COVID-19: Reaching out to street children in Ethiopia

Ethiopia 5

By Mesfin Gebreyes and Machrine Birungi

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Sanitation and hygiene experts in Ethiopia are placing a special focus on a group of young individuals that are left behind as they ramp up their effort to improve sanitation and hygiene services to fight against coronavirus.

Ms Fasika Ayalew, WASH Communication Expert for SNV Netherlands Development Organization, is raising the alarm on the street children and families who are tucked away in cramped shelters, around traffic lights, city highway bridges, and street corners with limited access to sanitation and hygiene services.

“At this very critical time, lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene for street children and their families is very concerning because they are both exposed to the risk of contagion and also represent a potential vector for spreading the coronavirus,” she said.

Ethiopia, home to an estimated 110 million people, has recorded 133 coronavirus cases to date. SNV Ethiopia, the executing agency of the Ethiopia Sanitation and Hygiene Improvement Programme (E-SHIP), which is supported by WSSCC’s Global Sanitation Fund, has initiated a targeted COVID-19 response for the street children.

E-SHIP, in partnership with SNV Ethiopia, has so far installed handwashing facilities at the neighborhoods of Piassa, Bole, Megenagan and Merkato in the capital city, Addis Ababa. The children were also given water containers and hand sanitizers.

“I hear that the virus is contagious and washing hands is very important to prevent it. That is what I am just doing,” said Sisay, a 12-year-old street child who expressed his excitement at the opportunity to wash his hands from one of the ten handwashing stations.

The street children were also taught about coronavirus.

“I learned that there is this new virus and we need to wash our hands to prevent it,” says 16-year-old Yonas, one of the hundreds of street kids that live in Addis Ababa.

As E-SHIP targeted COVID-19 response continues to roll out in other parts of the city, Yonas and Sisay express the joy of having a facility that meets their sanitation needs.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, street children like Yonas depended on begging for water to meet their sanitation needs.

“It is relieving to watch the street children wash their hands, making a difference to their lives and see the confidence that they can be safe in the face of COVID19,” said Ms Ayalew.

Since the first case of COVID-19 was reported in Ethiopia on 5 March 2020, E-SHIP has been an integral part of the national emergency response.

Working with the Ministry of Health, E-SHIP is implementing the risk communication and community engagement activities and developing communication strategies and content suitable for the various target audience.

The team is also mapping and analyzing the communications capacities of each region, zone and district, monitoring the communication structure to ensure it is ready and functioning.

All the woredas (districts) and kebeles (zones) have been reached through a variety of communication channels, including printed materials, electronic messaging, face-to-face interactions and mass media.