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Ethiopia: Attracting girls in Afar

In a remote village in Ethiopia’s Afar region, a teenage boy, Abdu Ahamed, walks next to me, peppering me with questions in broken English. I sit down and talk to him, partly in English, mostly in Amharic, with the help of a translator.

I ask about his school. “I am learning five subjects – English, Amharic, Science, Maths and Afar language. I go to school in the mornings and I stay for a few hours, and then I herd the goats and cattle for my family. I do not have to walk so far now, as we have special pasture close by”.

Abdu Ahamed

He gestures beyond the small circle of huts and begins talking about his cattle. “I enjoy herding. I like to be outside in the sun. I have grown up with these cattle, and I enjoy walking with them. I was taught how to herd by my father, and one day I would like to teach my children how to herd too”.

Big city dreams

Abdu Ahamed is clutching a long stick, a traditional herding tool. He has big plans for the future, and wonders aloud if he should work in Chifra town one day.

His distinctive hair sets him apart from the other boys in his village and he assures me that he would cut it off if he went to work in Chifra.

Laughingly telling me that he “did it to attract girls, but I do not think I will be able to work in an office with it!”

Tough times

I ask about the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP), the ‘safety net’ programme run by Save the Children and the government in the area, and we talk about what life was like before the PSNP.

“It was bad here a few years ago [before the PSNP]. At one point we were chopping down trees to feed cattle leaves from the tops.

“Because of the drought reserves and the food given to us by Save the Children we have not needed to move for a few years”.

Food for work

I ask if I can take a photo of him and he beams at me and strikes a very traditional portrait pose. He shrieks with laughter when he sees the photo, and the other children gather round to join in.

Soon they are all laughing and pointing at him and teasing him about his hair. I find myself hoping that he won’t need to cut it off when he goes to work in the city.

The Productive Safety Net Programme provides monthly food rations in return for 5 days work in activities such as repair and maintenance of school and health facilities as well as construction of public water and hygiene facilities.

Safety net

 It provides a figurative ‘safety net’ to stop families falling into the food crisis, and being forced to sell their last animals to survive.

It also provides education to help the community thrive – education for children and adults, focusing on new ways to farm, and also supports livelihoods projects.

Abdu Ahamed’s family receives the PSNP and also benefits from the pasture reserve areas, where his animals graze in the dry season.

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