Coffee with 10 Lovely Teenage Girls

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On our first day in Ethiopia, we braved the effects of jet lag, and spent most of the day at Hope for Children’s training centre, with the ten former teenage sex trade workers that Vulnerable Children Society supports. After watching a cooking lesson, we went the new compound where the girls are housed, and enjoyed a pleasant coffee ceremony with the girls.

When Tawnya and I (Arnica) visited the second cohort of girls last year, we knew that we wanted to enable a group of girls to go through the vocational training program, and have a chance at another, better life. Thanks to the enthusiasm of the VCS directors and support from donors, we sponsored 10 young girls to go through Hope for Children’s program.

When we arrived, my family got the short story about the program from the Hope for Children director, Yonas, and I visited with some of the staff. Then we stepped into the side of the girls’ first cooking lesson. They were all sitting dutifully quietly in chairs, decked out in all white with white hats, listening to a lecture on measurement. Their teacher is a trained chef, and he really explained everything so clearly, that we could follow, even without the benefit of Amharic fluency. The girls were quiet and nervous with us watching, so we left after twenty minutes, and then had a good meeting with our respective staff.

I was pleased to receive a written report, including a budget, and I had a good chat with our consultant, Hope for Children’s director. This is the third cohort of girls from the sex trade that have gone through this program, and they are still making adjustments to tweek the program. The first cohort was 25 girls, and they soon realized that with their high needs, that was way too much. So then narrowed the group down to ten. Last time, they had a graduate of the program start working as a mentor, and she now serves as the program coordinator. It’s amazing to see what a positive effect she has on the other girls.

This cohort, the need that emerged was a change in housing. Of the seven girls Nicole visited with a couple of months ago, only four remain. The others found it impossible to not accept work, because they were still living in the same neighbourhood, independently, as they were before. So now the ten girls, including four of the original, have moved in together into a compound, a reasonable walk from the training centre. They have three house mothers who stay with them, including the program coordinator.

The compound is simple, but the girls really love it. It’s a nicer place than they have lived for the 1-3 years they have been working in the sex trade, and for many of them who come form a rural area, it’s the nicest ace they have every lived. The girls are inspired, motivated, and driven to change their lives. You can tell they selected the right girls for the program.

As a group, they decided that cooking offers the best employment opportunities. So the girls decided to forgo the sewing and hairstyling lessons, and focus exclusively on cooking for the next seven months. The vocational training lasts seven months, but the support, including living at the house, hygene and personal care training, etc lasts a year. Because some of the girls joined the program in the last month, they aren’t getting the full twelve months of support, but eight instead. Both our consultant and I expressed concern at this, but that’s just the way it will end up this time. Next time, they will learn again, and hopefully keep the same girls from the start.

The highlight of our visit, of course, was going to the girls’ house for coffee. They quietly sat in a row, while we chatted. We asked them about where they came from, and we were surprised to hear that the majority came from a rural area north of Bahir Dar. Most of the girls were tricked and lured into the city by the promise of a job, but didn’t know what it was until they got here. Poor kids. They are so young… Most don’t know their ages, but I would guess they are between sixteen to twenty one years old.

When we offered to answer any questions they might have, we were surprised. “What are the natural resources and revenues in Canada?” “What kind of foods do you like best?” This of course, was a market research questions 🙂 Some smart questions from some smart girls.

In summary, I was very pleased with the outcomes so far of the program. There have been a few glitches, but they were forthcoming about them, and transparent in their approach to solving the issues. We may have to do a little campaign to help them with the additional housing costs… The ten girls are sleeping on five mattresses now, which is all they have been able to afford. But the program is obviously putting the girls’ needs first.

On a personal note, my young seven year old daughters accompanied us to the house to visit. We are very open with our children, and they know, in an age appropriate way, what the teenagers have been through. So far in our many days, one of their highlights was visiting with the teen girls… They were so kind, sweet, and welcoming to us and our kids. I can’t wait to go and have coffee with them again, hopefully before they graduate. Maybe I’ll even get to taste some of their cooking!

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