Healthy Relationships Make Healthy Selves

Dec 25 , 2018
By Hanna Haile

One of the first lessons in school along with alphabets is how to make friends, an important human trait. Human relationships are pivotal as to who we become in our lives. In today’s Addis Abeba, many are working hard to attain goals and are slowly forgetting the first lesson we have learned - making friends.

As someone in their late twenties, I know that making friends now is much more difficult than it was in my younger years. There are too many schedules to synchronise, not to mention the anxiety of trying to fulfill one’s life goals. Even spending time with family members has become an act of appeasement for the most part.

While there are many who enjoy the social scene in Addis Abeba, most of us have become the type that meets at funerals and weddings. The difficulty of getting around in our beloved city, compounded by ever demanding schedules, has left many of us in between achievements but not a part of real communities.

We might have made promises with friends in grade school to stay together forever only to later become strangers. Yet not all childhood friendships are healthy. I remember my mother advising me to have fewer friends though it did not make sense at the time.

Yet growing up, I realize that she was wary of what bad friends would mean for my life. There are many lessons in Ethiopian children stories about choosing friends wisely.

Likewise, there are many lessons one learns about friendships. One such place for me was while working in a juvenile detention centre in Addis Abeba. There are many young people who have been neglected by their communities there. Some families would even try to willingly submit their children to the broken system of public juvenile rehabilitation centres. If one is to spend time in this facility, it is easy to be left wondering whose responsibility it was for these kids to end up in a place like that.

Who was responsible for the broken children who were surrounded by unhealthy relationships? And what are we doing today to contribute to their rehabilitation?

As many around Addis Abeba have also witnessed, there are now a shocking number of children on the streets using drugs openly, and all we are able to do is lock our car doors and clutch our bags in case these children try and take our belongings.

This also is not an issue that can only be dealt with institutionally. Watching these children, one sees their friendships, mentorships and street-borne community. It leaves one wondering if a child only chooses the uncertainty of the streets when the home’s certainty is even more unbearable.

An artist that I had known closely shared with me his life in the same detention center. He was arrested and charged for stealing cigarettes, although he says he did not smoke. The cigarettes were ordered by his father who was a drug addict and an alcoholic who was also later convicted and spent time in prison.

My acquaintance though made a life for himself as a gifted artist who performs regularly. Yet he deals with that toxic relationship - even today in the new relationships he fosters. He admits he would like to build a better life for himself.

Few have the luck he had. On our first lessons of making friendships, we were not taught lessons on how to make them healthy. Relationships with friends and family ought to be healthy and we must continue to learn how we can make them as such.

I know I have cut off many relationships in my life for that reason, but I have also been weak at strengthening and prioritising relationships that have been very positive. The endeavour, as we march towards a new Gregorian year, is figuring out how we can be healthier for our community or, most importantly, ourselves.

PUBLISHED ON Dec 25,2018 [ VOL 19 , NO 974]

Hanna Haile is the founder of Zellan Creative & Cultural Center. She can be reached at (

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