Ethiopia: Symbols of Hope help rebuild lives of young people

Visiting LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge and his team join EECMY church leaders in a meeting with members of the Hundedo self-help group in Hadiya, on 31 January. All photos: LWF/Albin Hillert

LWF General Secretary thanks EECMY for its holistic ministry

(LWI) - In south central Ethiopia, the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) are helping young migrant returnees rebuild their lives through a project called Symbols of Hope.

Meet Samira Alemu, 28, Dubai (United Arab Emirates). Amate Lafamo, 25, Beirut (Lebanon). Shaia Tamam, 27, Beirut. Radiet Tesfayo, 25, Dubai. Today, they all live in Hadiya, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region (SNNPR), south of the capital Addis Ababa. They all run small trade businesses, like selling coffee or washing cars. But they also have a different experience in common.

In a context where poverty can lead to desperation and the prospect of a different life can seem distant, Ethiopia has seen many young people chose to migrate, under the promise of an income big enough to share back home, and of a better, safer life. Some go to find employment in South Africa, others go to work in households in the Middle East.

Yet the promises rarely turn out as proclaimed, and many have returned home traumatized, some even destitute, as they had given up whatever land they once owned to afford a plane ticket.

Samira Alemu, 28, left Ethiopia for Dubai to look for a safe life and steady income, a vision that did not turn out as she had expected.

The LWF member church gives support to the returnees through Symbols of Hope, aiming to help them reintegrate into the contexts they had once left behind. It is run by the EECMY Development and Social Services Commission (DASSC) in collaboration with the LWF.

At the heart of the project is the goal to build awareness about the risks involved in illegal migration, and to empower young people to find alternative ways of making a living through training in business development. The project is currently in pilot-phase in two African countries: Ethiopia, and Nigeria; with other regions to follow.

Alemu: “People are not aware of the risks of this journey”

Alemu left home to work in Dubai in 2016. Three years later, she tells a story of unfulfilled promises, and a difficult journey back to where she is today.

“People are not aware of the risks of this journey, and what they will find when they arrive where they are going,” she says. “There is risk of violence, of rape and abuse, you are more exposed to the risk of disease.”

“I lost all my belongings on the way, except one shoe,” she recalls. “You think you will find a better life, but it is not what you first think.”

Today, Alemu is part of the Symbols of Hope self-help group Hundedo, which means ‘inclusion’, alongside 14 other women returnees.

Tamam: “The church has been here with us”

“Since I returned home, the church has been here with us. The church has prayed and cared for us,” reflects Tamam, another member of the group, who spent one and a half years working in Beirut, and returned to Ethiopia in 2016.

“The training we have received has helped me, so today I can provide for my six children,” Tamam says.

Currently, the EEMCY supports 35 women in the project’s pilot phase, divided over three self-help groups spread across three of the church’s synods.

Long history of holistic ministry

The EECMY has a long history of holistic ministry, seeing social service and development work as an integral part of being church.

“With this project, we want to help these women both to find a space for sharing among themselves, and to share their experiences with others, so we can reduce the risk of more young people sharing their fate,” says EECMY President Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa.

LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge concluded, “I have been moved to see the EECMY’s engagement in this ministry, and to see in action some of the collaboration we have on this project as the LWF. But we must remember that all this collaboration would be worth very little if we could not build on the strength and courage of these women and their witness.”

EECMY President Rev. Yonas Yigezu Dibisa leads a closing word of prayer after the day’s meeting.



Written for LWI by Albin Hillert.

Symbols of Hope is an LWF program, focusing on empowering and building capacity in the LWF member churches to better respond to issues related to irregular migration.

2019 LWF General Secretary Ethiopia visit

LWF General Secretary Rev. Dr Martin Junge visited The Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and the World Service country program, 29 January - 7 February, accompanied by LWF Council member Ms LoeRose Mbise and LWF staff. The visit was to witness EECMY’s holistic ministry in the country through worship life, community development, education and other services. It also focused on LWF’s humanitarian support to internally displaced people and initiatives to mitigate the impact of climate change.