It is almost 8pm. A little boy comes close to the car and asks for money. He does not look like the street kids that are usually roaming the main streets of Addis Abeba.
My brother asks, “Why are you asking for money? Why do you not try and join Don Bosco, the street children project for young boys?”
The child, who does not know what the organisation is, instead tells us where he goes to school to.
He shares with us, as a matter of fact, that he is just out in that time of night, at Meskel Square, because his mother had asked him to bring some money home. He lives in Bole Micheal.
The streets of Piassa and Legehar are a devastating scene as one witnesses the overwhelming number of young boys. This is a national problem that needs immediate action. We are all witnesses to their active destruction. Often, one would see them inhaling glue to get high and through the day’s boredom or cold.
A few years back, while volunteering at a charity that works with street boys, many shared their stories with me. Most had left because a parent would pass away – usually, the child’s father and the mother would remarry for financial reasons, and that would be the downfall of their relationship, forcing the children to leave home.
Rehabilitating street children is likewise tricky as that time they once got together and told me “You are trying too hard, we do not like authority.”
After a few moments spent with the children, I learnt how harsh our society could be towards boys. The unfair responsibilities thrown on their small shoulders is astonishing. Raised improperly they are likely to be the most vulnerable.
It reflected even in the community I was from. I remember many times hearing boys being told not to cry because they were boys. We raise them to become emotionally unavailable men, without a healthy means of processing their feelings.
What is the function of men now that we are no longer hunters and gatherers in the wild? Can we try and mimic those roles in the modern world?
I do not mean modernity as it applies to Western ideology, but as an invitation to a question.
Where does a man stand in our modern Ethiopia? And how do we, as a society, re-evaluate the way we raise male children?
In a conversation with a friend, he reflects, “What’s the point in arming girls to be strong enough to withstand the physical attacks of men, why are we bent on making everything strong? Can we not, as a modern society, appreciate the delicate things?”
This made me wonder more about vulnerability. There is immense strength in one’s ability to embrace vulnerability. Yet, this is not something we value as a society. Women are considered to have a vulnerability, which is often seen as weakness, while vulnerability in men is rarely seen and mostly shamed.
The strength it takes to be vulnerable is immeasurable, because of the trust we put in our ability to heal and be open to our community members without the fear of being shunned.
The few street boys that I was privileged to teach had hidden their vulnerability at such depth they had long stopped being children. They were wounded adults in children’s bodies. They are a living representation of how much we have failed the children in our community.
I do not presume to think that, raising a child is easy. Yet in our Ethiopian values, children are not merely the responsibility of the parents that had them but the community. Many of the services that in the Western world are provided by institutions are in Ethiopia provided by the community at large.
Right now the situation only seems to be getting worse and not better. From personal experience, I know it is much better to deal with younger boys before they have left their homes and not after. It takes the dedication of a nation and not just a few individuals.
We need to listen better to the young boys in our community. We should allow them the space to grow a personality that understands strength in vulnerability and that can contribute and be a part of society.
We need to raise boys who can be the men that can view the world through the privileges afforded to them and still question the status quo. We need the type of men that do not have such an ego that meaningful conversations about equality threaten the fibre of their existence. We need men who can be involved, engaged and vulnerable fathers.
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