This beautiful young mother’s name is Meselesh. She has a daughter who is eight years old and a brother, Ephraim, who is sixteen. They live in a humble two-room mud house with a “kitchen” in the back that is covered only by a tarp. Meselesh lost the use of her right leg six years ago to unexpected paralysis. Her right arm is difficult to use, as well. Doctors cannot find a reason for the paralysis. Upon visiting their home, we learned Ephraim was recovering from typhoid fever. He was still very weak and had not been able to go to high school for a couple months, but was helpfully chopping vegetables for their family meal. He was planning to return to school this week to see how long he could stay before getting too fatigued. This brother/sister team makes injera to sell. Injera is a staple in every Ethiopian’s diet. It is equivalent to our bread. It is made from the tiny teff seed. Meselesh’s paralysis makes it difficult for her to get to the market to sell her injera. She has hired a couple of young girls to sell the injera for her. This blessing relieves her of the physical strain of dealing with the market; however, it also decreases her income. She must purchase wood for the outdoor stove to cook the injera. Meselesh has an idea to buy two electric injera ovens to increase her production and lower her overhead costs of buying firewood. Electricity is less expensive than kindling.  This production increase will allow her to sell injera to local hotels and restaurants. She lacks only the micro-loan in order to purchase two injera ovens to take her income-generating activity from dream to reality. Despite being handicapped, a single mom and taking care of her orphaned brother, Meselesh has the fierce desire to remain in her home and to be self-reliant. She lacks only the resources of a small loan to make this happen.

dera women battle hiv

Each one of these women of Dera, Ethiopia has a poignant situation. Each has tragedy and daily struggles to survive. But their will to not only survive, but to thrive is an example of how far the human spirit will soar to overcome even the most desperate of situations.

Tigist was married and has two sons; 8 and 7 years old. Her husband passed away three years ago from AIDS. She and her youngest son have been diagnosed as HIV positive. Mother and sons are currently healthy, but due to the negative stigma of employing someone with AIDS, Tigist’s workload as a housecleaner has been completely diminished. She has applied for a micro-loan to sell coffee and beans at the marketplace but is waiting to hear if her application is acceptable. She and her 7 year old currently take medication and all three remain healthy. Tigist needs the resources to start and run her own business. This opportunity will allow her to be self-reliant and provide for her sons.

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Ayu was diagnosed as HIV positive, along with her husband. After receiving this news, their marriage ended in divorce. Ayu has three children aged 14, 12, and 8, all of whom remain free of the AIDS virus. She faithfully takes her anti-retro viral medication every morning at 8 AM, even if there is no food available. Good nutrition is essential to those who suffer from AIDS, but is a luxury not available to most in Dera. Ayu sells sugar cane in the marketplace as a means to survive. She currently has the equivalent of $3 in capital. If she could secure a micro-loan of $40, she has a plan to add onions, garlic and potatoes to her list of available goods to sell. Ayu has a viable plan and the work ethic necessary to make her business successful. She lacks only the resources to make it happen.

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Imabet has two children; a son 17 and a daughter 14. She was divorced seven years ago from her husband after being infected with HIV. Imabet is remarried to another man who also has AIDS. They decided not to have any children together since they’re both carriers of the AIDS virus. Imabet and her husband take daily medication for their condition. Her family receives a small pension equal to $8 a month, from her former husband’s employer. This pension is not enough to sustain Imabet’s family. Until six months ago, she was supplementing the pension by selling vegetables at the marketplace but the heat greatly exacerbates her health problems. Her body cannot tolerate sitting in the heat of the sun all day at the market. Imabet is part of a group called “Almaz”, who have applied for a micro-loan to purchase supplies to weave traditional Ethiopian clothing to sell. If granted this loan, Imabet can work in her home and her business partners will sell at the marketplace.

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Ayesha is a 27 year old single mom with AIDS. She is the sole guardian of her seven year old son and her three year old niece. Both children are HIV free. Ayesha brought her niece to live with her after the toddler’s mother died of AIDS and her father is in prison. It is not uncommon for relatives and even neighbors to take in orphaned children. Ayesha works three jobs to support her little family. She works at the Dera Bus Station organizing passengers, a housekeeper and is the leader of a group of women who do sheep fattening. These women have pooled their resources to secure a micro-loan for sheep and the necessities for fattening. She is a hard worker determined to stay healthy and strong enough to take care of her family.

Photo #4437

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