Living in one room with five other members of your family may not seem like exactly the lap of luxury, but when ten years ago you and your children were living at the side of the road under a plastic sheet, it’s actually something to get pretty excited about.
Hannah lives in Lideta with her husband, who is HIV positive, her three children, her niece and her grandson. With the support of World Vision, she purchased a washing machine to set up her own laundry business, and now takes in washing from her community. This is the family’s only source of income.
Despite having so little, Hannah is keen to share. She welcomes us into her home quite literally with open arms and enthuses about the support she has received from World Vision. “Take the kitten!” she exclaims, when we coo over her pets, “take me if you like! It is the least I can offer.”
She proudly shows off her store room, complete with supplies of injera that she has prepared over the last few days, and crouched in the narrow passageway that leads from the front door to the main room of the house proceeds to cook us a feast. Chairs are strung from the ceiling, pink lacy cloths cover her coffee table, and photos of her sponsors sit proudly alongside a photograph of her daughter graduating from school.
Her daughter Kalkidan is 19 now, but was once a World Vision sponsored child. Her younger brother Mesfin though is now receiving sponsorship. We ask Kalkidan what her plans are for the future. ‘She is training’, we are told. What does she want to be? ‘A doctor,’ she says.
Throughout our visit Hannah is full of smiles – a natural in front of the camera. We are in a foreign country, in the house of a stranger, yet I have never been made to feel more welcome.
Later in the day we meet Inish and I am blown away by her passion and determination. It is all I can do not to cry as she tells us about the changes in her life over the last ten years. The emotions I feel are partly sadness that it has taken so long for women in Addis Ababa to get to this point, but mainly an admiration for the incredible strength that women like Inish are showing in the face of adversity – a pride almost, even though we have only just met, of Inish and all the women like her who, with the help of organisations like World Vision, are taking their futures into their own hands.
In the UK, some people talk about feminism as though it’s something from the past, something that we don’t need anymore, yet just ten years ago women like Inish had very different lives. Women didn’t leave their homes, she tells us. They cooked, cleaned, and then sat. You didn’t see many women out and about, socialising was kept to a minimum, and it was unusual for women to be engaged in work that had any long-term prospects.
And yet here is Inish.
Every day she cooks over 100 injera and sells them to hotels and to individuals. Every month she earns enough money to save a little, as an investment in her family’s future. ‘Where do you see yourself in another ten years?’ we ask. She tells us she plans to have a big shop, something that will benefit her children too.
These women were amazing to meet – truly inspiring – yet the sad fact is that these are the lucky ones. Hannah and Inish have both had support from World Vision, support that has empowered them to leave their homes, learn new skills and invest in their children’s futures, support that has allowed them to dream. Not everyone is so lucky though, and there is still an awful lot that could be done.
I ask Inish if she has seen the attitudes of her friends and neighbours change over the last few years. Are they more ambitious now? Her response is so passionate, you know exactly what she is saying even if you can’t understand the words.
If you have been inspired by this post and the stories of these women, please do consider sharing. If you are a blogger and would like to write something on the subject of optimism, or anything else come to that matter, please do leave a link in a comment and I will do my best to read and share them all.
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All photos courtesy of Kayla Robertson – World Vision