By Caroline Lavelle
Primarily funded by Irish Aid and the ALMARO Foundation, GOAL’s ChildSPACE project aims to reduce the vulnerability of street-connected children and youth in Addis Ababa and Hawassa. Now, due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in Ethiopia, some of the ChildSPACE programme’s activities have been forced to scale back.
These youth begin their lives on the streets for many reasons. But once there, they all become increasingly vulnerable to psychological and physical harm. They suffer from a lack of access to educational opportunities, basic healthcare services and environments that foster cognitive and psychological development and well-being.
The ChildSPACE programme increases protection for street-connected children in two ways. Through street-based work, GOAL staff reach out to the children where they live and strive to improve their quality of life in their own environment. By doing this, staff develop a thorough understanding of life on the street. Subsequently, they can tailor their supports to the needs of the youth. This approach also enables staff to have a greater reach and to make contact with youth in support of the ChildSPACE Drop-in and Rehabilitation Centre (DIRC) service.
ChildSPACE Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre
The DIRC is a safe space where the children and youth can access life skills training and receive basic numeracy and literacy education. Attention is given to their psychosocial needs through group and individual counselling sessions and therapeutic activities such as sports and art. Critically, children and youth also have daily access to hygiene and sanitation services and basic healthcare, including reproductive healthcare.
Between 2012 and 2018 alone, the ChildSPACE programme reached a total of 16,355 children and youth. Guidance and counselling sessions were provided to over 10,500 and over 11,500 attended life skills sessions as part of the programme. The youths’ entrepreneurial skills have been fostered and encouraged, with 799 youths being supported by GOAL to set up and run small businesses. This encouragement serves to strengthen the youths’ life skills and employment prospects, supports their income and enhances their livelihoods.
COVID-19 and the ChildSPACE Programme
Elias Gurmesa Amela is a 14-year-old boy who benefits from the services provided at the Drop-In and Rehabilitation Centre. Originally from Dore Bafana Woreda in Sidama Zone, Elias moved to Hawassa five months ago and shortly after arriving, was fortunate enough to hear of the ChildSPACE programme.
However, the spread of COVID-19 to Ethiopia and the government’s public restrictions have severely affected Elias’ ability to safely live on the streets. He describes how he and his friends can no longer survive on the leftover food they once received from local hotels. He can also no longer earn money working in the local market. “I can’t get enough food for a day,” he says.
Fortunately, the DIRC continues to provide vital services to Elias and many other street-connected children during the pandemic. The project provides COVID-19 risk communication messages and infection prevention and control materials to children involved in the centre. Elias is grateful to the centre for providing him with soap, water, alcohol-based sanitizer and face masks, enabling him to protect both himself and his friends.
The DIRC has had to reduce the number of children and staff allowed in the centre in order to facilitate social distancing and reduce to risk of infection. Face-to-face contact with children and gatherings, meetings and trainings have also been limited. However, the centre continues to provide support by referring street-connected children to locally established government structures for things such as food support. Vocational training and other support services are being adapted to incorporate public health measures so that the ChildSPACE programme can continue to provide its vital services.
By assessing the complex and individual needs of street connected children and youth in Addis Ababa and Hawassa, GOAL staff in the ChildSPACE programme can ensure that their basic needs are met. This ensures that the youths’ lives are safer, more secure and less susceptible to behaviours such as drug abuse. This programme facilitates the process of community reintegration through rehabilitation and creating opportunities, with hopes that one day the children and youth can begin safe lives off the streets.