There are more than seven million orphans and close to half a million street children in Ethiopia.*
These children of the streets face hardships and horrors those in developed nations can’t even begin to imagine. They do whatever it takes to survive, regardless of how dangerous or degrading the task may be. Many, either by force or out of desperation like Melesech, turn to the sex trade, a cruel master that ruthlessly crushes all who serve it. Even if they manage to get free most have contracted some form of sexually transmitted disease and have given birth to unwanted children who will, likewise, be forced into the streets to perpetuate a tragic cycle.
“I have not seen one good thing about living on the street. Everything is horrible,” says 14-year-old Mandefro Kassa, who grew up as an orphan on the streets of Woreta, Ethiopia*
Melesech’s victory over a terrible past she feared would leave her beyond redemption shines as a testament that the street need not leave its victims twisted and broken beyond repair. While they may leave that life looking more like the splintered remains of the mighty oaks they might have been under different circumstances, they aren’t without hope of restoration.
Thanks to the emotional counseling and vocational training offered by ICA’s Mercy Chapel and SAFE program, rescued girls are empowered to become something better, like the Bonsai Tree that the Master Gardener skillfully and lovingly crafts into something majestic and uniquely beautiful, highly prized for the artful designs fashioned by its broken and twisted branches.
While Melesech may have turned her back on the sex trade, she never forgot those still trapped in it. She has made many trips back to Addis Ababa’s Red Light District since her rescue to convince other girls to leave the streets and embrace a positive future in ICA’s SAFE program. Even though she could have easily made a good living as a seamstress after graduating from the program in December of 2009, she chose to go to work for ICA instead and was training to be a SAFE program coordinator.
Before her dreams could be realized, Melesech succumbed to HIV/AIDS and died July 12, 2010 at the age of 22. ICA’s in-country coordinator shared that many of those attending her funeral were young girls from the Red Light District.