Coming into this trip I knew I would walk away a changed woman. I prepared myself as well as possible for the extreme poverty, the hunger, the disease. I tried to learn a little Amharic, the most common of the more than eighty languages spoken here. I even tried the traditional food of Ethiopia. And I came ready to report back to you on all of those things. I came ready to tell you what was needed, but as I settle in tonight after a full day of site visits with FashionABLE and the Hamlin Fistula Hospital all I feel is hope.
This isn’t to say there isn’t need here. The need is tremendous. I have met adult women who are smaller than my own eleven year old daughter. I have seen bodies frail from malnourishment. I have met children so intense, so thirsty for affection they are everything you might imagine of orphans and so much more. And we haven’t even left Addis Ababa yet.
But I have also witnessed the most vibrant spirit I have ever seen. I have met people whose work is lifesaving in more senses of the word than I knew existed. I now understand why one of ONE’s greatest missions is to support local organizations on the ground. It’s because these people know what they’re doing.
At both the FashionABLE Scarf factory (which is so far from what you might imagine as a factory) and the Hamlin Fistula hospital I was deeply inspired by how holistically these organizations are approaching the unique problems they face.
FashionABLE’s partner organization, Women at Risk, has developed a comprehensive one year transition training program for the women they work with. One that begins with the simplest things; like teaching the women, former sex workers, to sleep at night and be awake during the day. They complete regular market need assessments in and around Addis Ababa and match the women’s natural strengths and interests with industries where there is need, jobs that can provide them and their children with a living wage. And at the Hamlin Fistula hospital, they don’t treat just the physical complications that arrive from Fistula, but the emotional trauma that the patients experience and the social constructs that lead to Fistula to begin with.
So, if there were just one thing I wanted you to know about today, about this experience so far, it’s that there is hope. There are organizations who are doing the work that needs to be done, those that are servicing a need with tremendous success and in such a way that it is scalable, so it can be extended to help even more women and children. And they’re not just changing the lives of the women with whom they work directly, but the lives of all women and children in Ethiopia. They are shaping social mores, erasing stigma that would previously leave women alone, homeless, and at risk. And, above all, they are well known in their communities for the work they do.
And, since I whole heartedly believe that if you stuck with me through those last six hundred words you deserve something amazing (and, yes, fine, because I would love to raise even more awareness about FashionABLE leading up to this holiday season) I’m giving away a scarf to one lucky reader who will be chosen at random when I return.
The scarf is the Ethanesh in Grey/Green. It came with my briefing packet before the trip and is a little extra special in that not only was it made here in Ethiopia by a woman who was liberated from dangerous and degrading sex work, it’s also travelled back here with me to meet the women who made it.
If you’d like to be entered in the drawing, leave a comment below and share this post on one (or more) of your social media networks; Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest — you choose, but I recommend all of the above.
I am currently traveling in Ethiopia as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign to report on how American-supported programs are improving and saving lives. ONE is a non-partisan organization that fights extreme poverty and preventable disease by pressing political leaders to support smart programs that do just that. They’re also launching a new initiative to focus specifically on Agriculture, which is where I’m most excited to join in. ONE doesn’t ask for your money, just your voice. It’s something I can get behind and I hope you can, too.
*All photos by the incredible Karen Walrond.