Eyueal, the journey of a separated child
UNICEF and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) support separated and unaccompanied children with a Humanitarian Cash Transfer programme in North Gondar region
Last July 15-year-old Eyueal was forced to flee his village of Adirkay in the Amhara region to escape the conflict in Northern Ethiopia. Like him, more than 138,000 people have left the region to take refuge in the Debark area. Between the fear of being targeted and displaced, Eyueal tells us about his journey from his hasty departure from his native village to his new life with his host family.
“I was outside with my friends taking a bath in the river,” explains Eyueal. “The fighting broke out and we immediately split up, each going our own way. As I was isolated and could not go home, I had no choice but to flee alone towards the Limalemo mountains.
“I was very scared, I could hear the gunshots in the distance. I saw the dead bodies with my own eyes. I fled as fast as I could towards the Zarima area in search of shelter. I begged people to take me in. People were very suspicious, but they agreed to take me in. I wandered like that for two days before reaching the town of Debark.”
The conflict that erupted on 4 November 2020 in the Tigray region has spread across Northern Ethiopia, causing large-scale displacement in Amhara with over 1 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in the region. Only 10 per cent of the IDPs are living in substandard temporary shelters, and 90 per cent are living in host communities.
“The first time I met Eyueal he was hanging out on the street," explains Aschalew Negash, the social worker who took Eyueal in. “I went to meet him and put him in touch with a mother in Debark who had volunteered to take in a child. I also tried to enrol him in school but he always refused. This is common in children suffering from post-traumatic stress. He said he just wanted to go home. We are trying to reconnect with the family so that he can go home as soon as possible.”
“Before the conflict I was in school in grade 8. If the conflict had not happened, I would be in grade 9 today,” continues Eyueal. “I would like to become a doctor. In my village there is a health centre and I have always been very proud to see them treating people, so I would like to do the same thing later on. I got information that my mother is still alive. Unfortunately, I have no way of contacting her. If peace returns, I will go back to my village immediately to find my mother, sister and brother. I pray to God that this day will come soon.”
UNICEF in partnership with the Amhara Regional State Bureau of Finance and Economic Cooperation and the Regional Bureau of Women, Children and Social Affairs has been supporting the Humanitarian Cash Transfer programme since July 2021.
“So far, we have identified 718 separated and/or unaccompanied children in the Debark region, mostly young boys,” explains Fasika Demeke, Child Protection consultant. “If they have family locally, we try to place them with their families, otherwise we try to find caregivers and place the children with these families to host them temporarily.
“The foster families benefit from the humanitarian cash transfer programme. Every three months they receive a sum of money that allows them to provide for the child's needs: clothes, food, etc. The distribution of cash has a very beneficial effect because it helps to lift the children out of poverty and gives them the resources they need to survive. It is a weight off their shoulders.”
Evidence shows that cash transfers respond to children’s survival needs, improve children’s wellbeing in multiple dimensions, prevent families from resorting to harmful coping strategies and contribute to the recovery of local economies in humanitarian settings. Thanks to the financial support of SIDA, nearly 17,000 people have benefited from the Humanitarian Cash Transfer programme in Debark alone since the beginning of the conflict.