Yonas Taye was working with cobblestones on a damp day of July 24 in the northern outskirts of Addis Ababa at a camp near “Legtafo”. Though the work is grueling and grimy he has reason to be happy because he was formerly homeless.
He arrived from Modjo city 76Km south east of Addis Ababa and began working on cobblestones two months ago at a makeshift training together with hundreds of people from similar backgrounds throughout Ethiopia.
“I earn at most 200 birr a day from manufacturing cobblestones but that is a welcome relief from my previous life which was lost and hopeless,” said Yonas adding that the psychological education given to him and his colleagues has helped him gain self confidence and belief in himself.
His ultimate vision in his life is to be a successful businessperson and he hopes to be able to save some money from his cobblestone work in order to do this.
There seemed to be a sense of self purpose and buoyancy among the mostly male workers despite the overcrowded and sparse accommodations.
Shimelis Adam, Site Manager at the cobblestone creation site said the area lying on roughly 30.5 hectares of land houses about 1,834 young people who were previously homeless.
He has also created 5,000 auxiliary sites for service providers to the cobblestone laborers. This has created a supply chain for people carving the stone and using it on the road projects.
One cobblestone is sold at an average price of 3 birr and 60 cents with approximately 37,000 people engaged in this activity at this camp and three others located on the outskirts of Addis Ababa near stone quarries.
Cobblestones do appear to have some issues as they seem to crumble after limited use and sometimes when other infrastructure work is done they become dismantled.
Fekade Haile (Eng.), General Manager at the Addis Ababa City Roads Authority says there are some issues with quality control that they are working on.
He said some of the problems with the cobblestones have to do with drainage issues. Manholes get clogged with concrete rubbish and sewage from storm water, for instance. He said coordination work with state utility companies like the Ethio Telecom and the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation are progressively being improved to alleviate the problem.
Cobblestone street paving work started in Ethiopia, introduced through the cooperation of the German Technical assistance organization (GIZ). The work has been implemented in the four corners of Ethiopia, while being seen as a means of mass employment. It is used primarily in inner city areas and narrow roads as well as for aesthetic value.