On the day we come together as a nation to honor our fallen heroes and heroines, we talk to Mr. Zerai Teklab, Director of the Department of Social Welfare at the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare (MLHW), about the Martyrs Trust Fund the government of Eritrea set up to support the families of martyrs. Ensuring the safety of the martyrs’ families in leading a comfortable life has been one of the number one priorities of the government since Eritrea’s independence. As a result, the MLHW has been promoting well-organized projects to support the spouses and parents of martyrs through monthly payments, by helping families to start small businesses and by providing vocational training that would enable them to stand on their own.
- Mr. Zerai, the government of Eritrea has been supporting the families of martyrs since independence. Would you please tell us more?
Right after independence, one of the priority programms the government tried to implement was taking care of the families the martyrs left behind. Even though the country was newly independent and the government had a lot on the plate to lead a new country, ensuring the safety of the families was a task that couldn’t wait. That is why in 1995 the government of Eritrea paid 10,000 Birr to every martyr’s family at a time it didn’t have much money. In 2004 the government started making a monthly payment of 500 Nkf to the families of martyrs, and until March 2020, it paid 4.9 Billion Nkf to the martyrs’ families.
- What is the assistance the ministry extends to the elderly or people who can’t reach the payment stations on time?
As I said before, the number one goal is to ensure the safety of the families. As such, the MLHW makes ways to ease such problems. For instance, for the elderly or people with disabilities who aren’t able to travel to get the payments, the ministry has prepared proxy documents which can be done easily without going to the court. Those people can get the support comfortably at home; however, the documents should be renewed every six months. There are 15 permanent payment stations and 37 mobile ones which travel near the families homes to make it easier for everyone to get the aid.
- The MLHW also collaborates with interested individuals and organizations locally and abroad to extend additional help for the families. How does it work?
Starting from 2003, the MLHW has been sending out to interested parties lists of names of martyrs’ families they could support. The plan was for every volunteer to support families (they can support as many as they can) for two years. Some of the volunteers didn’t want to stop supporting the families after the two-year period has elapsed as they have created a great bond with the families. There are also individuals who ask for an additional family to support after the two-year period. The volunteers are individuals, families, students, groups and organizations here at home and abroad. For instance, this year, volunteers from Eritrean pal- talk groups have made donations for hundred women to rehabilitate them and help them stand on their own feet. In addition, communities also play a great role by working on the farms of the families of martyrs. There are 15,600 families that are being supported by volunteers on top of the monthly payment they get from the government.
- What are the additional help the families get from the MLHW?
The MLHW rehabilitates some of the families by helping them start small business and dairy farms. On top of that, spouses of martyrs with very low income are provided with vocational training of their choice that allows them to be productive.
- Thank you for your time, anything you would like to add before we end the interview, Mr. Zerai?
Unlike other times, we are going to honor our Martyrs day in our homes because of the Corona Virus pandemic. I want to remind everyone to look out for one another. There shouldn’t be a life that gets wasted because of COVID-19.