A 16-year-old boy ran into the arms of his mother when they were reunited a few weeks ago.
This young teenager was recently exploited for forced labour and at risk of re-trafficking. He has also overcome a number of major setbacks, including a cancer diagnosis that he received while living on the streets – thankfully he has now been given the all-clear.
Azezew * had not long escaped a situation of forced labour on a construction site in the Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar when he was told by a doctor that he had developed a tumour.
The young teen asked his friends to beg for money so that he could attend a doctor’s appointment and receive medical help.
Recounting the situation, he told us: “I was facing misfortune in relation to my health as I did not have the money for the treatment I needed. I even asked my friends to help by begging for me on the streets and they collected about 500ETB (just less than £8 or $10). Then, I went to a private clinic with the money and had a medical examination there. The result was so bad. I was told that I had a tumour on an organ in my body. The doctor gave me a cancer drug and then told me that I would need intensive follow-up. However, I could not go back because I was unable to afford medical care.”
Around this time, Azezew heard about Hope for Justice through some of his friends on the streets. He found our outreach team who invited him to stay at one of our Lighthouses – safe havens for children who have been trafficked, or who are at risk of exploitation.
He has now been given the treatment and medical attention that he desperately needed.
Azezew was born in Tach Gayint, a woreda (district) in the Amhara Region, northern Ethiopia. His father was a soldier who died in combat while Azezew was very young. To help support the family, his mother began selling Tella, a traditional Ethiopian beer. However, the family was struggling financially and so her son began looking for work to help bring in some income.
While he was job-seeking, traffickers targeted Azezew and coaxed him into taking up employment in the city. They promised him a good wage and accommodation. In reality, Azezew was forced to work seven days a week, loading, lifting and doing other manual labour on a construction site, for very little pay – not even enough to feed himself adequately.
After seven months of this, Azezew fled to the streets to beg for money.
He told our team: “The street is a place where teenagers, children and young people are exposed to cigarettes, chewing chat, and other addictive substances. The living situation on the street was very difficult for me.”
Azezew accepted an invitation from our outreach workers to join the Lighthouse, where he stayed for about six weeks. During this time, he had access to shelter, food, counselling and other support. Hope for Justice was able to provide him with the medical treatment he needed. He made very good progress at the Lighthouse and he made a really strong recovery. He grew in self-confidence and was eager to be reunited with his mother, as well as wanting to continue his education near to his home.
Biniam Engida, one of Hope for Justice’s social workers, said: “The survivor told us he was impressed with the staff and children who smiled and gave him a warm welcome when he first arrived at the Lighthouse. During his stay, the survivor enjoyed art, football games and other activities. He also received the medical treatment he needed. The survivor was very keen to be reunified with his family. During reunification, the child’s family was so glad to receive him back into their home and their eyes filled with tears as they expressed their happiness.
“The survivor is now safely with his family and is living a better life with the support of Hope for Justice.”
The charity’s social workers have connected Azezew with a local school so that he is able to continue with his studies. In addition, the team provided awareness training around human trafficking and modern slavery to help prevent re-trafficking. They also delivered small business skills training and parenting skill trainings for the teenager’s mother. She received a grant to expand her beer business and also to sell vegetables.
Azezew said: “I have received lots of help and support at the Lighthouse and all of my basic needs have been met. I was surprised by the concern that the organisation had for me, and grateful for the help with treatment. Right now, I am continuing my studies and then plan to go to university to be a mechanical engineer. In the future I want to set up an organisation that can help children and adults who are forced to go to the streets for a variety of reasons.”
*Name changed to protect identity of the survivor
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