Story collected by Yosef Tekile and written by Wondimagegn Kedir and Eryn Austin-Bergen
“I was sending my children to do day labour work because I couldn’t feed my children with the little money I was earning. That was why I did not send my children to school at their school age and that’s why some of my daughters married early,” Wato Daba, a father in Ethiopia, recalled.
You can hear the sorrow in Wato Daba’s voice as he described the impact of poverty on his children. Caught between a rock and a hard place, this father had to make an impossible choice—send his children to work or watch them starve. Not much of a choice, is it?
Today, 160 million children are engaged in child labour—that’s almost one in 10 children worldwide. Of those, 72.1 million live in Africa where Wato and his family make their home.
Before FH Ethiopia began a relationship with Wato’s community, Fayine Tarano, child labour was pervasive in the culture. It was common for parents with fewer resources to send their children to work for wealthy cattle owners instead of sending them to school. These children— mostly sons—took over caring for the cattle to earn a monthly income for the family.
Wato’s son, Abdi, was one of those children. His family was among the poorer households in the community. His parents couldn’t afford a school uniform, exercise books, or pens and pencils. In fact, they couldn't afford to feed him and his four siblings on a regular basis. Steeped in such need, there was no way Abdi could go to school. He and his brother dropped out to work and his two older sisters, Abaynesh and Alemtsahay, became victims of illegal child marriage.
|While a bit old for his grade, Abdi is back in school and quickly making up for lost time.
According to the International Labour Organization, poverty is the primary driver of child labour. And it’s the biggest culprit currently reversing 20 years of global progress in reducing child labour. “Over the past few years, conflicts, crises, and the COVID-19 pandemic, have plunged more families into poverty—and forced millions more children into child labour.”
It’s a vicious downward spiral. When poverty and child labour deny kids like Abdi and his siblings an opportunity to attend school, the odds are stacked “against their securing a decent income and stable employment as adults. …[Child labour] holds back economic growth of entire countries and can be linked to rising inequality in many parts of the world.”
Case in point, Wato was earning less than $5 a day to support his family of six—it wasn’t enough. Because of their poverty, the family didn’t consider themselves fully human when compared with their wealthy, cattle-owning relatives who could feed their children and send them to school. They couldn’t see themselves as deserving of anything better. So, Wato carried on taking his children with him to help in his day-labour jobs. And his heart broke in desperation.
“I said, ‘Please, God, I don’t want to see my children dying because of my poorness, give me a solution!’ I felt that I had nobody and no relatives to save me from this disastrous situation.”
|Wato (right) talks with Pastor Tesfa (left) about his children's education and their family's situation.
In 2014, God answered Wato’s prayers through a partnership with FH Ethiopia. In coordination with community and church leaders, FH registered the poorest families in Fayine Tarano to participate in various development activities. They identified their interests and needs, and provided opportunities accordingly. Wato tried his hand at agriculture, receiving training, seeds, and seedlings from FH. His mindset began to change. He started cultivating significant produce from his small plot of land. As a result, Wato no longer needed to take his children to work.
“My family is able to get food and today I am not going to daily labor work; I am busy with my own farming activities,” Wato describes the personal impact of learning a new livelihood.
Abdi and his brother Bontu joined the child sponsorship program. Compassionate Canadian sponsors gave monthly to provide exercise books, pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, and school uniforms. Since Abdi’s father now had a new, viable livelihood and he had everything he needed to attend school, Abdi excitedly returned to the classroom!
And Wato couldn’t be happier. “I stopped worrying for my children’s school, since FH took all the responsibility to educate them.” Free from this anxiety, Wato can concentrate on developing a stable livelihood for his family. One day, he will be able to afford the cost of education.
|Wato, sitting next to his strong wife, bravely signs the consent form to share with the world the story of Abdi's journey out of child labour.
Wato has been so successful in cultivating vegetables and other crops that even his adult daughters who married early come home to gather produce to help them feed their new families. As poverty melts away, families in Fayine Tarano experience healing and hope. “Now, thanks be to God, I have enough food in my house to feed my family and my children have been attending school. [This] has created a hope in me and I believe that I can change any difficult situation,” Wato shares.
Wato and his son, Abdi’s, story is a shining example of how we can reduce and eliminate child labour by addressing the root cause—poverty. By providing access to quality education and helping adults create decent and sufficient work, FH is steadily strengthening communities and empowering parents to release their children from child labour.
“The poor have gotten out of the grave by FH!” Wato exclaims in joy.
If this story has inspired you, consider purchasing school supplies to help more kids like Abdi and Bantu go back to school. Or sponsor a child!