Makeda (not really her name but a traditional Ethiopian name meaning "beautiful") is a woman from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, born in the mystical city of Gondar, the Camelot of Africa; a city of incredible castles, a recommended place to visit and a ‘must see’ if you go to Ethiopia.
For some years Makeda lived alone with her 3 sons. She worked as a cook but became ill and had to leave her work. She remained without work, without a home and lived in the streets with her 3 children, the smallest only a baby.
To live in the streets of Addis is extremely difficult for an adult but more so for a child. Not only are these children deprived of the most basic needs, but they are exposed to violence and danger from the Mafia types who control the begging on the streets. These children can even be kidnapped and used for begging. Often they are mutilated in order to gain more pity and therefore earn more money.
In such a hostile environment, Makeda decided to give up two of her sons for adoption. Makeda knew that this would be the most painful and difficult decision of her life but the only way, she believed, that her children might have a chance. Comments such as “ in Ethiopia, the mothers do not love their children the way we love ours” and “they are accustomed to giving their children away and therefore have several”, personally infuriates me.
It isn’t so. The mothers there are like any of us, human beings, women with emotions, who have the same feelings, exactly the same as any other mother. To be poor does not mean you are immune to pain and suffering or that you are any less of a mother.
Makeda gave up her children in order that they may live a life without danger and uncertainty. But with this decision came a deep pain. Not only did Makeda realize that this pain would be with her for her entire life but that also she would never know the whereabouts of her children or if they were well.
It was only by a twist of fate that we had the opportunity to meet and learn more about Makeda.
Makeda was a very thin woman, always together with her smallest son, who in the period when we initially met her, would have been a little more than 1 year old. Her starvation contrasted enormously with that of her son. He appeared well looked after, well nourished, you would say that the child radiated good health. It was evident that everything Makeda gained from begging was spent on food for her son, not for herself.
Every day, for an entire year that she was without her other two sons, Makeda would ask for news of them, wanting to know if they were safe and well. But, people treated like a "nobody" and ignored her requests for news. She wasn’t a "nobody", only a poorer woman than the others.
Finally she received news and was overjoyed to find that that they were well. When Makeda received the news and saw the photos of her older sons, a river of tears fell down her face. For me, it was a difficult scene to handle, as on one hand I was delighted to be able to give her the news of her sons but on the other hand to see her cry like this, and yet trying not to show her pain, broke my heart.
The family who adopted her sons took kindly to Makeda and wanted to help with some of her financial needs as they didn’t want to see her have to give up her small son due to the continuing poverty situation she was in. One day she said to us “I don’t want to be given more money, they have helped me enough. What I want is to be able to work”.
By this time, Makeda had recovered from her illness that had left her without a job and on the streets. We believed that she would be able to work so we employed her in the Abugida school where she has been for just over a year now. At first, she explained that she had been a cook. Some were skeptical but we asked that she be given a chance. And she proved it, she is a great cook.
The life of Makeda changed, and so has that of her son. He used to be a very easily frightened and shy boy, which is normal when living in the street. Now, he is a happy child who has fully integrated in the school.
Today, Makeda is the head of the kitchen in Abugida and it is all due to her own merits. Her life has turned around 360 degrees.
We hope to be able to turn around the lives of many women like Makeda. Hopefully, sooner than later, so that, should there be children involved, they can stay with such loving, caring mothers as Makeda.