"Life in Ethiopia is difficult and expensive"

In search of peace and a good life, Nyahual from South Sudan ended up in the capital of Ethiopia. Surviving in Addis isn’t without its challenges, though. “People make fun of our skin color.”

 “My life in South Sudan was tough. My parents died when I was about nine or ten years old. My mother died because she was sick, and my father died as a police officer in the war between Sudan and South Sudan. I can’t remember much myself and find it difficult to talk about it. After my parents died, my sister decided to take care of my brother and me. Life in South Sudan was difficult, and when the war broke out, and her husband died, my sister decided to take us to Ethiopia. In South Sudan, there was no future for us; life was complicated, there was no peace and nothing we could do to improve our lives.

When we arrived in Ethiopia in 2005, we all lived in a refugee camp. At one point, the situation in South Sudan became more stable, and I decided to return. That did not last long -soon, the situation deteriorated again, and I decided to take my grandmother to Ethiopia. I find it hard to talk about. People were killed before my eyes, and fierce fighting took place everywhere. At one point, I thought I’d die – so many people lost their lives around me. It is a miracle that I survived.


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When I crossed the South Sudan border for the second time, I ended up in a camp in Ethiopia again. As a refugee, you still receive a little support in such a camp, but you have no prospects for a better life. In Addis, you only get support as a refugee if you originate from Eritrea, or if you came to the capital for medical reasons.

Still, I decided to travel to Addis Ababa. I wanted to finish my studies, and that would not be possible in the camp. Life in Ethiopia is tough and expensive. I studied nursing here in Addis Ababa for a while, but my uncle, who paid my tuition, lost his job and could no longer afford my tuition. I want to work, but as a refugee from South Sudan, you are not allowed to work.

I currently live here with my aunt and two children. My brother and grandmother also live in our house. These are quite a lot of people for the small apartment we live in; we share three restrooms, a kitchen, a living room, and a bathroom altogether. My uncle is lucky to have an Ethiopian ID card so that he could rent a house at all. No one here in Addis takes your refugee status seriously, so if you want to rent something, you must always find an Ethiopian who wants to do that for you.

I want to work, but as a refugee from South Sudan, you are not allowed to work.

Fortunately, my uncle is now employed again and works as a pharmacist in a hospital. We all live on his salary, and my sister sometimes sends us some things from the camp. My uncle does not work in Addis and therefore lives somewhere else. He regularly sends us money, but because he just got this job, it is not enough for us to survive. My uncle sends us 4000 Birr per month (around 125 euros), of which 3500 Birr goes to the rent of the house. Of the 500 Birr (15 euros) that is left, we must eat and pay for all our food, which is, of course, impossible to do. Sometimes we, therefore, ask others to lend us some money, so that we can at least pay our rent.

Although I do speak the language, Amharic, it is difficult to integrate into Ethiopian society. People make fun of us because of our skin color, which is much darker than that of the Ethiopians. When I hear them laughing or scolding at me on the street, I feel very humiliated. I prefer to return to South Sudan immediately. But that is not an option.

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I encountered ZOA through another South Sudanese refugee, who told us about the business training that ZOA provides. I was immediately interested and signed up. The training helped me: I learned how to communicate with people. I started training at a time when I felt hopeless. Thanks to the training ZOA gave me, I gained hope and a future perspective. The course opened my eyes. I am also delighted that ZOA allowed me to study hairdressing. With the knowledge that I have now, I hope to find a job here in Ethiopia.

The future

Although I hope to be able to work as a hairdresser, it is my dream to be able to finish my studies and work at the same time, so that I can support myself. There is no point in going back to South Sudan: there are no jobs and a lot of corruption. Ethiopia is a better option. Moreover, just about my entire family is here, and I no longer have any family in South Sudan, so there is no real reason to go back.

Sometimes I think about migrating to a completely different country. I want to travel to Europe, but I can’t go there legally. Yet, I would like to live somewhere where I have opportunities to develop myself. A relative of mine, who lives there, told me through Messenger that there are many more options in Europe. They left for Europe legally by plane.

Another family member left for Europe via Egypt, by boat, but was arrested and is now trapped somewhere in a camp. Yet his story does not stop me: I expect to have a better life in Europe. There I would earn money to improve my own and my sister’s life. If I could choose between a life with my sister in Ethiopia or a life in Europe on my own, I would still choose Europe.

However, I don’t have the money to save to make my dream come true and to pay for the trip, so I might still be in Addis in five years from now.”

ZOA Ethiopia aims to support urban refugees by giving psychosocial and business trainings to teenagers and young adults. In 2019 ZOA started a project with a well known IT company to provide internships and trainings for 30 young people. This project aims to fight unemployment in Ethiopia