A teenage boy is now able to return to school after poverty and desperation left him farming drugs to earn a living.
When he was just four years old, Degu* was separated from his mother and father, and raised by his grandmother in a town near Bahir Dar, in northern Ethiopia.
The family were struggling financially and Degu’s grandmother could not provide necessities such as food and clothing. So, aged 12, Degu dropped out of school to find work and an income.
A friend got him into farming khat, a local drug, for 20-30 birr a day – about 40p or 60 cents.
Khat, chat or miraa is a flowering plant native to Ethiopia, which users chew to act as a natural stimulant. The plant is an illegal class C drug in the UK but is commonly used in many African nations including Somalia and Ethiopia.
Dereje Zeleke, Hope for Justice’s Country Programmes Director in Ethiopia, said: “This young boy was forced to find a way to help his family survive and cope with economic hardship. He quit going to school and started working in a field – work that was beyond his age and capabilities. He was subjected to hunger and physically abused by some of the older boys who were working on the farm.”
Degu’s grandmother did not know that he was being exploited and abused. She was just glad that he was working and providing the money they needed.
The situation came to a head and Degu fled to Bahir Dar, the capital of Ethiopia’s Amhara region and a popular tourist destination. Degu began to live and work on the street.
It was here that Hope for Justice’s outreach team found him. Our team from Bright Lighthouse – a safe shelter for children who have faced or are at risk of exploitation – was conducting their regular visits to children living on the street.
Dereje Zeleke said: “We worked with the boy and through joint cooperation, rescued him from the dangerous and vulnerable situation he was in.
“He was much safer at the Lighthouse, where he received care and support, safe accommodation, food, counselling, medical treatment and education. Two weeks later, he was reunited with his parents so that he could return to school and continue with his studies.”
We provided his family with counselling around the effects of exploitation on children. Degu’s mother has received an Income Generating Activity (IGA) grant from Hope for Justice and basic training in small business skills, which has enabled her to begin selling vegetables for a living.
A care plan is also in place for regular follow-up with our team. Degu is now in the first year of secondary education.
Dereje Zeleke said: “Change has come to this child’s home. The child is in school, he is reunited with his family, his mother has started a small business and is feeding her child. This young boy’s story is one that turned from misery to hope. It shows that one little light can defeat a big darkness.”
*Name changed to protect identity of the survivor
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