Ethiopia is one of the major host countries for refugees in East Africa, the risk of human trafficking is tremendous, endangering millions of women, children and men who are searching for a better life abroad. Hussein Ahmed Wolle is a social entrepreneur and activist with 15 years’ experience. He has participated in the Unveil the Hidden Presence: Trafficking in Women and Children Lab where he started developing a project for the reintegration of victims of human trafficking in his country.
Ethiopia has recently been identified as a country with an increasing human trafficking problem, although accurate rates of the number of trafficking victims are difficult to find. As a major country in hosting refugees in the Horn of Africa and one of the passing countries on the migration route to the Arabian Peninsula, Europe and South Africa, Ethiopia is exposed to both internal and external trafficking involving severe human rights violations such as physical, mental, and sexual exploitation. The majority of the victims belong to the most vulnerable groups: women and children. The long-term consequences of their experience are trauma and the loss of control over their lives.
Hussein’s passion to empower people in need and take leadership for concrete action is the driving force to create durable development in his home country. He has been working in the field for 15 years as co-founder and program director of Action for Integrated Sustainable Development Association (AISDA), a local NGO in Ethiopia founded in 2006.
The organisation is working in the Afar Region, one of the most unstable and poor regions in Ethiopia, with a wide range of interventions including health and nutrition, livelihood, climate change adaptation & natural resources conservation, water development, humanitarian and disaster responses.
With the support of international organisations such as Oxfam GB, USAID, Norway Development Fund, Save the Children International and others, Hussein has achieved to create a strong network to protect vulnerable people and enhance a safer environmental surrounding in the Afar region. The initiative has been recognized by international media and won regional prices such as the Impact Award of the Stars Foundation for their work with pastoral communities to end the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Recent years in Ethiopia have been marked by new challenges like increasing migration from the Horn of Africa. Hussein realized, if his goal really was to protect human rights and create sustainable development for his fellow citizens, he had to expand his engagement to the issue of human trafficking. This led to his participation in the Unveil the Hidden Presence: Trafficking in Women and Children Lab.
With many of those who fight against Human Trafficking Hussein shares a common story: that of having been affected himself. His three younger sisters were trafficked and sent to Djibouti when they were below 20 years old. Therefore it was crucial that the facilitators of the Lab were able to create a safe and neutral ground within the group which led to a high level of openness and breaking of stereotypes creating an intimate relationship between the participants. Hussein feels that the participation in the Lab made him stronger, because he realised that he was not alone with this experience. The participatory approach enabled him to think beyond borders, overcome barriers and think out of the box.
“The Global Leadership Academy was able to form a family through its unique approach.”
Hussein Ahmed Wolle
After coming back to his country, he felt empowered to tackle the issue of illegal migration and human trafficking in Ethiopia. He had now fully grasped the severity and dimension of this gross and criminally organised human rights violation that includes, but also goes beyond individual suffering. Suddenly action seemed more necessary than ever and also possible. Hussein used his "Lab family" to share the idea to create an organisation dedicated solely to the problem of human trafficking.
In 2019 Hussein Ahmed Wolle and his friend and former co-participant from the Lab Yihenew Molla Burra, founded the NGO Empowerment for Development (ED). It’s aim is to build a system that protects vulnerable people from falling victim to human trafficking and contribute towards a strong development in their home country. Their strategy is founded upon awareness building, intervention and protection and provokes change on the international, as well as the community level.
“We talked to communities and governmental representatives to raise awareness on the issue and fight against it.” By collecting feedback from local communities, governmental organizations like the Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Women & Children and international organizations, Yihenew and Hussein were able to build up a strong strategy to close the gaps in human rights work related to trafficking in persons (TiP). During their research, they discovered that most of the NGOs working on the topic are focussing on migration or internally displaced people. With their work, they want to improve the protection of human rights.
ED contributes to the on-going effort to prevent human trafficking and unsafe migration and advance the right for women and children on the move to protect, educate and develop through comprehensive community mobilization, direct service provision and strengthening the protection system. The community-level approach wants to assure preventions measures and raise awareness on the household level to create strong resilient strategies. In the long-term, Hussein and Yihenew aim to create an East-African based network (Kenya, Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan) to tackle TiP in the region. Currently, discussions with Somalia are ongoing.
The success of the two can be traced back to the strong community support they found during the participation in the Lab. “In any place, we have talked about the Lab. We talked about how to give new ideas, how to raise awareness on those topics […] to broaden the community and not restricting it by one’s participation.” By spreading the message of the Lab, safety of children and women and a smuggling- and trafficking-free Ethiopia in 10 years has become their vision. Hussein and Yihenew continue to fight for more justice and dignity for the vulnerable population of their country. Sharing obstacles and challenges with the community of the Lab gives them the necessary strength to achieve change.
“Change will not come by wish. It needs struggle and fight in a well planned manner. A plan should not be static, it should be revisable and good to be rearranged as needed. Success needs hunger, thirst, sleeplessness and exhaustion.”
Hussein Ahmed Wolle