We first encountered Dereje when we was brought to our Tesfa Manoriya Bota (Hope Home) by the police in early 2017. His story is brutal, but sadly not unusual. Approximately one year earlier some people visited his very rural village, some 290km from Shashemene. His family were so poor they had been unable to send Dereje to school. However Dereje who was 11 years of age was an ambitious boy and knew that to have any hope of a brighter future he would need to get an education. When the men talked to his parents and offered to provide Dereje with an education in the capital Addis so long as he came with them and did some work after school, they all thought this was a wonderful opportunity for him.
Unknown to Dereje and his family however these men were traffickers and were intent only on recruiting a workforce. Despite assurances that they would keep his parents updated on Dereje’s progress at school, the reality was that they took Dereje , not to Addis, but far away in the opposite direction to an area outside of Shashemene. Here was treated as a prisoner on a child labour camp. He received no education and was forced to sleep on the ground every night and then work from dawn to dusk each day. He was very badly treated and displayed evidence of severe beatings with scars and bruised all over his body.
Thankfully one night after approximately a year Dereje escaped under the cover of darkness and eventually found his way on to the streets of Shashemene. After a few days he found a policeman and explained that he was lost and needed help. Traumatised Dereje arrived at our centre and slowly but surely our psychologist and specialist staff pieced together his story and after a few months were eventually able to make contact with his family. His frantic mother was so relieved to hear that he was alive and eventually after around three months our workers set off on a very challenging journey to reunite the family. Tears of joy and relief flowed as his mother hugged her boy whom she thought she had lost forever.
What a privilege to have been able to play a part in such a wonderful reunion.