The suburbs of Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, sprawl across rough, mountainous terrain. A long road winds through the area, but most of the rural residents don’t own cars and the public bus runs just one day a week outside the city.
For students like eighth grader Derartu Ahemed, 17, the lack of transit and hilly commute frequently mean having to hitchhike to school. Derartu lives about four and a half miles from her school, a journey that would take hours by foot. She waits along the side of the road every day for up to an hour and a half, signaling for passing cars to pick her up. Regardless of how early she wakes up, she might still be late for school and therefore barred from class.
It’s really hard, but I have to keep trying.
Derartu sometimes waits so long for a ride that she gives up and returns home. Other days, she’s picked up by strangers, which has led to dangerous situations.
“There are some men who harass us physically, ask for our phone numbers, take our textbooks and exercise books and force us to go with them,” she says.
When she’s harassed, she says she runs away, sometimes leaving her books behind, and takes vehicles license plate to report drivers to the police. Derartu is determined to continue attending school so she can become a minister and have a better future.
“It’s really hard, but I have to keep trying,” she says.