It's a hard life... for some

Birtokan posing in her Santa hat and pouring coffeeIf young teens in the western world search the Internet for careers advice they will be inundated with ideas and opportunities. It’s rather different for our local girls. In Ethiopia, further education particularly at university is allocated to rather than selected by the individual.

One of our girls is completing a course to do office work but her heart is not in it - she would really prefer to undertake a beauty course. This situation is replicated. Others just cannot get through the education system. Another is retaking Grade 9 (Year 10) yet again, and another remains in Grade 4 (Year 5) despite being in her late teens.

Then there is Mulawork, who has been in the Y’tesfa Birhan programme for a while. She was one of the first girls I ever visited. Brought up by her grandmother she is now on her third house in the three years we have been here. Mulawork has been very ill. She developed lumps around her neck and her lower face swelled and she was oozing pus. Grandma borrowed money and paid a neighbour to carry her granddaughter to a taxi to take her to a local clinic. She was given daily injections and dressings, paid for by a donation from some individuals in America. She has now recovered, but as she has been ill for so long her school refused to enroll her for this year so she is at home with her grandma and auntie. Mulawork has been seen selling grass by the church.

We have a conundrum. Do we pay out money for courses that the girls are not invested in? Do we pay for school fees for a girl retaking the same grade for maybe the fourth time? How could money be brought into a situation like Mulawork’s? An alternative is needed.

This year the girls have been split into two groups, with the older ones working on a ‘make and sell’ scheme. They have taken photographs around the area featuring a Santa hat. There was some local verbal opposition to this but they managed to obtain some. These have been made into cards to sell initially to foreigners. The girls will be instructed on how to invest a percentage of the money received into new materials so their business may be sustained. Maybe cards could be replaced by something that would sell in the local community once the principle has been learned. The girls are keen as for some, where there is no money at home, the only asset they would have to sell is themselves.

During a recent visit to Mulawork’s home it was found she had been learning weaving from her grandma. We encouraged this with some money for more materials and an order was placed for six table mats and coasters. She now has a goal.

Will this solution to the age-old problem of lack of self-sufficiency succeed? It has to be attempted for the girls for whom career opportunities are not even a distant dream.


An older female friend of our family was in the bottom set of a subject - and the school was enlightened enough to stop teaching that set the subject and replaced it with practical matters such as basic sewing and knitting, basic car maintenance, basic budgeting banking and book-keeping,  cleaning and hygiene, house maintenance etc etc. When she grew up she remained single and was always thankful that she had been taught the basics of self-sufficiency. Not sure whether would be appropriate in your case but I thought I would pass it on! [P.S. I think the subject concerned was maths so the school would certainly NOT be permitted to do this this in modern-day England!!]

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