Hope for Justice has delivered vital education after a family’s lack of understanding about epilepsy left a teenage boy at risk of human trafficking.
Sixteen-year-old Agena* was born in the Kembata Tembaro zone, southern Ethiopia, and raised by his aunt, after his parents’ relationship broke down.
One day at school, Agena was involved in an accident while playing with other children, which left him with a brain injury. He developed epilepsy, a neurological condition that caused him to have seizures or ‘fits’.
His aunt was uninformed about the condition and believed that Agena had a mental illness or was possessed by an evil spirit.
This is a common belief in this part of the world, where the onset of illnesses is often attributed to supernatural forces, including witchcraft, sorcery and demonic spirits.
Sadly, the aunt’s misunderstanding fuelled a change of behaviour and attitude towards her nephew. She became emotionally detached and failed to meet his basic needs, which in turn left Agena feeling estranged from his family. This was the catalyst for him choosing to leave home to try to find employment and live independently.
But living on the street, fending for himself, begging for food and money, Agena struggled to survive. Homeless and lacking medication for his condition, Agena was vulnerable to being trafficked. Thankfully, Hope for Justice’s outreach team found him first. We invited Agena to join one of our Lighthouses – safe havens for children who have been trafficked or who are at risk of exploitation.
One of our team members working directly with him said: “This downtrodden child ended up in an awful situation whereby he was struggling to find food, shelter and care on the street, where he was regularly facing symptoms of epilepsy. He was traumatised and didn’t even want to live. He told us many times that he wanted to die. When he first arrived at our Lighthouse, he didn’t want to play, speak to others or express himself. He couldn’t smile.”
Hope for Justice spent the next four months working closely with Agena, providing him with shelter, nutritious meals, counselling, education and opportunity to play and just be a normal teenager.
Importantly, Agena was also referred to a hospital and connected with a specialist doctor who prescribed him medicine for his epilepsy. Our team member said: “This support led to the turnaround of the child’s situation. He is a transformed child. The child became a different person to the child who first entered the Lighthouse. He was a team leader, sociable, funny, a really happy young boy. He is smiling again.”
Hope for Justice managed to trace the teenager’s family and were able to reintegrate him with his father. As part of this, the team educated Agena’s relatives about epilepsy and human trafficking.
Agena’s father had previously thought his son was overtaken by an evil spirit and was mentally ill. Social workers therefore invited him to the Lighthouse to see his son’s transformation with the right support. A nurse also informed the father about how to take care of those with epilepsy.
Agena is now in a safe home setting and has been connected with local health facilities. He told our team that he would like to become a teacher in the future.
*Name and image changed to protect identity of the survivor
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