On a side road off the crowded and dusty streets of Bole City sits a quiet and beautiful place filled with art, history, and kind-hearted people. In one room men weave fabric in the traditional local method. In another area a group of women turns blades of grass into decorative baskets and platters. Flowering vines and trees throughout the courtyard somehow drown out the noise of the city outside the compound’s walls, transporting visitors to a much more natural place.
This is Salem’s Ethiopia and it’s become one of the girls’ favorite places in Addis. Owned by a smart, kind and beautiful woman named Salem, this local business is run with the goal of giving back to the community. Salem’s co-op provides local craftspeople a space to work and a steady income. She is dedicated to keeping traditional craftsmanship alive and supporting fellow Ethiopians in need of a helping hand.
One particular area of humanitarian focus for Salem has been training and employing women recovering from fistula. Growing up in the western world where this traumatic female health problem has been virtually eradicated through effective obstetric care, I didn’t know about fistula until just recently. It occurs as a result of an obstructed labor or violent rape, and its effects are devastating. Fistula is more common in developing countries where poverty and its resulting malnutrition lead to stunted growth in young girls, increasing the chances they will have difficulty in childbirth later in life.
Fistula is treatable and over the past several decades a number of facilities in developing nations have been established to help women suffering from it. Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is one such place giving Ethiopian women a second life after this traumatic and isolating disorder. However, many women suffering the effects of fistula are rejected by their families and communities. Even after they’ve had the procedure to repair it, these women must find their own independent income to survive. Some of them find their livelihood through Salem. With her help they weave fabrics, make baskets, design jewelry and create hand-sewn toys. Salem’s store helps give them a new life.
For service project #21, Brian lent his photography skills to Salem, who also serves as a committee chairman for organizing the annual Addis Arts and Crafts Bazaar. This was an easy and fun volunteer opportunity to do something he already loves. Brian had an official event badge as he made his way through the bazaar getting photos of the different craftspeople and their wares.
I’m sure we’ll be back to Salem’s a lot before we leave Addis. Emily and Liv have befriended Teshome, one of the weavers who has taught them a little about weaving and the local Amharic language. Alison loves sitting and watching the basket makers. Many of you reading this back home will wind up with a gift from Salem’s shop. It’s hard to leave without buying one or more of the many beautiful things she and her artisan colleagues have for sale.