As I was leaving my neighborhood today, I was confronted with the many different sights and smells of Ethiopia. I walked by one house where they were cooking some Ethiopian food, the smell of the onions/garlic/ginger was so sweet in the air. Just a minute after that I walked by an area that smelled like a toilet, not such a sweet smell. Then I walked by a school and some restaurants and got in a public taxi. I passed many different kinds of people. Some were wearing suits, some were wearing nothing at all. I saw moms walking with their children and people going all different places. I saw some children who were most likely running errands for the family. One girl who couldn’t have been more than 8 years old was carrying a big container (maybe about 5 gallons), most likely filled with water, on her back.
It got me thinking about the many differences between Ethiopia and where I grew up in York, PA, USA. It’s not too often that you walk through a neighborhood in York that smells like a toilet! It’s also not common to see children working. But here, it is a reality of life. The entire family must pitch in and help out. The children will usually need to help their family with many different things, often times this means having some source of income that they can bring back to the family. This is a huge obstacle in getting these children an education, which is key to improving their lives. In fact, education is one of the main things required for a country to bring itself out of poverty.
It also got me thinking about the women that we help and how, far too often, their children also need to help them make some money. If they have a daughter, it is very likely that she will also start working as a prostitute as young as 7 years old! Since I grew up in the US it is hard for me to even comprehend this. My little sister just turned 9 years old, I can’t imagine her living this life. Let alone the thought of a 7 year old child working in any business, how can she work as a prostitute? I can’t even begin to imagine the problems that this will cause for her as she grows up.
Let me explain for you the kind of conditions that a daughter of one of these women would grow up in. The houses that you see here are typical in the area that we are working. These are the typical houses you find in the red light district where we are workingYou can see that they have curtains over their doorways, these are open when they are waiting for clients and closed when someone is inside with them. The chances of them having running water is very small and electricity usually isn’t more than a single light bulb in their tiny one-room house. They can pay up to $75 USD a month for one of these small houses, with the average probably being around $30-40. Oftentimes they have to pay daily, although they may not make enough money each day. This only forces them into a pit of debt to their landlord and doesn’t give the women any chance of getting out of this life without someone helping them.
This area is called Kirkos and it is one of the worst areas in Addis Ababa. The majority of the people living here are women who are working as prostitutes. Some estimate that there are more than 3,000 women working as prostitutes in this area alone (there are a few other areas like this around the city). They get paid a pittance for the work that they do. The typical amount that a guy pays to sleep with them is about 15 US cents. They can get up to around a dollar if the guy wants to spend the night. If tI took this picture during the morning when we drove through the area one dayheir landlord charges them $30 a month, that means that they need to sleep with around 150 guys each month! And that’s only for their rent, not even their food or any other expenses. Needless to say, these women have to work all day, every day, just to survive. You can see the woman on the left standing in her doorway waiting for a customer. I took this picture one morning when we were driving through this area. It is such a desperate struggle for life there, I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully come to terms with it. Every time I see the area, or even just talk about it, my heart breaks. I only hope that someday we can make a significant change here.
What really gets me is that girls are forced into this kind of life everyday. Some girls take up the work because they grew up watching their mom do it. Other girls come from the countryside thinking that they can find jobs in the city, but end up working as a prostitute (often times getting tricked by some of the pimps). As I said before, they can be as young as 7 years old. Teenagers are extremely common. There is actually a huge demand for the younger girls, Another shot taken during the morning in Kirkos, the red light districtas the guys often think that these girls are too young to be able to have any serious diseases. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth and HIV is extremely prevalent in this area. It is hard to say the exact prevalence rate among these women since most of them haven’t been tested, but I would guess that it has to be pretty close to 100%.
The life that these women live is so hard for us to relate to, because it is so far from our own lives. But, try to put yourself in their shoes. Or imagine if your daughter or sister were one of these women. You can begin to imagine how hopeless it is. You can’t even afford your rent, how would you even begin to think about escaping this life? This is a life that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. It is a life without hope, a life without love, a life full of pain. Our goal is to bring hope to this area. To help the women change their lives from something so despairing to something filled with hope.