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Ethiopia: It’s time for children to have a say

I’ve been out in Ethiopia for nearly three months and this is my first chance to update on what I’ve been doing. Up to now I’ve mainly been working on an emergency project to provide communities with clean, safe water.

I’m living in the north of the country in the Amhara region and a long drought in this area means people have to travel even further to collect water for cooking, cleaning and for livestock. Everyday as we travel around the area, we drive past women and young girls walking home carrying yellow containers full of water on their backs. Girls of all ages have the main responsibility for collecting water. This can take several hours, depending on how close the nearest water source is.

Children's committee in Gederu
Children's committee in Gederu

My role in this project is to make sure that children have the chance to participate and to share their ideas and concerns.  So far we’ve set up 12 children’s committees of about 8 children each.

Our project coordinator Mulugeta holds elections for the committee in Cherkose
Our project coordinator Mulugeta holds elections for the committee in Cherkose

Setting up committees takes a good few hours. We hold elections in which the children nominate and vote for their representatives. There will usually be an equal number of girls and boys. The age range is often a bit confused. There are lots of children over the normal age for their grade, because they started school late or didn’t graduate to the next grade.

We’ll start with some activities to get the committee thinking about the ways they can be involved. This might involve drawing a map of their village and thinking about who will use the water points and the best location. Their first response is often to suggest that children can assist with digging, putting up fencing or carrying construction materials to the site.

Committee members drawing a map of their village in Cherkose
Committee members drawing a map of their village in Cherkose

It’s interesting to see how normal manual work is for children in Ethiopia. It’s a largely agricultural society where children have a huge role to play helping their parents to grow crops and look after livestock. But we steer the children to think about other ways to be involved. They have great ideas, from ways to make the facilities child-friendly, to ensuring the construction sites are safe, to thinking about how they can educate their friends and families on good hygiene practices.

Children in Zufan gather around the water point under construction
Children in Zufan gather around the water point under construction

It’s fascinating to see all the individual personalities which make up these committees and to witness their commitment and motivation for being involved in something which will make a huge difference in the lives of their communities.

Construction has already started in some sites. We’re encouraging the committees to visit the construction sites and ask questions. They’re determined to be involved and they have so much energy. The challenge now is that schools have broken up for the summer and the rainy season is fast approaching. And there’s still a lot to get done…

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