The Government of Eritrea gives special attention, and takes full responsibility, for the welfare of families of martyrs who gave their precious lives for the independence and sovereignty of the country. On top of the government’s efforts, Eritrean nationals within the country and abroad have also proven, time and again, their commitment to assisting martyrs families with humble backgrounds. Besides, supporting one another is among the noble virtues of Eritrean society. The following is an interview with Mr. Zeray Tekleab, Director of the Martyrs Welfare Office at the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, regarding the support programs used to support families of martyrs both by the government and volunteer citizens.
- Thank you for your time Mr. Zeray. Please give us an overview of the activities made by your Ministry to support families of martyrs?
The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare acts as the main branch of the government for extending assistance to families that lost their fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters in the struggle for the liberation of Eritrea and to defend the country’s sovereignty. To make such efforts worthwhile, the Ministry has set up two units. The first unit oversees the regular monthly welfare of the families, while the second unit is responsible for organizing initiatives made by volunteer individuals or organizations to assist the families. The regular monthly financial support towards families of martyrs started in January 2004. The amount of money the government paid to support families of martyrs from January 2004 up to December 2021 has exceeded 5.2 billion Nakfa. The program undertakes its activities from 15 fixed welfare centers across the country, and extra mobile stations to reach families in remote areas.
- Were there any organized assistance ventures before 2004?
Indeed, the government of Eritrea has always given the issue of supporting martyrs families a priority and outlined a support initiative starting from the first years of Independence. Accordingly, in 1995 in the first phase of the compensation program, 10,000 Birr to the family of every martyrs. However, the money was not sufficient to bring a sustainable change in the lives of the families. Hence, the government initiated regular monthly financial support in order to ease the problems of the citizens.
- How about the additional support by volunteer individuals and organizations?
Eritrean nationals inside the country and abroad extend periodic material and financial support to the families of martyrs in addition to the regular financial support the government makes. Here, research are made on the most disadvantaged families who seek extra support on top of government assistance. We have representatives in all the local administrations and they do the research for us in identifying families that need special support. In addition, there are a number of Eritrean nationals abroad who have assumed the responsibility of permanently fostering selected families of martyr. There are also some citizens who have established special relations with particular families and continued assisting them for several years. The local administrations in various corners of the country have helped us identify families with special needs for support and report to us. All in all, over 160 million Nakfa has been raised by voluntary Eritrean nationals both from within the country and abroad, and the money was shared amongst 18,299 families.
- What can you tell us about some of the material and technical assistance?
The Ministry has been working intensely, especially to assist helpless women and children of martyrs. Accordingly, we have always toiled to encourage them to engage in some small businesses and other ventures so that they could be independent. To make this a reality, the Ministry has been trying to extend technical and material assistance to help them maintain a secure source of income. Meanwhile, we also conduct random inspections in person so as to make firsthand observation and asses the progress they have made. On top of this, the type of business or material they choose is first evaluated by advisors if it is applicable in their respective environment so as to ensure their efficiency. So far, around 1,309 families have become beneficiaries of material support, which amounts to 26,054,851 Nakfa.
- There are also vocational training?
Right, we are also trying to engage family members of the martyrs in some vocational training in cooperating with several companies and private training centers. This covers a wide range of training including weaving, pottery, culinary, hairstyling, hand crafts, wood work and metal work, computer applications, video shooting, auto mechanics, driving and others. Furthermore, it allows them to gain practical experience in the profession they choose and to have better jobs.The ultimate goal of the vocational training is to make them self-employed and lead stable life. Indeed, many citizens have become beneficiaries from these training programs.
- How do you evaluate the community’s role in supporting the citizens?
As I have mentioned earlier, the Eritrean people have a noble culture of caring and supporting one another. The local communities have a founding role in sharing the responsibility of the government regarding the supporting of families. As the local communities are the closest social institutions of a family they know well their actual condition and their limitation, so this helps to identify the ones in greater need. So the communities assist the citizens in many basic needs. For instance, in the rural areas, the countrymen support them in their farming activities, building houses and many other activities that require human power. During holidays, the communities share their resources and their time with them in order to show them their solidarity.
- Any final remarks?
Many citizens are supporting and fostering the families of those selfless citizens who paid their dear lives to defend their country. The nationals in diaspora have been playing a significant role in making the efforts to assist families of martyrs. Besides, Eritrean nationals inside the country are also assisting the citizens in many ways. For instance, Halay secondary school students, are among the exemplary who have initiated an assistance program for the families of martyrs, and up to now they have raised over 192,000 Nkf and shared it among 17 families. This is but just one example among many.