You cannot change the world, but you can change someone’s world.” -Mother Teresa
One night in 1992, Serawit “Cherry” Teketel, a young Ethiopian college graduate was driving home from dinner with her family when they came upon a moment that would change Cherry’s life forever. As their car pulled to a stop at a street corner in Addis Ababa, they saw a young woman flash them. The sight of this desperate prostitute who had no other way of earning a living, started a debate and made Cherry question her own circumstances in life. Although she was a recent university graduate, she had been unable to find a job for over a year but thankfully she had her family to fall back on. What if she didn’t have that luck? What if she was uneducated, poor and a single mother with no job? What would she do? Cherry’s questioning and compassion inspired her lifelong quest to get women off the streets and into a productive life away from prostitution.
After spending time on the streets, talking with girls and learning more about their issues, Cherry founded Women at Risk, a one-year rehabilitation program that aims to get girls and women out of prostitution and into a sustainable, self-reliant job and lifestyle. Women at Risk works on many different levels of rehabilitation. For the first six months, the women go through an extensive mental, physical and spiritual rehabilitation program that deals with addiction problems, health issues and psychological healing. The next six months involves skill training. Since Ethiopia has an extremely high unemployment rate and most of these women lack an education and come from severe poverty, vocational training is not an option. Cherry and her team realized that the women would need to have skills that would require little education and minimial training yet would provide them a livable income. After much brainstorming, Women at Risk implemented training courses in weaving, cooking and hairdressing.
During the year rehabilitation program, a woman must desire and commit to changing her life. In addition to the rehabilitation and skill training services, she will receive health care, day care, pocket money and groceries each week. Once she successfully completes the program, Women at Risk helps her gain employment or start her own small businesses a viable alternative to prostitution. Today, Cherry’s program has been a wonderful success. Women at Risk has helped over 360 women and over 90% of them have continued to live lives away from prostitution.
Close to the end of my two-week trip in Ethiopia as fellow with the International Reporting Project, my friend Elizabeth Ataley and I went to visit one of Women at Risk‘s partners Ellilta Products. We had heard about their gorgeous scarves through our social good blogging and work with ONE and fashionABLE. Both Elizabeth and I are proud owners and supporters of the Ellilta scarves sold in the US through fashionABLE so we wanted to meet with the women behind the scenes.