Viewpoints | Dec 04,2022
Nov 23 , 2019
By Eden Sahle
Helping others might be everybody’s story. But it’s incredible and admirable how far some people go to simply be there for the vulnerable. Some have been willing to be outcast and sacrifice their needs for the sake of others.
This has been the life story for one brave woman, Trhas Mezgebe, who came to Ethiopia over two decades ago to pursue her dream of going abroad to have the life her friends spoke of longingly. When she left her homeland, Eritrea, as a fresh high school graduate, she dreamt of going to Europe to study and build a life there. As she waited for her process in the town of Pawe, Metekel Zone of the Benishangul-Gumuz Regional State while working for an international company, she witnessed a horror that changed her life forever.
She was going on a random drive in the town with her friend when she came across a young woman’s horrifying suicide scene. It was an incident where a young woman who had lost three of her babies consecutively in childbirth ended her life to escape society’s blame. At that time, it was common practice to send women off alone to give birth by themselves in the woods. For Trhas who came from a culture that celebrates and supports women during childbirth, it was a shocking revelation.
Among all the horrific practices and brutality perpetrated against women in this area, perhaps the worst was giving birth unassisted in the bush. Women were isolated during delivery and after delivery until they became clean from childbirth bleeding. They were forced to leave their home during menstruation and remain isolated. The culture believed women’s blood is cursed, thus triggering the segregation. Women were left in pain and most of the time died all alone because of the culture that believed babies who are born inside a house or with assistance would be unhealthy and bring the family bad luck.
Women also suffered from female genital mutilation, untreated fistulas and child marriage. They were forced to carry heavy loads and treated as property as families exchanged them in marriage to several men. They were stripped of their dignity and human rights and humiliated by their own families and husbands who believed that they could do anything they please to women. Women were shamed because of their natural gifts. They were thrown out on the streets when they experienced fistulas due to child marriage and birth complications. They were forced to believe their life was worth nothing, that it was society who gives them value and takes it away.
Although Trhas was not new to violence against women, the abuse of females in Pawe gave her a new purpose in life.
She was determined to fight for the rights of women who were denied human rights and fundamental freedoms. She gave up her dream of life in Europe and stayed with the victims, supporting them from her own limited income. When she lost her job, she shared the cash her brother used to send her for living costs.
Educating the community about women and human rights and being there for these vulnerable women became her new ambition. Being the support to the women who have no other support from family or society became her life goal.
These women stole her entire heart so much that she gave up her desire to get married and have children. She has given up her family who resented her for her passion to support these women by sacrificing it all. She proved that people are not born to just live for themselves. She built an unbreakable bond with the community by staying in a harsh environment that made her happy.
Nothing was easy for her. The community did not welcome her creating women’s awareness about their rights. Assisting women during childbirth made her considered cursed in the community. But it did not stop her. She was convinced that the best way to end violence against women and girls is to prevent it from happening in the first place by solving the cause: the discriminatory mindset toward women.
She eventually became a great influence on the society, who now let women give birth in health centres. Her effort reduced child marriage and female genital mutilation. She built schools and hired teachers to educate men and women. She proved that no one needs a wealth of funding but a heart that is willing to bring a positive change in a society.
It was long after she started her work that the Network of Ethiopian Women’s Associations and others discovered her and offered financial support for her initiative. Her organization, Mujejeguwa Loka Women Development Association, officially registered sixteen years ago.
The women of Pawe adore Trhas so much that they name their children after her and pray that she never leaves. She leads a simple and quiet life. She takes pride in the children that were born in health centres because of her influence. These children are now university graduates serving in diverse leadership positions in the regional state. She is the best friend of the mothers whose lives are so much better. She loves her large family in the community and hundreds of people who come from around Ethiopia seeking help in her shelter for abuse survivors.
People like Trhas are like us. What was possible for them is possible for us if we are willing enough to help others. We all have the potential to create a more equitable society.
PUBLISHED ON Nov 23,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 1021]
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