Simon and the cotton candy machine

After searching for human traffickers for months, one morning, Simon kissed his ignorant mother goodbye and left Eritrea for Ethiopia. In Addis, he tries to build a new life. “ZOA taught me to add value to what I have.”

“I had no future. It’s that simple. As a student in Eritrea, I soon realized that, due to the political situation and the lack of freedom, I would never have a good future in my country. If I graduated, I wouldn’t earn enough to make something of my life. In Eritrea, you have two choices as a young person: either you go to work for the government or you join the army. As a young boy, I decided on the second option and served the military. After my service, I went to college.

During the third year of my studies, I decided to leave for Ethiopia. For months I searched, in secret, for traffickers who could help me. I knew for sure that if my parents heard about my plans, they would have tried to persuade me not to make the trip.

For months I searched, in secret, for traffickers who could help me.

It was late 2014 when I finally found the right people. One day, unexpectedly, they gave me a call and told me to be ready in a week. That week was killing me; I could think of nothing else. My parents still knew nothing, and the last night before my departure, we simply went to bed. I could barely sleep that night: I was both excited and afraid that soldiers would catch me during the trip.

On the morning of my departure, I kissed my mother farewell. I explained that I would attend an IT college, far away from where we lived. My mother realized, however, that something was going on, because she became very emotional. Yet she didn’t stop me, and we said goodbye to one another. I have not seen my parents since.

I left the house and met up with the traffickers in the city, where they were waiting for me with a car. Together with six others, we set off. We drove for hours to another town, from where we continued our journey for another three days. To avoid being arrested, we were only allowed to travel at night; during the day, we stayed in caverns and caves.

When we finally arrived in Ethiopia, the smugglers had to be paid their fees. I didn’t have enough money to pay for the expensive trip, so I called my parents in Eritrea. I told them that I had traveled to Ethiopia and asked them to pay for the trip in my stead. The amount was around 2,000 euros. My parents were surprised, unaware that I was planning to leave Eritrea. However, it did not come entirely unexpected: I was a third-year student who was very disappointed and angry. My parents didn’t have much a choice: they knew they had to pay for my trip.

Although I felt miserable during the last years of my life in Eritrea, I had a good childhood. I was a regular and happy child. We didn’t have much but lived an ordinary life. When I was growing up and getting older, like in grade 6, I started to see things differently. Especially when I attended military school, I saw the country in which I lived like it was. I realized that there is no hope for this country.”


“When I arrived in Ethiopia, I stayed in a camp for two months. The climate there was hot, so I soon traveled to my aunt in Addis Ababa. I first stayed with her when I arrived. I started learning the language and hoped to find a job quickly. I found one at a furniture store, where I earned 400 Birr (about 12.5 euros) per week. Together with three friends, I decided to rent a house – a costly ordeal. Because I didn’t manage to survive, I asked my brother in Denmark to send me money. Once every three months he sent me some money so that I could pay the rent for my house.

Now I no longer get support, but if necessary, I can always rely on him. At one point, my brother helped me to start my own business here and open my store. I now run a small business in Addis Ababa, selling all sorts of things. As a refugee, I am not officially allowed to work, so an Ethiopian friend of mine has arranged the business license. Although I don’t earn much here, I manage to make enough to support my wife and myself.

As a refugee, I am not officially allowed to work


“At a certain point, I came in contact with ZOA, through Mahlet. I thought the training was excellent. The business part particularly appealed to me. Through the training, I learned a lot, including how I can expand my business and grow. I learned to add value to what I have. I learned how to plan and how to develop my shop with the means I currently have at my disposal. I also learned, for example, that I need to look out for opportunities in my area. I saw that in the neighborhood where my shop is located, there are very few fun things to do for children. Therefore, I decided to invest in a cotton candy machine. And it turned out to be a good idea – the children like it and visit the store often.

ZOA gave me a washing machine at the end of the training, as I would love to open a laundromat. However, the rent in this neighborhood is very high, so I am not able to rent a space now. I am considering doing that somewhere else so that I can still put the machine to use.”

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



I hope that I can complete my studies. I would also like to have children, although for that, I first need a stable life and a reasonable income so that I can support my family. I would love to travel to Canada. Not only is it a beautiful country, but also full of opportunities, both academically and in terms of work. Moreover, Canada has a positive attitude towards migrants.

I have family in Canada, so I hope that gives me a chance. I don’t have money to save to make the journey. At this time, I can’t keep a dime: the rent for my house is expensive, and I must buy new clothes now and then. Returning to Eritrea is not an option as long as the same government rules. Still, I hope to see my parents again someday.”