Chanyalew’s Story, Ethiopia


My name is Chanyalew Erkissa, an Ethiopian national working in Gambella, Ethiopia, on the border with South Sudan. My association with UNHCR dates back to 1989 when I was still a young high-school student. I started very low as a part-time security guard in the UNHCR office compound in Gambella to support my schooling and, over the years, assumed different roles including radio operator, clerk typist, Admin/Finance clerk, IT clerk, Field Assistant for repatriation and finally my current role as Admin/Finance associate.

All these years, I have seen thousands of Sudanese [now South Sudanese] refugees come and go. My happiest moments were the years between 2006 and 2009 when we assisted tens of thousands of Sudanese/South Sudanese refugees to go home. As repatriation assistant, I led repatriation convoys from Gambella all the way to the border at Kurmuk — a tiring three-day journey but very much rewarding in the end. It was heart-warming to witness the emotional reunion of refugees with their family and friends at the border after many years of separation. Both sides were shedding tears of happiness.

But it’s sad and very unfortunate to see all that good work being undone with tens of thousands of South Sudanese refugees coming back to Gambella, fleeing the current crisis in their young country. I hope and pray for South Sudanese leaders to be able to rationalize and end the suffering of their citizens.


My family lives in the capital Addis Ababa, about 700 km away from where I live and work. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to spend time with my wife and children. The longest I lived with them was two months, and that’s in the good old days when we had paternity-leave entitlements of that length. My wife is very understanding but the kids couldn’t just comprehend why I have decided to live away from them despite my repeated explanation. They want me to take them to school every morning and to the playground when school closes. Quite frankly, the push from my children does sometimes put my inner strength to stay to a test. But then, I pause and ponder and say to myself, ‘if the refugees do not lose hope, how can I?’

Chanyalew Erkissa

UNHCR Gambella, Ethiopia.

1 family torn apart by war is too many

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