Tonight we had the Twitter Chat for our trip, and I noticed two distinct things popping up over and over.
1. People asking us things, and all of our answers being about how much WE had been impacted or changed.
2. People telling us how much good we were doing.
And those two dichotomies really bothered me. It didn’t bother me that people were asking and expressing those things. I have been on the other side of the coin a million times before. But, it really is true…the change in my heart because of this trip has been far more profound than anything I’ll ever be able to individually do for these women.
You see, I got to learn a few very important lessons this week.
First, I learned that the language barrier is hard…especially for someone who really values words. I think if I were a more physical communicator, it would have been easier for me. But, I like to use my words and I don’t like to look foolish. Both of those things are very difficult when you don’t speak the same language. It’s inevitable to look foolish when you’re acting things out and repeating yourself 14 times and find yourself mimicking their accent…but in English. It’s awkward and intimate and very vulnerable.
But, after fighting that vulnerability (will I always fight vulnerability?) for the first 24 hours, I gave into it today. I realized that if I hung back and waited to feel comfortable, it wasn’t going to happen on this trip. I was going to miss my opportunity to be impacted and moved. So, today, I brandished nail polish and hand cream and sat down and did 4 women’s nails. I asked if they had children and we talked about my boys. I asked their names and awkwardly repeated them until I got them right. It was awkward. I hated it a little bit, and I loved it, too.
Second, I learned that I can do very little to help these women directly. I can love them, show them dignity and acceptance. I can hug them. But, more than anything, coming to Ethiopia has pointed out how very big this world is and how very small I am. I cannot fix Ethiopia’s systemic unemployment and underemployment. I cannot fix HIV/AIDS. I cannot make it better for a child who grows up not knowing who his father is. But, without moving here and making day-to-day relationships with these precious women, I simply cannot make any lasting change other than a bit of love for a few days.
BUT, I do have great friends who have built a couple great companies (Mocha Club and fashionABLE). They are already doing amazing work here on the ground in Addis and elsewhere in Ethiopia and beyond. Mocha Club partners with Women at Risk (funds their work on the ground in Ethiopia) to go and find girls working in “the life” (as they call it here). They go, befriend individual women over several weeks or months…and they slowly encourage them out of a life of shame, pain, and horror. Then, for a whole year, they rehabilitate them. The women receive medical care, intensive counseling, Biblical education, childcare, defensible job skills training (like hair-dressing, cooking, or weaving), and a weekly allowance for basic needs.
Then, fashionABLE exists to provide jobs for the women who choose to learn to weave as the job training within the Women at Risk program.
So, I can’t erase the pain that Mulu, and Mesalu, and Frehiwot have experienced. I can’t make it all better and rescue them from poverty.
But, I can shout from the rooftops the amazing product that fashionABLE puts out. These women can only weave on average of 3 scarves per day. It is difficult, it is exacting, and it is tedious. It is difficult work that they learned over a six month time span. You purchasing a scarf from fashionABLE allows Mulu and Mesalu and Frehiwot to work in a safe place, with dignity, and with child care on site. Your purchases provide work for many many more women just like these three.
I could go on and on about what I love about fashionABLE, but one thing that is so fantastic is that it is a self supporting business model. There is no charity there. These are beautiful products, and come with a beautiful story…there is no charity there. The women are working hard and developing self-worth and satisfaction in a job that is not tied to their body. You are not giving money, but you are purchasing something so valuable and offering these women a phenomenal second shot at life, which is so valuable.
These scarves are the most amazing gifts at every holiday. I want to wear all of them, all of the time. Just wait until you see the new fall collection, too. I got to get a peek at the behind the scenes action–and they are utterly beautiful.
BONUS: The GENET scarf is 50% off using the code “blogABLE” until supplies run out.
AND: I’m going to get a couple scarves tomorrow AT the fashionABLE compound and store here in Addis Ababa. I’ll be giving away a couple sweet packages in the coming weeks to people who help spread the word about fashionABLE.