‘Luckily they thought I was a sack full of trash and left the bag untouched’

There are thousands of children who are fighting for survival on the streets of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, trying to earn money and forge a better life for themselves. But many street children don’t have access to basic rights, they are exposed to various forms of exploitation, begging is stigmatised and police brutality is commonplace.

One of the thousands of children helped by Hope for Justice, a 15-year-old boy, has told of how he hid in a sack to avoid being removed from the streets by police.

“There were several of us sleeping on the street that night”, Lewi* said. “I was awake. I heard the police coming and quickly climbed inside a sack to hide. I lay silently, my heart pounding, hoping they would leave without noticing me. Luckily the officers thought I was a sack full of trash and left the bag untouched. But there were many others who weren’t so lucky.”

Lewi, an only child, was born in northern Ethiopia. When his parents separated, he was forced to work as a shoe shiner to help support his mother, as well as attending school. Desperate to earn more money to pay for his education and provide for his family, Lewi travelled to the capital, Addis Ababa, to find work.

He ended up living on the streets for 15 months before a Hope for Justice outreach worker found him. It usually takes between three and four points of contact for a street child to develop enough trust that they will come to one of our Lighthouse transition and assessment centres. At the second meeting, Lewi told the outreach team that he wanted help and to join our programme.

Unfortunately, there was no space at our centre in Addis Ababa that day (a subject addressed by our CEO Ben Cooley in a video blog here), so Lewi was advised to come back another day.

Before the team met him for the third time, the police came to the street where he was sleeping and took away many children. Thankfully, hidden in a sack, he remained untouched.

At the Hope for Justice Lighthouse centre, Lewi received care and support. He was keen to learn and engage in class. After just one month, we were able to find his family, ensure the conditions were safe for him to return, and reintegrate him back home with his mother.

In January 2019 alone, our outreach workers made contact with 219 vulnerable or exploited children and young people across Ethiopia, of whom 18 were in Addis Ababa. Each of these meetings is one step along the journey of building trust to get these children away from the dangers of the streets and find them safety and security within a home setting.

Lynn Kay, Hope for Justice’s Country Director for Ethiopia, said: “It is encouraging that we can contact more children through street outreach because this is the first step in helping them to move off the street and reintegrate with their families. Most people see children on the street as pests and thieves but we respond to them out of a place of love. Children see that we respect them and want to help them.”


*Name changed to protect the child’s identity