One of our African Leadership staff members, Michele Maynard, recently spent time with some of the women from the “Ellilta” – Women at Risk program that Mocha Club supports in Nazaret, Ethiopia to help rehabilitate former sex workers. The word “Ellilta” means a shout of joy, such as during worship, weddings, or a new birth.
We’d like to share some of what Michele learned in spending time with these women. (Note: Due to the sensitive/embarrassing nature of prostitution, taking photos of the women requires cultural sensitivity. So we will only share photos when we have express permission from the women as to not endanger them in any way.)
a little background…
In Ethiopia, prostitution has always been evident but has increased since the 1990’s when communism collapsed in the country. As you can imagine, prostitution carries a stigma, and for those who are HIV-positive, even moreso. The girls have broken off most family ties once they leave their home to find work, and most family members do not know the true nature of what they do.
As the girls move from their homes to the bigger towns to engage in prostitution, their social support structure is destroyed. Their new circle of friends where they place their trust includes other prostitutes who quickly teach them the “tricks”.
Churches in Ethiopia do easily welcome them, even when they have changed their lives. Generally, church folk believe that they cannot change and so they do not have any safe spaces to be welcomed and supported.
Just as some girls are removed off the streets out of prostitution, unfortunately, just as quickly, they are replaced by another set of “new girls.” Sometimes these new girls are brought in from the countryside in promise of employment without the family really knowing the true nature of their work.
New bars are opening up all the time with a direct link to prostitution. The girls that sell alcohol in these bars are also likely to be the same girls selling their bodies.
the ‘woman at risk’ share…
Here are some of the things Michele learned in her discussions with the women…
1. The reasons cited for wanting to be part of the Women At Risk program:
- Being able to leave the life of prostitution
- Living a good life
- Provision of good counseling
- Support for medical expenses
- Having the opportunity to complete their education
- Being understood and helped with internal problems
2. Their greatest difficulties in coming into the program:
- They were accustomed to sleeping in the day and working at night. It took time to adjust. They did this by drinking tea, chewing gum and playing tennis.
- Most of them had other addictions such as smoking, sisha [a hookah water pipe], and chewing chat [also called khat, an addictive plant that grows in Ethiopia]. It took between 1 and 5 months to break these habits.
- Many of their former “prostitute friends” did not believe that they would change and succeed in the program and accused them of just coming for the benefits.
3. The provision of school fees for their children is a great assistance (there are currently 12 children being assisted).
4. They would prefer it if each woman in the program could be considered individually when it comes to the skills they are taught – for example, some women want to learn hairdressing, and not everyone wants to learn catering.
5. They would also like to continue with their college education and would like if some assistance could be provided for this area.