It’s Debebe Sugebo’s (26) first time in Gondar, one of the bigger cities in northern Ethiopia where long-term Mobile School partner Yenege Tesfa has been running their mobile school project since 2012. Debebe works for Retrak as a Drop-in Centre Manager in the city of Hosanna, located 220km southwestwards from the capital, Addis Ababa. Since the transfer of Retrak’s mobile school from Addis Ababa to Hosanna in September 2015, Debebe has been responsible for the coordination of the mobile school sessions. “In Hosanna we use the mobile school twice a week around the bus station. We meet a lot of children working and living there.”
How do these children arrive on the streets of Hosanna?
“Most of them come from different regions in the area and a lot of children are planning to move on to bigger cities such as Addis Ababa to look for more opportunities. With Retrak, we offer child protection and family reintegration programs. The mobile school became a very important tool to create a strong trusting relationship with youngsters on the streets. It gives our street workers the necessary tools to discuss and reflect with the children about their future. Moreover, our work is easier and more fun right now thanks to the mobile school activities.“
How did you get to know Mobile School and how did you get involved personally?
“I learned about the mobile school when it was still stored in the Drop-In Centre in Addis Ababa. Unfortunately, it was not being used anymore due to the massive constructions in the Mercato area of the city for the Light Rail. As DIC manager in Hosanna, I asked if it was possible to use the mobile school in Hosanna because the city is a lot smaller. In the end we decided to transfer the mobile school from Addis Ababa to the DIC in Hosanna.”
What was your first impression of the mobile school?
“I immediately had a very positive impression. It’s a great tool to reach out to many children living and working on the streets. Moreover, it enables us to connect with these children and to offer them opportunities to regain their interest in education since a lot of them have no access to formal education. It was immediately clear that the mobile school is a great tool to work with on the children’s capacities and to raise their self-esteem.“
The mobile school has been active for almost 2 years in Hosanna now. What was your best experience with it on the streets?
“One day I was working with a child at the mobile school who never had any kind of formal education. He was always very sociable and active and had already been living on the streets for five years. During this time he used different types of drugs like qat - a flowering plant native to the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula – and alcohol. In the beginning, he didn’t like to join the mobile school sessions because he couldn’t read or write and had absolutely no confidence. Slowly we started to build trust and convinced him to participate in the games at the mobile school. After a while, he participated actively during all the mobile school sessions and through Retrak we were able to get him enrolled in formal education as well. We see a lot of these cases in our day-to-day work, the best example that sustainable change starts on the streets.”
"We see a lot of these cases in our day-to-day work and they are the best example that sustainable change starts on the streets."
What motivates you to do your work for street-connected children on a daily basis?
“When I was in high school, one of my classmates was forced to live on the streets. With my family, we tried to support him in the best way possible so he was able to continue his education. Through that friend, I had the opportunity to see which challenges children and adults living on the streets face on a daily basis. This is when I decided I wanted to do something for these people and it motivated me to become a social worker. In the end, I went to the Samera University where I got a degree from the department of Sociology. Afterwards, I returned to Hosanna to work for the Supreme Court on the topic of vulnerable children before joining Retrak as a Drop-In Centre Manager.”
“In Ethiopia, it’s extremely important to work with the large number of children on the streets. A lot of them face many challenges and don’t have any access to education. This job really was what I was looking for and it’s very satisfactory to work with the young people on the streets in a positive way.”
This year you conducted your first Mobile School training during the follow-up in Debark and the exchange with all the Ethiopian street educators in Gondar. How will it influence your work?
“First of all, it is a great opportunity for me to exchange experiences with the teams from Yenege Tesfa in Gondar and Debark. There are a lot of similarities but also some differences between the three projects and the cities they work in. By facilitating the sessions, I got more knowledge on how to use the educational materials and how to increase the quality of our outreach work on the streets of Hosanna.”
To conclude: what are your plans for the future?
In the future, I defintely want to continue working with children on the streets. The mobile school will help me to keep going and to reach more and more children on the streets. Even in Ethiopia, there are still many opportunities to expand the reach of mobile school to other cities, and I’m sure there will be a lot more mobile schools on the African continent in the future as well, since it’s vital to invest in the young generation.