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Ethiopia, 18 July 2013: Street Child Turned Entrepreneur Inspires UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson During Visit to Ethiopia

By Indrias Getachew 

BISHOFTU, 18 July 2012 – UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson visited the UNICEF-supported Bishoftu Youth Center and a micro-enterprise run by young people formerly living on the streets, on Monday, at the end of his visit to Ethiopia where he had come to attend the African Union Heads of State Summit. 

“It is so inspiring to come out of the conference rooms and see daily life for Ethiopians,” said Mr. Eliasson. “I feel energized by seeing the children [and] youth learning about family planning, learning computers, reading, studying, and understanding how important it is that we always remember that it is the human being at the end that counts.” 

Ethiopia’s young people (ages 15-29) number close to 25 million, about 30 per cent of Ethiopia’s population of 82 million. 

The challenges facing youth, particularly in Oromia Region include: early marriage (mostly before the age of 18), gender-based discrimination, high risk of HIV/AIDS infection – particularly for girls, child labour, high prevalence of female genital mutilation and sexual violence, and being victims of trafficking. About 85 per cent of youth live in rural areas and represent the most vulnerable section of the population with a low level of educational attainment, especially for girls. With regard to livelihood opportunities, young people lack farmland in rural areas and university graduates face limited job opportunities. Young people have limited access to micro credit facilities and other funds with which to set-up businesses and other income generating schemes. Additional challenges include the lack of recreational centres where young people can spend their spare time relaxing and learning. 

The Bishoftu Youth Center, managed under the aegis of the Oromia Region Bureau of Youth and Sports (BOYS) with the support of UNICEF and other partners, is one of 52 youth centres in the region that provide adolescent programme services in line with Ethiopia’s National Youth Policy. UNICEF supports the implementation and expansion of the Policy through integrated activities focusing on life-skills development, participation, economic empowerment and sexual and reproductive health. The youth centres are important conduits for effectively and efficiently addressing the socio-economic and health problems that affect youth. They serve as fora for youth to connect with one another through sports, meetings, training, dialogue sessions and self-help groups. Services provided at the Bishoftu Youth Center include: indoor and outdoor games; club activities such as mini media, girls club, drama club; PC/ internet and library services; health services, guidance and counseling, training and support for income generation activities After touring the Bishoftu Youth Center, Mr Eliasson stopped by Feyene Micro-Enterprise, a small business owned and managed by three young people who used to live on thestreet, that got its start through the UNICEF supported Economic Empowerment of Youth Project of the Oromia Bureau of Youth and Sport.

“For eight years I lived on the streets,” 24 year old Vinod Daniel, founding manager of Feyene told Mr. Eliasson, standing in the compound of the rent-a-toilet facility with which Feyene launched its business activities. “I used to drink, chew chat, fight with people, and steal. During those eight years I even tried to commit suicide. I didn’t have a good life – everything was dark. We were committing crimes and were eventually put in jail. While in prison we were encouraged and arrangements were made for us to go to school.” 

Following his release from jail, Vinod persevered with his studies in Bishoftu (Debre Zeit) a lakeside town 45 kms southeast of Addis Ababa. Eventually he made it to college where he began studying sociology. 

During this period Vinod and his friends would spend their free time working as daily labourers after school, and spending their nights in the compound of a rundown toilet facility that had stopped providing service to the public. During his first year in college Vinod shared his vision of taking over the toilet, fixing it up and providing safe sanitation facilities for the local community with the principal of his former high school, who then put him in touch with the Bureau of Youth and Sports. Through the Bureau, Vinod and his friends were able to get permission from the Bishoftu Municipality to take over the facility and received a small loan to fix up the place. After cleaning it up they opened for business, charging the public a small fee to use the toilet facilities. 

The Feyene rent-a-toilet facility is strategically located near a busy market area and with no other alternatives for sanitation services, business has been good. During the past three years Vinod and his two partners have been able to pay back their initial loan of 19,000 Birr (US$ 1072), and have received a second loan of 69,000 Birr (US$ 3443) from the Oromia BOYS with UNICEF support, with which they have expanded their business to include a music shop, fruit stall and a barbershop. The expanded outfit now employs six young people, who, like Vinod and his partners, used to live on the street. 

“You are a very good entrepreneur, to combine sanitation with cd and barbershop – it’s a new combination,” said Mr Eliasson. “You know that there are 2.5 billion people who do not have safe sanitation in the world, 37 per cent of humanity does not have it, so you are showing one way to solve it in reality. It’s an enormous thing. Your example can play an important role. You have inspired me.”

 

 
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