UNICEF tackles urban unemployment and lack of sanitation in one stone in Gambella
By Elshadai Negash
How to make a rural toilet slab in seven steps: Tij Ber members show us how (©UNICEF Ethiopia/2013/Negash)
Its 10 a.m. on a busy Monday morning in Gambella and Lero Ongongo and members of the Tij Ber Youth Development Association are busy at work in their small outdoor workshop and café near the centre of Gambella city in the Gambella region of Western Ethiopia.
About four youngsters, led by 17-year old Bere Ojulu, are preparing tea and coffee for sale to customers who come to their workshop. Two are mixing cement, sand, and water to prepare a concrete mixture that will later be turned into a toilet to be fitted in one of the rural toilets on the outskirts of the city. Yet another group is scouring the villages trying to convince to stop openly defecating and buy one of their custom-fitted toilets.
“We don’t have enough hours in the day to work,” Ongongo says before he mounting the sand and cement paste onto a design mat and levelling the surface.
They are in the business of convincing urban and rural dwellers to use one of their manually-constructed toilet slabs. They generate income from the sales of these slabs that is helping pay college tuition fees for three of the members, keeping them off the streets, and playing a vital role in turning their nearby kebele (village) into an Open Defecation Free (ODF) zone where dwellers use toilets as opposed to passing faeces in open air. They also generate additional income by selling tea/coffee and snacks utilising the open space in front of their workshop.
Tij Ber’s project is part of an effort by UNICEF to tackle youth unemployment and lack of urban sanitation by converging social protection and Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) programs. The youngsters, who started out by collecting and dumping garbage with limited income and virtually no support; were trained in slab production and provided a revolving loan to start their business.
At any given time of the day, the fifteen members of Tij Ber, which means ‘every work is perfect’ in Anuak, one of the main languages spoken in the Gambella region of Ethiopia as well as neighbouring South Sudan; are fully occupied in some type of work, a rare occurrence in a region of the country with less than 400,000 people, but with a markedly-high urban unemployment.
However, things did not start off easily for the members. “We got ridiculed from other people when we collected garbage,” says Ongongo. “We had to cope with this. Our friends thought the work we were doing was very demeaning.”
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