In this age of pandemic and virality, worry spreads as quickly as the contagion itself. But there is something that spreads with greater intensity and quickness, and that is good news. The rumor that a young girl from a broken home has been given a chance to be lifted out of the depths of poverty, and to prove her hidden talents and strength, moves through a slum like heat lightning through a storm cloud.
The significance of Ethiopia and its capital city is a glittering continuum of the essence of humanity. The city of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia is a vast complex of textures and aromas. The native botany of the coffee plant yields harvest partaken in ritual ceremony forever entwined in daily livelihood in homes and modern cafes.
The barleyed scent of traditional Tella beer produced from indigenous cereal grains of teff and sorghum for millennia on end mingles with the waft of injera sour flatbreads congealing on a circular stove surface as the batter is spiraled hypnotically by a hearth keeper, to be eaten with a spiced sega wat lentil stew in a clay-walled domicile.
The adjacent Great Rift Valley has mothered and cradled humanity itself, bringing it to flourish with a rich tapestry of ancient and contemporary culture. This includes a multitude of ancient languages and dialects with writing systems and syllabary (each letter imparts a spoken syllable, rather than single sound as in an alphabet). A vast culture of visual, architectural, and textile artistry flourish, not to mention the religious iconography and customs (and Biblical mention) of all three Abrahamic traditions.
Yet within this is also the challenge and carnage of poverty. Gender-based violence and discrimination are commonplace, notably in the sub-city of Yeka, on the northern hem of the urban sprawl. Young women feel the centrifugal force of being on society’s margins on the city’s outskirts. Oftentimes family units of limited or no income prioritize a brother’s education over a sister’s.
Gender norms exclude women from agricultural work, considering it hard manual labor. Living during the Covid-19 pandemic is especially exacting. Financial stressors are a constant burden that has hampered an economy that was only beginning to burgeon in 21st century modernity. Markets are shuttered with social distancing restrictions. Many regional landlords, instead of being lenient, doubled rents in predatory fashion.
Another common occurrence is “period poverty” in local school systems. When girls begin their menstrual cycles they lack access to proper female hygiene supplies. Summarily they are kicked out of school. Not only does this deprive girls of their opportunity to develop and enhance their appetite for intellectual growth, but it denies them the chance to have meaningful social relationships with female peers in the student body. They are deprived of positive adult role models to provide guidance and mentorship to aid them in reaching their full potential
Tamara saw firsthand that many young women in Ethiopia of notable promise had their dreams and hopes stifled, many of whom were trafficked in the commercial sex trade out of desperation and a seeming exhaustion of all other options. The inspirational spark was ignited when Tamara realized that she could reach out to her professional network to assemble a team to plant the seed for a scholastic entity that gives girls an opportunity and fighting chance, and to have the on-the-ground staff be representational to the community in being 99% Ethiopian and 79% female.
Meron continues “in sewing class they make beautiful patterns, and can get hired within the community in after-school jobs to greatly supplement their family incomes. Tutoring classes help them immensely.”
The curriculum has grown and developed over the years, and during the difficulty of the pandemic, appropriate measures were taken for safe social distancing and mask-wearing. Some classwork was administered digitally by instructors off of their phones.
Tamara is grateful that so many girls have been given a chance. This past autumn, many of the graduating class of girls were able to have their artwork that they made displayed at a star-studded event gala and fundraiser, Her Path: Showcasing the Art and Poetry of Ethiopian Girls, held in Philadelphia. The event brought awareness to the current plight, while also exhibiting the tremendous talent and beauty inherent in each of the girls. Funds raised will help to enroll and sustain the upcoming class of students, who are destined to show remarkable talent of their own.
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