It’s not surprising that our next Sister’s story is about another woman named Meskerem. It is a common name given to baby girls because it is the Amharic name for the month of September when Ethiopian New Year is celebrated. How fitting that two of our Sisters share a name that celebrates new beginnings
When I met Meskerem six months ago, I had to double check her profile to make sure that I was remembering her story correctly. Despite having one of the hardest young lives imaginable, the woman in front of me exuded joy so thickly you could almost feel it. She owned a successful roadside vegetable stand that was a source of deep pride with beautiful, neatly displayed produce. Both of her sons are strong and healthy and doing very well in school. This woman glows with beautiful confidence.
Meskerem was born into a very poor household in the capitol city of Addis Ababa. Her large family could only afford to send her to school through the 4th grade and after that she began to work. When she was fifteen years old a man that she knew professed his love for her and convinced her to go away with him. Instead of finding love, she was trapped in abuse. He locked her in a room for a month where she was raped and abused and became pregnant. She was able to escape from her kidnapper and find her way back home. Her kidnapper is now in prison for what he did to her. Instead of finding relief when she reached home, she was turned away because of her pregnancy. She worked alone as a day laborer and gave birth to her son when she was sixteen years old.
At the age of twenty one she remarried and had another son but was quickly divorced because of more abuse. In her early twenties she had faced more adversity than most women and was caring for her two sons alone. She decided to pursue an opportunity to work as a housemaid in an Arab country. The required medical exam gave her more bad news – she was HIV+.
When she entered the program she expressed guilt over bringing two children into the world when she was unable to meet even their basic needs. She had been worried about their ability to attend school when they are always so hungry. She sounded depressed and hopeless.
The woman we met after graduating from the Sisterhood program was completely different than the one living in dark hopelessness. She spoke of how the program had helped her learn the business skills she needed to be successful and understand how to budget and account for her finances. She has a savings account and plans to expand her business.
She also is enjoying the freedom of feeling accepted by good friends who will eat and drink with her without being worried about her diagnosis. I asked her where her obvious happiness and strength come from. Her response, “I choose happiness each day because of the new opportunities the program has given me. I don’t need to think about my past or the virus because there are so many good things to think about now.”
Addisu, the Sisterhood’s program director, described Meskerem as morally strong. He said her ability to overcome and not just be successful but also joyful is evidence of deep strength of her character. He is right. This woman is a gem!
One of the strengths of the Sisterhood program is the commitment to consistent follow up. After graduating from the program, Sisters receive visits from Nancy and Debbie every six months for the next two years. This support has not only been valuable for the women but also an integral reason for the program’s growth and development. With each visit, Nancy and Debbie are refining and adjusting their goals and current practices with an eye towards the most productive use of the investment in lives. And the women have found themselves in a community of HOPE with care and accountability that has produced some pretty miraculous results.
Meskerem had her first alumni check up this week. Her wide smile hinted of new successes she was itching to show off. After the great success we had witnessed during our last visit with Meskerem, Nancy and Debbie’s high hopes for their next visit did not disappoint.
Meskerem was excited to explain how she had parlayed the profits and success of her vegetable stand into a leather wallet business. She has a burgeoning small business in her home cutting leather, sewing wallets, and decorating them with popular words and symbols. She sells her wares to many different retailers primarily in the countryside. When her son is not is school, he becomes her manufacturing assistant.
Even with her new business’ start up costs, she still has two savings accounts. She is saving because she has big dreams for the future. She has already had the financial freedom to purchase several luxury items including a television and is planning to make several other big improvements in her home with her profits.
This woman literally can not stop smiling and talking about how grateful she is to her sponsor for the new beginning (Meskerem) she was given! She remains close with the women in her Sisterhood group and has voluntarily taken on the role of mentor for the women in the most recent group!
Meskerem’s smile says everything there is to say about the Hope+Sisterhood program. She found HOPE, HEALING and a NEW BEGINNING because two American sisters were willing to take a $300 chance on her. There are hundreds of Meskerems in Ethiopia today, desperate for their own NEW BEGINNING, wondering if there is still HOPE for them and their precious children.
One of them might be waiting for you. Your $300 chance could be the reason for their mile wide smile. Your picture might find a treasured spot on the wall in a home in Ethiopia. Your words and actions of HOPE may be the ones that change everything. Trust me, you don’t want to miss out on that.
Joining the Sisterhood only takes two clicks.