We’re heading to Soddo in southwestern Ethiopia, Wolayta’s capital and home to 200,000 souls. We’re to meet Marcella, who heads the Campus Busajo educational project (in Amaric, the local language, busajo means ‘those who look far’). The aim is to prevent, recover, and reintegrate street children in households and society. A project the Costa Family Foundation contributes to every year.
We leave Arba Minch airport on a Land Cruiser, driving on an infinite stretch of asphalt cutting through isolated villages lost in thick vegetation to the sound of honks, motor engines, cattle, a wave of people doing a raft of different things to secure their survival. Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity, and the second most populated African country: 118 million people with a 2.5% yearly growth rate; the average age is 19.5; there are more than 80 acknowledged ethnic groups and 80 official languages; Orthodox Christianity is the main religion but there are countless large Muslim communities as well as followers of other traditional religions.
So much to see, and our heart is close to bursting. We’ve dived into a world so unlike anything we have in Europe, and so different from the glossy magazine covers and safari-vaganza Western tourists are so fond of. This is Africa, the one and only, and Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world: over 30% of its population live below the poverty line with limited access to primary goods such as food, drinking water, sanitary services and education.
Ethiopia is affected by high malnutrition rates, especially among children. Estimates say over 30% of under 5-year-olds suffer from chronic malnutrition, which has a long-lasting effect on their growth and development. And children are exactly those we see the most – their big and surprised eyes look at us from every corner along the roads we drive on. This isn’t a tourist area, and white people are the stuff of legends. Some wave to us, the braver ones shout faranji: it means white person in their local language. A word which originates from colonialism – something Italy was guilty of too in these areas during the shameful stain that was fascism.
The thousands of street children in Soddo live in poverty, snort fuel from plastic bottles to not stop feeling hungry, sleep under improvised metal rooftops to shelter from the violent storms that show all their might during the ongoing monsoon season. However, they all have a chance to escape this situation: join the Campus, whose doors are always open. Nobody is denied entry and only the children decide when to join and to leave.
The children at the Busajo Campus receive medical and psychological support; lessons on sharing a living space, personal hygiene, and self-care; study support; vocational training: sport activities; agriculture and sheep farming lessons. Children can opt for the residential or semi-residential programme. The former receive food and board, clothing and shoes, medical care, registration to the city schools, complementary courses, and sports. The Campus has a football field, and a basketball and volleyball court, as well as a gym boasting all type of equipment.
The semi-residential programme offers the street children access to the Campus even without living there for potential medical assistance and to take part in the vocational training workshops so they can find a job and help them become independent. Workshops such as breadmaking, bamboo working, weaving and tailoring and dressmaking, woodworking, painting and welding, soap making.
The children live and learn in the Campus’ Main Building; the girls live in the Girls’ House as they follow a dedicated programme.
The Busajo Campus is a hymn to love, care, cleanliness, commitment, free choice and self-determination, a decent life, humility, and professionalism. We’re happy and honoured to have contributed to developing such an innovative, empowering and transformative project as the Costa Family Foundation. May the children of Soddo long benefit from this, for the future of Ethiopia.
The next step is to build a printing workshop to print the necessary books for pupils, and our big dream is to create a school withing the Campus which can improve the lives of the countless children. To do so we need to roll up our sleeves and take one step at a time to change one life at a time, because no dream is too big if you are brave to see ‘far enough’ into the future.