Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Can You Help the Women of Adet?

When I was in college, I was blessed to get to know a family who lived about ten minutes from campus. They hired me to help care for their beautiful and joy-filled daughter, Ashley, who was born with cerebral palsy. The first summer, I sublet a tiny apartment with three other people, spent my days with Ashley and my nights flipping burgers at a fast food joint. The next summer, they invited me to live with them. That summer that they became more than employers... they became family.

Ashley has two incredible sisters. Her twin, Caitlin, was 11 when I first met them. Jessie was 13. The summer I lived with them, they were 12 and 14, not ages I usually enjoy. But I could never get enough of these two girls. They were creative, interesting and independent-minded adolescents... and I was certain they would grow into amazing adults.

They have.

Jessie is married and raising the most beautiful boy in the Southwestern U.S. Ashley's beauty and joy was too great to be confined in her small body... she now lives in Heaven, where she can be with all of us at the same time.

And Caitlin. Caitlin, the young girl who never took any guff off of me (or anyone else), who knew her own mind when everyone else her age was caught up in the latest pop star or boy band, she is serving in the Peace Corps, stationed in Adet (or Addis), Ethiopia. She has been there for 16 months, working primarily with orphans, vulnerable children, and people living with HIV/AIDS.

The small town of Adet is located in the West Gojam Zone of Ethiopia's Amhara Region, 42 kilometers southeast of the regional capital, Bahir Dar. Located in one of the country's most agriculturally productive areas, Adet is home to some 25,000 residents: farmers, merchants, teachers, students, and government sector workers.

Adet is also home to a group of women who work outside the traditional occupational realm: commercial sex workers (CSWs). Over 200 women in Adet are involved in sex work, typically preparing and selling homemade alcohol from their homes to attract clients and earn income . In 2009, twenty local CSWs came together to establish Yerefu Atalelna Guadenyochachew with the goal of opening a cafe as an alternative means of support.

Many of these women, ranging in age from 20-46, share a similar background, having come to Adet from outlying areas as teenagers in search of domestic work. To support themselves and their families, the young women eventually turned to sex work. Now organized as a group, the women share something else: a desire to abandon sex work, change their careers, and improve their lives.

Funds for the Addis Berhan (meaning "New Light") Café will come largely from the Adet community. Adet Anti-Malaria Association will contribute cash to the funds that have already been raised by the women's group. Land for the café will be donated by the town administration. Additionally, transportation of materials will be provided by the project participants.

Financially, this project will result in a self-sustaining business after the initial contribution of start-up capital. Ongoing expenses will be covered by café proceeds.

To get started, these women need the equivalent of $6,820. They are receiving nearly 2/3 of this money from the local community. I had an email from Caitlin recently asking for even the smallest amount of help. The women need to raise $2,586.44 to be able to walk away from a life of desperation (the HIV infection rate among CSWs is significantly higher than any other population group, on a continent overrun by this deadly disease).

$10 can purchase tea kettles.
$25 can provide a month's worth of coffee beans.
$100 can purchase bread ovens

If you're anything like me, you probably haven't given Ethiopia much thought in the past 20 years. Every December, when I hear "Do They Know It's Christmas?" on the radio, I remember the famine, the terrible pictures of children with lost eyes and swelled bellies from my childhood. But, unfortunately, Africa doesn't get much play in our media, and therefore, not much attention from most of us in the U.S.

Media attention or not, Africa is still a desperately poor continent, overrun by poverty, by governmental corruption, by war, and by disease. HIV/AIDS is decimating the population of this continent. In the west, we rarely hear about HIV/AIDS anymore; people are living with the syndrome, longer and more symptom-free. In Africa, people die from this terrible disease and children are born HIV positive every single day. Commercial sex workers are at the greatest risk of contracting this deadly disease... and passing it on to their children.

I know we are living through a rough economic recession. I know that money is tight and the need is great. But, look at how little it takes to improve their lives. These women aren't CSW's because it's such a great career path... they have no other way to provide for their families. For as little as $10, we can help them find a new way. We can be a beacon. We can reach out across continents, across the world, and be a small sign of solidarity, of hope.

If you are able to help, please click here to reach a secure site run by the Peace Corps.

If you are unable to help financially, please pray for these women, for the success of their project. Please tell others about the work the Peace Corps is doing here, and throughout the developing world. Continue to keep these volunteers in your prayers... for the work they do is vital, though often unnoticed.

Here is a short video Caitlin posted on YouTube, if you'd like to see more of Adet:

Thank you. Thank you for all of the prayers and support you are offering the women of Adet, and for the volunteers serving in the Peace Corps throughout the world.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Jen! Was it really only a summer that you lived with us? Seems like you were too big a part of our lives to have stayed with us for such a short time!!!

    I love what you said about Ashley- more perfectly put than anything that's ever been said about her, I think. Thank you.

    Hope you and yours are well, Jen! We miss you...