Better survive COVID-19 to realize my big dream, says Ethiopian child MP

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

By Wossen Mulatu
Kalkidan Hailemariam, 15, is the President of the Addis Ababa Children’s parliament.
UNICEF/2020/MulugetaAyene
22 April 2020

It’s been a month since schools closed due to the coronavirus but for Kalkidan Hailemariam, this is a temporary setback. The 15-year-old president of children’s parliament says she remains motivated and is hopeful about a better future.

“I was shocked when I first heard about the coronavirus at school. Like most of my peers, my first impression was that I could die and lose close family and friends. Slowly I learned that it’s preventable and I felt better.”

Kalkidan applauds the decision taken by the government to close schools early. “Even if my school has water and sanitation facilities, it would have been difficult to control the virus because we are many and sit very close to each other. This makes it difficult to maintain the required physical distance. We also touch and pass school materials to each other very frequently. Handshakes and hugs with my friends would also have been difficult to avoid,” she says.

Like so many other children and young people who are currently not attending school, Kalkidan has slowly adapted to staying home and has created a daily plan for herself.

“The first week was tough. I was so bored and thought the house was going to swallow me up. Then I figured that I needed a proper plan that I could adopt as a daily routine and this has worked very well for me.”

Kalkidan says staying at home has helped her focus on her passions and doing things that she doesn’t normally have the time to pursue. She is now writing her second book. Her first book, entitled Mekedonia, was a collection of various stories about the elderly and was due to be launched in May.

Kalkidan Hailemariam, 15, is the President of the Addis Ababa Children’s parliament.
UNICEF/2020/MulugetaAyene
Kalkidan Hailemariam, 15, is the President of the Addis Ababa Children’s parliament. She shares her experience and message to young people amidst the COVID-19 oubreak and school closures.

Kalkidan says her daily routine includes cooking, studying, reading, dancing to her favorite songs, and writing essays and poetry. Besides, she enjoys meditating and recording herself on her phone while practicing motivational speaking, something she wants to pursue in her lifetime.

Despite staying at home, Kalkidan is determined to lend her voice to urging children and young people to take the coronavirus seriously and to follow all prevention measures prescribed by health professionals.

“I am sad that the coronavirus is not taken seriously by some young people and it’s very worrying. On one hand, some agree with the false perception that the virus only attacks the elderly and they become careless,” she says. “On the other hand, I still see young people holding hands and hugging and not maintaining physical distance because it’s not seen as ‘cool’ if you don’t do it. But we are watching the world losing its young people every day due to this pandemic. For me, ‘not cool’ is trying to ignore the reality and not taking prevention measures seriously,” she says.

Kalkidan Hailemariam, 15, is the President of the Addis Ababa Children’s parliament.
UNICEF/2020/MulugetaAyene
Kalkidan Hailemariam, 15, is the President of the Addis Ababa Children’s parliament. She shares her experience and message to young people amidst the COVID-19 oubreak and school closures.

“We shouldn’t do to others, what we do not want to happen to us. We need to think of our parents who care deeply about our wellbeing. We also need to think of the health professionals who are leaving their children home in the morning for work hoping to return without catching the virus in the evening. Wouldn’t we feel guilty if something happens to them due to our negligence? Schools have been closed for a reason - do we want to waste this precious time or use it wisely? Just because we are not hugging or shaking hands now, it doesn’t mean we don’t love each other; it means we care more about each other.”

Kalkidan is hopeful about the future for herself and other young people.

“I do not have any doubt that we will overcome this pandemic if we only become patient and follow the instructions provided by health professionals. We shouldn’t be discouraged and lose our hope easily. We have our whole lives and dreams ahead of us.

“For me, my motivation to stay alive and fight the virus is my dream to become a lawyer so that I can see that justice is served for young girls and women who are victims of gender-based violence. I need to protect myself and survive this pandemic to see my dream come true.

“The first thing that I want to do when COVID-19 is over is to hug people,” Kalkidan says. “That’s what I miss the most.”

The Education Cannot Wait coalition estimates that 1.5 billion children worldwide are not in school because of COVID-19. In Ethiopia, schools have been closed since March 16, disrupting the learning of an estimated 26 million children. UNICEF, together with other agencies in the Technical Working Group on Education, has supported the Ministry of Education to develop a plan for the continued learning of children who are at home through the mass media. The plan is already in motion with the Ministry of Education broadcasting lessons for secondary schools on television while some regional authorities are conducting primary school lessons via radio.