That is how I was able to start school. I now go up the mountain to collect wood and prepare charcoal. I then go to town and sell it so I can buy my exercise books – that is how I am able to go to school.”

Kerima Ali, Gender and AIDS Expert at the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education (left) Famia Abadir (midle) and Rasso Abdela (right)
Kerima Ali, Gender and AIDS Expert at the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education (left) Famia Abadir (midle) and Rasso Abdela (right) ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014Getachew

Overcoming economic hurdles is a challenge facing rural girls in their efforts to learn, however, the age-old practice of child marriage complicates things further.

In 2011, the dire warning by a rural religious leader that girls who didn’t marry that year would not be able to marry for the next seven years, set off a spate of child marriages that resulted in over 80 girls marrying and dropping out of Dujuma Primary School. Famia, 15 at the time, was one of them.

“I was a young student, still a child,” recalls Famia. “I was going to study with my friends and my cousin told me to come to her place as the elders were gathering there because she was going to get married. She took me from my home and handed me over to her uncle’s son to get me married to him. I did not want to get married. My wish was to go to school and learn, but they abducted and raped me and that is considered marriage. I had no choice.”

Famia Abadir, nine months pregnant
Famia Abadir, nine months pregnant ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2014/Getachew

Famia missed an entire year of school after she was abducted and raped, twice, in what turned out to be failed attempts to marry her against her will and the consent of her parents.

The events in Dujuma in 2011 led to a focused campaign of awareness creation and community mobilisation to end the practice of early marriage. Community discussions aimed at convincing community members about the importance of girls’ education were carried out throughout rural Dire Dawa. Awareness was also raised about the harm caused by child marriages with a view to fostering a consensus to end the practice.

Currently, school clubs are promoting gender equality and empowering the school community to respond in time to prevent child marriages through coordination with local government. Elders and religious leaders are also being engaged to convince the community to abandon the practice of early marriage.

According to local authorities, the efforts to end the practice of early marriage in Dujuma and other rural districts of the Dire Dawa Administrative Region have been successful. Indeed, Dire Dawa has the second lowest regional child marriage rate in Ethiopia after Addis Ababa. The practice is far more widespread in Amhara, Tigray and Benishangul Regions (EDHS 2011).

Transforming age-old customs, however, takes time. Returning to Dujuma in 2013, we found Famia to be nine months pregnant. Famia had left her husband and was once again living with her parents.

“After I give birth I will leave the baby with my family and return to my studies,” says Famia. “Getting married is what did this to me so it is better that I go back to school. Marriage was not good for me.”

Rasso, on the other hand, evaded all pressure to get married and was able to finish eighth grade at Dujuma Primary. Today, she is enrolled in high school in Dire Dawa town, living at the Girls’ Hostel set up by the Dire Dawa Bureau of Education with UNICEF’s support. The hostel enables girls from rural communities with no access to school to continue with their education.

Abduction survivor Gelane Degefa is clear where her priorities lay 

By Elshadai Negash

February 1st 2012 was supposed to be a regular school day for then-15 year old Gelane Degefa*. She started her day in Lugiatebela village, Sebeta Awas district, Oromia region, 25kms from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa; early by making a 30min journey to kick off the day with biology lessons in high school. Three more one-hour classes later, the school day was over and she was on her way home when she spotted a familiar, but disturbing sight from a distance.

“It was Kebede Chala,” she says of her neighbour who had dropped out of school a few years ago to work on his parents’ farm. “I knew immediately that I was in trouble.”

Kebede had persistently courted Degefa for more than 18 months before formally approaching her parents a year earlier to ask for her hand in marriage. “He used to say things like ‘what good would school be for you. I would provide you with everything if you marry me’,” she says. “I told him [Kebede] that I was too young to get married. My parents repeated the same thing when he asked them as well, but he refused to let go. My friends had overheard of his plans to abduct me. I told this to our headmaster. When he heard about this, he stopped bothering me for a while.”

A few minutes later, Kebede  and five of his friends grabbed her and tried their best to stifle her screams. “It was one of the worst days of my life,” she recalls. “But I was very fortunate. It was harvest collection season and some farmers heard my screams and came running to rescue me after we travelled for about 5km. When he and his friends were surrounded by the farmers, they ran away and I was able to escape.”

A Saudi returnee waits in the scorching heat to hop on a transport to take her back to her home area
Picture not related to story

But her aggressor did not stop then. “A few weeks later, he sent elders to my school to complain that we were preventing him from marrying Aleme,” says Beyene Kebede, Degefa’s Chemistry teacher. “Our school director reported this to the police. They gave us hope and told us to inform them if there are any incidents involving Mosisa. He did not bother her from then on and she has been attending school this year without any problems.”

Degefa was not the first girl Kebede tried to abduct and force into early marriage. “He tried to abduct my friend Mergia Abebe, a girl I personally worked hard to convince her parents to allow her to go to school,” says Degefa, who is a member of the Girls Club at her school. “Her parents tried to get marry her to Mosisa, but we worked very hard to convince her to change their mind. She was in the second grade then, now she is a top student and just earned top marks when progressing to grade six.”

By “we”, Degefa is talking about a youth club supported by UNICEF to assist highly vulnerable children and prevent the abduction of school girls. Part of a five-year joint programme with UNICEF and the United Nations Fund for Populations Activities (UNFPA) and funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy (RNE) to Ethiopia, the rights-based approach to adolescents and youth development in Ethiopia has worked to prevent girls like Degefa and Abebe from getting married early after abduction and in some cases stopped marriages after parents had agreed to marry to children to abductors.

“Abduction is a major harmful traditional practice in our area,” says Abegaz Tadesse, UNICEF/UNFPA Joint Programme coordinator in the Sebeta Awas district’s health office. “Many of the abductors are not prosecuted because it is expensive for the families to open and then follow a case to completion. What we are doing with this joint programme is strengthen the support to girls who go to school by using youth clubs to make them aware of their rights and quickly report any approaches by abductors.”

Shebere Telila* is another recipient of the support that youth clubs in the district’s schools provided. The 15-year old, who finished as a second best student in her class this year, was repeatedly approached by older boys who asked her mother for her hand in marriage. “I have dreams of growing up and becoming an engineer to build big buildings and large bridges,” she says. “Now is not the time for me to get married. My mother also knows this and would tell this to people who came to ask for marriage.”

One particular boy, however, did not heed to this and would even brag to her neighbours how he would wait for her one day when she returns from school and make her his. “Whenever someone in our neighbourhood told me about this, I would feel freightened,” she says. “My brother used to walk me to and from school for a while, but I knew that this could not be done forever.”

But rather than staying frightened, Telila, now a member of the youth club in her school; decided to confront her aggressor. “I went to our headmaster’s office with our class prefect to tell him everything,” she says. “Our headmaster then wrote a letter to our kebele [village] office and they instructed him to stop. They called him for a meeting and made him write a letter in front of his friends and family promising that he would not lay hands on me. When I saw that he signed the letter, I was relieved. On his face, I saw the same fear that he would put me through. I knew he would not defy his family and friends to do something to me. I knew I was a free person.”

Today, Telila makes the 30-minute commute from her home to school without any fear that a creepy teenager would emerge from the obscure mountains to attack her. At school, she takes time from studies to discuss her experience with younger girls and give them confidence on how to protect themselves. “Some of the members of our club have been victims and so we know the signs,” she says about the peer-assist mechanism in place at the youth club. “We also visit parents at home to encourage girls to come to school regularly and ask them not to marry their children at a young age.”

And what does she advise other girls who get approached by boys for early marriage?

“To be young and pretty is not a crime. Rather, being quiet when someone is pushing you to get married is the crime. Come out and tell everyone about your problems. Do not keep quiet until it is too late. Just do what I did and seek help. If you do, there is plenty of it available.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity of the girls.