I'm Zara Khalique, i run Keep It Bright, and was blessed enough to be chosen to go to Ethiopia (thanks to the brilliant Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy & wonderful Ruth Ibegbuna of Reclaim) to work with street children there for a week with the amazing charity that is Retrak. In their own words, this is what they aim to do;

"Retrak is a UK based charity that works with street children in Africa to give them a real alternative to life on the street. There are numerous reasons why children live & sleep on the streets such as poverty; family strife; abuse; being orphaned, often as a result of HIV/AIDS; war and famine. Often abused or violated on the street, regarded as barely human & on the very fringe of society, they eke out an existence, begging or scavenging through rubbish for food. Our aim is that these children can realise their full potential and discover their inherent worth.
Our primary goal is to enable street children to return to life in a caring and stable family environment, either with their own family, foster family, or by living independently in the community."

They do all kinds of amazing work with the children; ranging from sports activities to education, counselling to medical care, as well as providing food and shelter at their day centres & night shelters in Ethiopia, Kenya & Uganda.  In Ethiopia alone there are around 150,000 children living on the streets, 11,000 in it's capital Addis Ababa. Numbers so big can be hard to register in your mind as a reality, but that is A LOT of children, alone and at vulnerable. Retrak wants to help these kids have a stable and bright future instead of just helping them out short-term.

To raise money for them, i put out a 'Count Your Blessings' t-shirt (get yours by clicking the link) from which all profit goes to Retrak. We are blessed beyond belief, and if you know me you know i preach count your blessings 24/7, i think it's so important to be grateful for what we have, especially when we're as fortunate as we are.
I went to Addis to work with their team out there, with 10 members of Greater Manchester Police (a team fundraises and goes out every year from the GMP!); Adam, Kate, John, Danielle, Steph, Tracey, Jemma, Nic, Nicola & Jonathan, Terry who also works with Reclaim and the amazing Anna from the UK Retrak team holding us altogether! Here's my diary...



Woke up this morning super-excited! til now it's just been surreal. Can't wait to meet the kids & do the workshops, wanna do some sewing lessons and stuff, got 21kg of art materials and sweets packed!


Just arrived at the hotel, it's almost 5pm here - first impressions; Addis is so much greener than i imagined it to be, loads more modern too, for instance the way a lot of people are dressed would fit right in in England. There was a lot of people begging at the van windows on the way, alot of young mothers with babies. A few of the group are pretty shocked by what the city's like, but it reminds me alot of some areas of Pakistan i've been to, so it seems pretty familiar already.
The views from the hotel are amazing, can see so much of the city from our room!
Just got back from our first night-drive to see whats really happening on the streets of Addis for ourselves, it was mostly how i'd imagined since i already knew the 11,000 figure, but it's just seems so surreal that this is the reality that these kids face. It's pretty cold at night here and the kids are literally just lying on the street with a piece of material covering them, little bundles all down the pavements. These kids literally have nothing; no love or support, no food, no shelter, nothing to call their own, no money, no safety and no hope, and some of these kids are just 5 years old. All the things we take for granted, all the 'basics' are things they're lacking. Children this age usually just spend time playing and learning, being loved and looked after, all things which are essential for proper mental and emotional growth.
 Heard a statistic that really shocked me, within 2 weeks of being on the streets 98% of children have been sexually abused :( i'd heard before coming that girls on the street are usually swept straight into prostitution but seeing it was ridiculous, they were literally just lined up and they were still dressed like kids, most of them wearing headscarves, was just really sad and shocking. Made me so angry that this is 'acceptable' over here, a really hard thing to see and not be able to do anything about it :(


Been at the drop-in centre a couple hours, it's really nice, the boys are absolutely beautiful! Greeted us with the biggest smiles and handshakes all around, so lovely. They can't speak much english but they're showing alot of love for Man Utd ! It's crazy how selfless & kind they are, even though they have nothing, they're the first to share; we just had their breakfast break, where they have a hot drink, a bread roll & a banana, and numerous kids were offering me their own cos they saw i wasn't eating, even though it was their first meal of the day, it was just so touching. Crazy how back home we have everything and so many people are reluctant to share/give of what they have, so many lessons to be learnt from these kids. To start the day we introduced ourselves and then there were some warm up ball games etc, the boys are so happy just so have new footballs & visitors!
Just done our first art session, went really well! Got the kids to make a piece of art about themselves/things they like, they all put so much effort in and it was great! Afterwards we got out the CD player and everyone was dancing & singing, was lovely.


 Just finished our second full day at the drop-in centre, was really good! The way we've been doing things is splitting our team up and the kids into 2 groups, outdoor and indoor activities then swapping round. Outdoors there's been loads of football drills, circuit training, rounders, football, other outdoor games which the kids absolutely love. Indoors we've been doing more art-based stuff, the first activity today was a bit of a geography lesson, with some football influence & colouring too! The boys are so enthusiastic about everything we do, and put loads of effort in, it's really nice to see.

Had our various breaks (with yum food made at the centre by the lovely staff!) and after lunch we did my activity, sewing! I've seen some really big holes/cuts/rips in the boys' clothes since we've been here so i wanted to fix them, also teach them how to sew, let them customise their own clothes (i usually do customising workshops back in england) and just generally give them a chance to make stuff. The session was brilliant, the kids got stuck in from the off, sewing and cutting and created some really cool stuff.

Wish the session could've been longer, but we'll finish off tomorrow (the kids stay at the centre til 2pm everyday, then are back out on the street working for their dinner til 7pm when they can go to the night shelter, this is so they don't become completely dependent). Was hard not to get emotional when seeing how badly some of their clothes were worn, pants with crotches split, jean legs completely open etc, can't believe they sleep out in the freezing cold in clothes like this (incase you're wondering why we didn't bring them all brand new clothes there's a few reasons, they tend to sell just sell new stuff when they get it instead of keeping it cos they need the money; they can get robbed of new things on the street; etc).
After the session, the kids helped clean up, they just seem to have really good manners & morals, i love them! You forget that these same kids have lived out on the street, some of them will have done for years, can't imagine what they've been through. Some of them are so small/young aswell, already having had to fend for themselves and having no safe place to be, no-one to trust before Retrak found them. I'm so glad Retrak and organisations like it exist, cos no one seems to care much about street children in Addis, they're treated like vermin. The kids are so beautiful, kind & talented, it's unimaginable that anyone could neglect or mistreat them, so sad. The centre gives them adults to look up to and to build trust with, since some of them really don't trust adults when they first come in thanks to how they've already been treated.

 Retrak works to help street children rejoin/find their own families where possible, find a stable family environment or for the older ones, helps them get vocational training so they can make a life for themselves. They're not a childrens home, as they know that children need at least one person to be there for them full-time and children's homes can't provide that. Retrak is a half-way home for these kids; they give them breakfast, lunch, safe guarded shelter at night, they teach them life-skills, english, lots of different stuff, as well as counselling, social workers, a nurse and other one-to-one support to help them get back up on their feet. The Retrak centre takes in as many kids as they can manage (we're working with 50-60 at the moment and it's pretty much full), they find new children when they have space after taking children back to their homes (this process can take a while as the children don't always know where they're from and it takes a lot of effort to track down their families and to drive up to where they live to look for them). The massive amount of money the GMP have raised this year is gonna help so much and hopefully help so many kids off the streets for good. Can't believe so much bad stuff happens out here, but so thankful there are amazing people trying to help fix things. The staff here are all truly beautiful people.


End of the third day, been a rough one for me, woke up feeling really ill, tried to finish my sewing work but couldn't hack it, then ended up throwing up 6 times in an hour.. Felt like i was gonna pass out etc then Anna made me go to the nurse and i rested for a few hours, then felt rubbish again but the nurse sorted me out, finally felt like myself again and not a zombie by the end of the day! Apparently a few of the boys came and asked about me when i was asleep, so cute. Anna is an angel, looked after me all day, the nurse was brilliant too, feel much better now, though i felt so rubbish for missing out on time with the boys / fixing stuff but the team smashed today! They finished all the sewing work, and started making the boys friendship bracelets. Also they painted up the playground area of the centre and made it really lovely and colourful, AND they fixed lots of stuff and varnished the floors..


Not written since the day before last, got ill again that night, so just rested loads and got an early night, everyone else went out for dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant with the Retrak staff and apparently got involved with some traditional dancing! gutted to have missed it :') Then yesterday i stayed at the hotel to rest and got some antibiotics, but had to miss out on a day with the boys.. The team did a sports day with them which went really well, then last night we all went for a proper lovely meal at the Ethiopian Ambassadors house, was lovely to spend time with everyone, and lots of links were made for Retrak!


Went to the markets today, we've been wanting to buy all the lovely local stuff all week, so it was really nice to finally have a gander, we went to these monthly markets at a church that are put on by all the local charities, which was even better! There was so much nice stuff, lots of painted wood, beaded things, pottery, shawls, toys.. we all got some nice stuff.
We've just been up to Entoto Mountan, the views were amazing. We went to St. Mary Minilik & Taitu's Memorial Museum & Palace, really nice to see some Ethiopian history and artifacts, the amount of handwork and effort that must've gone in to their beautiful ceremonial robes & umbrellas is crazy, i always find stuff like that so inspiring. The old palace is the quietest place i've been to since we've been here, even though there are people living up here, it's so peaceful. 
On the way up and down the mountain, we saw women, old and young carrying these massive stacks or wood ALL the way down the mountain, which was really hard to just watch, we stopped and gave some of them money, it's just crazy to think that they do that all day everyday, must be so exhausting, literally back-breaking work :(

It's the Great Ethiopian Run tomorrow (or walk for some of us!) 10km around the city and i've been looking forward to it all week but am kinda nervous now cos there's gonna be 40,000+ people so who knows what'll happen! Early start, lets see how it goes..


It's 6am and i've just woken up to the beautiful sounds of Bob Marley, being blasted out from somewhere in the city for the Run and a sunrise. We're leaving shortly to do the run, but then we have our last day with the kids today, which is gonna be emotional.. We're having a party for them though which'll be fun, plus we entered them all in for the run and got them all new running shoes, should be a good day! 

Just got back, today was crazy, so non-stop! The Run was really cool, nice to walk around Addis and see everything, the atmosphere was great; everyone was happy, loads of singing and dancing, costumes, and since we were all wearing Ethiopias colours it looked great too! After we got our medals for finishing, we met the boys and went straight to the drop-in centre for the celebration, it was really hectic cos we only had a bit of time, but was really great and colourful, lovely to see them all just having fun. Got my tiger outfit and facepaint out and me and the girls painted everyones faces, there was bubbles, balloons, dancing, loads of sweets and a lovely lunch from the centre staff. Was really strange saying bye to the boys, can't imagine not seeing them again! Gonna miss their beautiful smiles, so lucky to have met them, just glad to know that they're gonna be looked after by the amazing Retrak team, they're in the best hands.


Massive thankyou to everyone at Retrak, the brilliant GMP team and everyone who's helping to raise money for this amazing cause, they really do make a massive difference to all the kids they help, go check out their website for more info at http://retrak.org and get to http://keepitbright.bigcartel.com/product/count-your-blessings to buy the Count Your Blessings t-shirt, spread a very important message & all the profits go to Retrak!

Stay grateful for what you have, make the most of it and keep spreading the word to others because we really are more fortunate than we can ever imagine.