Some are street kids trying to survive on the streets of the capital, but many are laid-off hotel and other workers who have hit a wall in the midst of the Novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic that has devastated the local economy. Making the once well-groomed and trained hotel workers that are the face of the once booming local tourism sector vulnerable with little social safety net and lots of worries.
“I have been a banquet server at a local hotel and I have been gainfully employed for four years and because of the new reality, the pandemic that has become our reality, I have been laid off for several months and there is nothing in sight that normality will return and that I will go back to work and gainfully employed,” a 23 year old said as he collected takeout food from a food station put together by Chaka Cafe and Restaurant, a local eatery which partnered with Bole Sub City administration to help a community in need for a month.
With the rise of the need for such a service, the plan was extended to three feeding stations and the hiring of laid-off people to help cook and serve and to a still undetermined future. “We started thinking we would fill a need temporarily but it was extended as the impact of the pandemic only increased and its consequences felt by all of us,” Begashaw Meteke, the General Manager of Chaka told The Reporter. “Many of the people we are now working with to execute our mission and the recipients are, for the most part our colleagues who worked with us in the service and hospitality sector and we cannot help but assist them, gives them a hand up at their time of need”.
The food is prepared in a spacious area next to the first Chaka branch near the area known as Chechnya, one of three Chaka branches in the capital, near 22 area with a combination of meat stew and vegetarian dishes. Almaz Arega, 53, is one of the cooks, among half a dozen. She is hired and is content that she can earn money, a living, while serving her community.
“Cooking is my passion and that is what I have done all my life and raised seven children from the income I earned. When I was laid off, I was suddenly jobless and I felt abandoned and defeated and was overwhelmed with much need at home with no income. This program has been a relief, an almost my safety net for my family, and me” she said as she made the last of injera, hundreds she estimates just before noon.
At the 22 feeding locations where The Reporter visited, there were hundreds of people lined up showing the magnitude of the issue at hand and a system that is overburdened with the challenges ahead for the Ethiopian society.
All who came to this station were fed and others that came unexpectedly were also serviced, including those who normally are afforded the leftovers of restaurants and hotels that most seat empty with little business to even sustain themselves but became challenged by the challenges of the time.
A 43 years old man, who refused to give his name, told The Reporter that he feels defeated and humiliated that he has now become dependent of hand-outs after he was suddenly told his service wasn’t needed earlier this year at his place of employment. Like many, the unmarried man worked as a server at a hotel.
“While I have always been self-sufficient most of my life, I feel ashamed yet I feel like I have no choice. The burden of not feeding yourself, to have to line up for food is painful,” he said. The plan for Chaka and partners is to continue the generosity that has been the benchmark of the pandemic where governments cannot do much but needs entrepreneurs to be involved and continue to donate and come up with such initiatives to sustain a population in need.
They also abide by the principle they can do charity by also demonstrating the need to wash hands, keep normal distance to help stop the virus from spreading fast at all of their feeding stations. “To us, we are fortunate to help and to contribute and we plan to do this during the challenges of the moment. If we as citizens cannot do it,” said Begashaw, “there will be more suffering and most of the people we are helping will ultimately stand up on their own and I am sure, they will help others in the future. That is our ultimate goal,” he said.
As the need for such feeding stations are fast rising, there are now thousands of vulnerable young people suddenly deported to Ethiopia from Gulf nations, especially from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia needing such temporary support.
With little resources and most not paid fully for services rendered as Lebanon’s economy takes a nosedive and having paid a hefty sum believed to be USD 1,400, there is to be little roadmap 5o accommodate them in Ethiopia and they are certain to make their way here.
Likely, there continues to be a growing interest from the public to want to help them and others across Ethiopia. In the coming weeks, The Reporter will showcase such initiatives.