Sheba, 23, has a youthful round face and beautiful black hair pulled back into a curly ponytail. Her toenails are painted shiny silver. Sheba had a “very good life” until her father died. She went to school and lived at home with her parents. After her father died, things changed.
“We didn’t have enough,” she says. Her relationship with her mother deteriorated and she left home at age 18 and moved to another town. After working at several jobs, not making enough money, until she met a girl living next door who “lived much better”.
You can probably guess what this other girl did. Like her, Sheba became a prostitute. When she talks about this time of her life, her face is solemn and she does not delve into details. In 2011, she came to Women at Risk and FashionABLE, and started with the organisation’s yearlong programme (!) that helps usher women out of prostitution and into lives where they can earn money, support themselves and their children if they have any, and love themselves again.
The women earn money by making scarves (spinning and dyeing the thread and weaving on looms) in a project run by Women at Risk and fashionABLE. I met Sheba on the visit to the headquarters in Addis Ababa I went on with ONE. Sheba roasted coffee beans, then served us coffee, before telling us her story and showing us the scarf named after her, a beautiful square blue scarf with the appearance of denim.
It’s when Sheba talked about the difference in her life now, she becomes animated, speaking quickly about the future. She talks about going to church and looking after her home. She talks about visiting her mother. “I want to pursue my education,” she says. “I want to reach women who were in the darkness.”
I can’t imagine what it must be like for Sheba to sit and talk to a group of bloggers who don’t speak her language. In a way, I wonder what it must be like to be surrounded by strangers who look at you avidly and find your story of “triumph over adversity” inspiring.
But Sheba’s story is moving.
We had an amazing visit to fashionABLE – we met the women, we put on gloves and helped dye cotton, we watched them work on the looms (some bloggers had a go). And we shopped. Oh, how we shopped.
When we left, the shelves were practically empty. I bought 11, for gifts from now til Christmas. But don’t worry. Go ahead and buy an affordable scarf or three (only $36 US). They’re making more as we speak.
I’m travelling in Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org), a nonpartisan, advocacy organization dedicated to the fight against extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. ONE works to convince governments (the US, as well as others) to invest in smart programs that help to eliminate poverty and preventable disease in a sustainable way. We are here to tell the success stories of the people and programmes we see. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice.
Visit the ONEMoms / ONEMums website to read posts from all the bloggers, follow the #ONEMums and #ONEMoms hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, and like the ONEMoms Facebook page.