Sunday, November 05, 2006

Photo journal: Ethiopia shoe-shine girl

Via: BBC
Interviews and photos: Amber Henshaw

Meskerem, 12, is one of the few shoe-shine girls in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa.
Her mother earns about $7.50 a month collecting rubbish, which is not enough to pay for food, rent and school fees.
At first Meskerem wanted to work as a domestic servant but she was advised to try shoe-shining. She likes being self-employed.
"Shoe shining is not difficult. It is easy for me because I have the power. If I want to work I can work," she says.

Shanty town
Meskerem lives with her mother, her uncle and four siblings in a one-roomed mud shack in the city centre.
It’s in a sprawling shanty area just behind the five-star Sheraton Hotel.
Meskerem’s father died just over a year ago.

Meskerem’s mother, Bercha Yanaga, 29, says life was hard when Meskerem was younger.
"When she was a child I raised her in difficult conditions but now she’s growing up and helping me I feel so happy.
"My husband was a drunk and we were fighting about money all the time."
He died when Tigist, right, now two years old, was just a few months old.

Meskerem shines shoes after school and all day at the weekend.
She charges 1 birr (11 US cents) to clean a pair of shoes. On a good day at the weekend she can earn between 5 to 7 birr.
"When I first started the boys came up to me and told me to go away," she says.
"They told me they would earn less because I was a girl and men would prefer to come to me. The boys threatened me. Sometimes customers and passers-by insult me and make me cry."

Long day
"I wake up just before 0700 and go to a food centre. If they have food I have breakfast, if not I just go home.
My mother leaves home for work at 0600 and gets back at 0800. I sweep the floor and do other chores until she returns.
Then I go to school until 12.30 and come home for lunch. If there’s lunch I eat, if not I go back to school for the afternoon session, which lasts until 1530.
Then I go home to collect my shoe shine boxes and work until 1800. Then I sleep.

Meskerem uses some of the money she earns to pay her school fees - of 15 birr ($1.65) a month.
"I had to go to school because I want to get knowledge - knowledge is how you become somebody," she says.
She hopes to become a teacher one day.

The government and donors are trying to increase the number of girls who go to school in Ethiopia.
Muluembet Gebereyes is the head teacher at Meskerem's school.
"There are more girls than boys at this school, which is private," she says.
"The boys go to other schools and the girls go here because it is close to their homes. Parents worry about girls getting abducted [as brides] so they like to keep an eye on them. It is unusual for girls to shine shoes. I admire Meskerem very much.

"Sometimes I play with my friends and my sister Guenet, 9, (far right)when I came back from work at the weekend.
"I am frightened that bad things will happen to me if I leave the compound, so I always stay here to play," Meskerem says.
"Once I tried to teach her how to shine shoes too and I wanted to buy her a box and some materials but she couldn’t do it, so I am the only one in the family shining shoes."

*Click here to see the rest of the pictures and interview!


Anonymous said...

Shane on this world that allow some to hoard wealth and resource that may last them 1000 times their life over if they they live to be 100 each time, and deprive basic needs for others.
There is some thing wrong in our thinking process, how can we all not have equal access to resouces that belong to all of us.

Anonymous said...

shame on this world that allow some to hoard wealth and resource that may last them 1000 times their life over if, and deprive others basic needs.
There is some thing wrong in our thinking process, how can we all not have equal access to resouces that belong to all of us. who on earth can have enough money to buy a pice of land? If so how deep that piece of land is his own and do we know what is in it?

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