Before arrival in Ethiopia we received our itinerary, and I read that we were to visit the site where the FashionABLE scarves are made; having already checked out their website I knew they were a not for profit project in Ethiopia making stylish and on-tend scarves to sell predominantly to American women. I had been sent a sample but to be honest I am a bit clumsy style wise and I had no idea how to wear it, so I left it at home. Big mistake as I have 20 stylish women with me, all of whom are more than happy to sort me out and now I am the proud owner of a couple of scarves.
On our visit today we met with Cherry Friedmeyer who is the Director of an NGO called ‘Women at Risk’, this is an outreach organisation that works to get women sex workers off the street and into a year long rehabilitation program. I think I love Cherry, this women has more passion and drive than I have seen in a long time. Her love for all the girls that they rescue is so apparent and the women love her too and that is really special.
This post today is about Mulu, one of the women workers I met at FashionABLE, and as she spoke it occurred to me that we are not so dissimilar in many ways. I cannot even bring myself to imagine if I had been born in Ethiopia and ended up working as a sex worker; that for me is too massive to comprehend, but it easily could have happened but for a different birth country.
- Mulu and I are the same age
- We are both mothers to daughters
- We both love our work and have a passion for it
- We both love to see others overcome adversity and wish to help that happen
- We both love God and worship as Christians
This is Mulu (in the blue) along with Cherry as she told us her story yesterday. She smiled throughout and truly seemed to have come to terms with the path her life had taken. At FashionABLE they call her “the mother” as she looks out for the younger girls.
Mulu (which means ‘the cup is full’) told us -
That at about age 11 her parents died and she was sent away from her village to live with extended family; but she never felt included there, and at the age of approximately 16/17 she fell in love with a man and went off to live with him. Within a couple of years she had a baby girl, and after some time his family was very unhappy with her relationship as Mulu was from a different tribe and this was not acceptable to them.
Her husband told her to go to the city and continue her education and he would join her there in the future; he kept their daughter with him. Mulu was working as a domestic and struggling to make ends meet when a girl she knew told her she could introduce her to a way to make more money, this was how she became a prostitute.
Mulu worked in the sex trade for many years and felt cheap and disgusting; but about five years ago she met the Women at Risk organisation and started in the rehabilitation program…. the rest for her is ancient history.
I was so pleased to hear Mulu tell us that she now had peace and had found peace with God. There was nothing for her to be ashamed about anymore. Each day she comes in early to work and has a sense of pride and achievement. It is at this point that Mulu and my stories come back in line, except that Mulu just sees her daughter in the summer as she still lives a long way with her father.
I asked Mulu to tell us about her daughter and exactly what I expected happened, her face filled with joy and she spoke of her 19 year old girl who wanted to study social sciences at university in the future. She has just passed her 10th grade exam with exceptional marks and Mulu smiled broadly as we all cheered on her girls success and told Mulu how proud her daughter must be of her transformed life.
Mulu tells the same but different story of every woman working at FashionABLE. They all had very tough starts and ended up in the sex trade but they had enough drive and determination to help themselves get out. Cherry told us about how the girls have to be desperate and ready to start the rehabilitation program as it is very hard going for them. Most have addictions, mainly to khat (a flowering plant which gives mild amphetamine-like results) and often they have emotionally controlling boyfriends or husbands. The first step of rehabilitation is to teach the girls to be awake in the day and asleep at night and this is a massive change for them, it did not even occur to me, but of course…
Not bad enough is it that the women are having to sell their bodies for the money to have basic provisions, we learnt that the lowest paid prostitutes will earn about 30 cents per trick and even the highest paid will only earn $15. Can you even imagine? I certainly can’t. Thank goodness all the women that have come into the program do not have to worry about this anymore. They earn an allowance of 450 Birr, that is about $26 as well as medical care for them and their dependants, a roof over their heads and enough fruit and vegetables to keep them healthy. Once rehabilitated and trained in one of the skills they choose to take on, scarf making being just one of them, they earn far more and have a real living wage and are also able to earn productivity bonuses and to take work home to complete whilst spending time with their children.
I’d urge you to take a look at the Live FashionABLE site and to find out more about the story of how this wonderful project started out. Of course you can also buy yourself a beautiful scarf or purchase one as a gift. They cost from $28 each and that’s about £17 currently plus about £5 for shipping from US to UK. Here’s a link to to my current favourite.
Then for those of you who enjoyed my audio recording yesterday here is my lowdown on day 2, which includes a bit about our visit to the Hamlin Fistula Hospital, I hope to find time to write about this too. Thanks for the great comments about my audio recording, I’ll keep doing them and thanks so much for all the sharing, commenting and support of Jen, I and ONE. You rock readers! Mich x
All image credits (unless othersie stated) Karen Walrond at Chookooloonks.
If you think others will enjoy taking this journey with me, then please share this and my other ONE Ethiopia posts and don’t forget to sign up to ONE and offer your voice. I am taking this journey with Jennifer Howze of BritMums, so do follow her journey too and follow #ONEMoms #ONEMums on Twitter.
I am currently in Ethiopia travelling with a group of 11 other inspirational Mums and Moms as part of an expense paid trip courtesy of the ONE Campaign. Our trip is about success – Living Proof — of what is working and why it is important that we continue to support projects that are making a huge, measurable difference for less than one percent of the entire US budget. It is about letting more people know what a tremendous difference the US and UK are making in the lives of millions around the world. And it is about adding thousands more voices to those already letting their elected officials know they support these life-saving programs.