|© UNICEF Ethiopia/HQ04-378/ Fiorente|
|Girls at the Tibebe Mengeda Elementary School in Addis Ababa, the capital, complete forms that are part of a Child-to-Child Survey.|
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 15 June 2004 — Eleven-year-old Amir Mohamed sells chewing gum and sweets on the streets of Piazza, a busy, chaotic section of downtown Addis Ababa, so he can make ends meet for himself and his family. He had to drop out of school two years ago because he couldn’t afford the cost of 30 birr (less than $4) he needed to pay every three months.
“I miss school, because I want to learn, but I didn’t have the money to pay the monthly cost,” said Amir, surrounded by three of his friends who are fellow petty traders. Amir is one of more than 600 youth who took part in UNICEF’s Child-to-Child Survey.
The Ethiopian survey is part of a global youth project accounting for children not in school in order to accelerate the enrolment of out-of-school girls and boys. An estimated 121 million children are not attending school worldwide. In Ethiopia, almost 5 million school age children are not in school, more than 3 million of whom are girls.
“We want this project to start a chain reaction, whereby the children and their teachers will not only identify those out of school but will also commit to getting them enrolled and helping them succeed,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, who was in Addis Ababa to launch the campaign on the Day of the African Child.
“The chain reaction will go on to involve communities, parents, government ministries and external partners in local and national drives to achieve education for all,” Ms. Bellamy added.
The survey was organized by members of the Ethiopian Teenagers’ Forum, which is part of the Global Movement for Children. Seventeen-year-old Zerihun Mammo attended the United Nations Special Session on Children on behalf of UNICEF Ethiopia and was one of the founding members of the forum.
“In New York, it was really amazing. I never thought children would have a voice like that. What I learned is that children have the solutions for their own problems often better than adults can,” said Zerihun. “We want everyone to hear what we feel so we can make a change in Ethiopia.”
Children on the streets instead of in classrooms
Elleni Muluneh, 18, is another founding member of the forum who helped to organize the survey. “I talked to some kids who live on the streets and shine shoes. They drop out, because they can’t pay the costs,” she said.
“The kids who live on the streets have the responsibility to help their families. But they don’t see hope for their futures. They are poor, and that’s what I see on their faces. But they should have an education so they can have hope for their future.”
Many of the survey’s participants said it made them think for the first time about other children who are not fortunate enough to attend school. Eleven-year-old Sabida Tersen, a grade five student at Tibeb Menged Elementary School, said the child-to-child survey gave her a chance to write about her 10-year-old friend Zuwfan. “She can’t go to school, because she’s an orphan,” Sabida explains. “She was on the street for awhile. Now she’s working as a maid, and her employer won’t let her go to school.
“Zuwfan not being in school affects her life in so many ways. When she goes anywhere, sometimes she gets lost, because she can’t read the signs,” Sabida continued. “Zuwfan tells me all the time she wants to go to school. She wants so much to learn to write her own name.”
Elleni said most of the elementary kids responding to the survey told her they were concerned about the reasons why their friends are not in school, including poverty and losing a parent to HIV/AIDS. “They say these kids should go to school. They know they are losing someone, someone who could be smart enough to be president,” she said. “If I lose my parents, I have no guarantee that this won’t happen to me.
One of UNICEF’s ’25 by 2005’ targets
Ethiopia has been selected for UNICEF’s ‘25 by 2005’ campaign, a major initiative to eliminate gender disparities in primary and secondary education in 25 priority countries by the year 2005. Ethiopia has made tremendous strides in increasing school enrolment rates from 30 per cent in 1996 to 64.4 per cent today.
However, there is still a 20.8-percentage point gap that separates the enrolment of boys and girls nationally. Eliminating gender disparities will help ensure that Ethiopia reaches the goal of education for all children by 2015.
"Educated mothers and fathers are the foundation of healthy, strong families and societies," said Ms.Bellamy. "With more than 24 million children out of school in Africa, we must consider this a critical situation and act with the urgency that it merits." Participants in the Child-to-Child Survey agree that education is crucial for long-term development in Ethiopia.
“Development without education is hard. Children who are not in school often end up on the street begging and that puts them in great danger,” said Zerihun. “We have to teach parents about the importance of going to school. The Government has to make education compulsory for every child. Education is the right of each one of us. As children, we must go to school and work hard. That is our responsibility.”
“Adults make promises and don’t keep them. That’s why we don’t have change. They need to be models for the younger generation,” added Elleni. “When you don’t give a child an education, when you don’t give a teenager a voice, you are losing someone who makes the world different and a better place.”