AWASSA, Ethiopia (July 29, 2008) — In the districts around Awassa, it is becoming increasingly difficult to earn a livelihood. As the population has grown, the size of available plots of land has diminished. And now drought, along with rising food prices, has exacerbated an already desperate situation.
Here in Ethiopia's Southern Nations Nationalities and Peoples' Region, some of the most vulnerable families have had no choice but to send their children away from home to find work.
Shukur, age 8, is one of those children. His mother, like many others, sent him away to work when she could no longer afford to feed him. He now shares a hard floor with several other children and wakes at dawn to try to find work on the shore of Lake Awassa.
"The first thing I think about when I get up each morning is if I am going to find work today," Shukur says as he sets out for the 10–minute walk to the lake.
Saving towards the future
"I work from 8 a.m. until noon," says Shukur. "I will buy a piece of bread for breakfast for 50 cents. For lunch I will buy a samosa for 60 cents, and then another piece of dry bread for my dinner."
Reserving a dollar for food and another quarter for a place to sleep, Shukur is still trying to save money for his future.
"My goal is to save enough to buy a bicycle, which I will then rent out for 25 cents a ride to the other boys," he explains. "With the money that I earn I will be able to go to school and then I can become a doctor."
Help from many fronts
With support from a new UNICEF–supported project, however, Shukur will not need a bicycle to begin working towards becoming a doctor.
Implemented by the South Ethiopia People's Development Association and local partners in Awassa, the project will establish an informal school where the 300 children who work in the Lake Awassa fish market can continue their studies. Social workers will be on site to provide them with counseling, and they will be given the supplies and clothing they need.
"Every child has the right to an education," says UNICEF Project Officer Felekech Basazinew. "These children have been forced to leave home because of the difficult circumstances their families are in. We are trying to make sure their rights are not denied."
Stopping child labor at the source
Beyond responding to the immediate needs of these children, the project seeks to stop the flow of child laborers at the source by identifying and aiding the most vulnerable families in the villages around Awassa. The project aims to help these families before they feel forced to send their children away.
Vulnerable families will be provided with income–generation opportunities through vocational training, small loans and cash grants, which will enable them to set up small businesses.
Meanwhile, in response to the broader drought crisis, UNICEF has appealed for $49 million to meet the emergency needs of children and women in affected areas of Ethiopia.