Written by Helen
I’ve visited Ellilta several times now over the years, and they never cease to leave me feeling humble, in awe, and totally inspired.
Started 27 years ago by a dear friend Serawit (Cherry) Friedmeyer, the focus from the start is as it is now – to work with women who, for one reason or another, are caught up in street prostitution, but wish to exit that work and find a new life.
Ellilta now works in 3 cities in Ethiopia – Addis Ababa, Adama, and Bahir Dar. All three centres run the same three programmes: outreach and rehabilitation for the ladies wanting to exit prostitution, intervention for the children of those ladies to try and break the intergenerational cycle that tends to appear in this work, and prevention to try and educate the wider community (men and women) from both a demand and supply perspective. The prevention work is done through schools, churches, community groups, and advocacy work at governmental level.
In October this year I had the privilege of visiting the Addis rehabilitation programme, and hearing more about the work from the staff, as well as meeting with the girls and women on the programme and hearing some of their stories.
Here are a couple of the stories that the girls shared which give insight into their lives:
Tigiste came to Addis Ababa as a teenager to stay with her aunt so that she could get a better education. Unfortunately, she and her aunt fell out over religion and she ran away to the streets. She got a job as a dishwasher in a hotel but they didn’t pay her, and a waitress there told her about prostitution as an alternative means of income. So she gave it a go, and just carried on.
Then her parents passed away, and she found herself responsible for raising her young siblings. So she brought them from the village to Addis, and went back to prostitution so that she could put them through school. She tried to leave the work by setting up selling second hand clothes, but it didn’t work out and she returned to prostitution once again.
One night, when she was in a really low place, she met one of the Ellilta outreach workers, and that turned out to be the best thing. Ellilta introduced her to God, and God has given her hope for the future. Ellilta also give her money for rent and food, and she is so grateful to them.
Beza was the only child of a single mother, and lived up country. She used to go to school, but had to get work to help her mum after her mum became too ill to work herself. That led to Beza entering the world of prostitution.
She came to Addis to earn better money, but she got pregnant. Once the baby was born, she took the baby to live with her mum. That was seven years ago and the child is still there now. Beza continued in Addis so that she could earn money to send back to her mum for the child.
One night the client got vey abusive, resulting in Beza losing the sight in one eye. Still she had to continue as a prostitute as no other options. Then there was a massive accident that she got caught up in due to the work, and that was when she finally decided she needed to get out.
She found Ellilta soon after, and since then they have helped her find God. Now she has a strong spirit and is happy with God in her life. She can bake, she can crochet, and the ellilta family show her love, acceptance and encouragement. She feels like she can walk with her head held high again.
She uses the crochet to take orders and earn money but because of her eyesight it isn’t easy. She’d really like to work in a bank as she enjoyed maths at school.