“I just can’t seem to get ahead. I have to feed my children. I don’t know what to do.”


Those were the tearful words I heard from the cracked lips of a desperate woman as I stood in her cave-of-a-dwelling, an tiny upstairs room with dung walls and a tarp roof. It wouldn’t hold out the rains with the rainy season. The one room was barely big enough to hold the mattress Betti* shared with her three children. As I’d pulled myself up the narrow ladder through the open hole to the room above, I wondered how many times her baby had almost crawled over and fell through.



There was no floor space to play. There was no place to cook. There was no bathroom or running water or any amenity we’d say is necessary in our homes. Most of their living was probably done out on the street, except when the weather forced them inside to that wet upstairs room.


Betti didn’t want to make some of the horrible decisions she’d made in the past. Leaving her children at night and going to the streets to sell her body for a few birr (Ethiopian currency) was horrifying. But what other options did she have? She’d tried making chips to sell on the street, but was shut down by the government because she didn’t have a license for it. They wouldn’t give her certification because she couldn’t confirm a permanent address. She had no resources to start another small business. She had no caretaker for her children even when she did leave to find work.




Betti lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a city that is growing in some positive ways. But there are an increasing number of desperate young mothers like her who are being left in the dust with few options to feed their children. She’d tried everything she knew of and the talons of extreme poverty ripped through any hope she had left.


But there I stood in the tiny upstairs room she’d rented, bent over because the tarp roof was shorter than I was, gazing at the situation and thinking about how a few US dollars a month could change this little family’s life. 


Sometimes in our comfortable homes in a “land of opportunity”, I think we just don’t really think living like this is possible. We hear stories like hers and then we turn around and forget about it because its so foreign to our everyday lives. It can even feel hopeless when we look at so many women and children in the same boat globally. But we don’t have to be silent about this story. We can make a real, tangible difference in Betti’s life – and in the lives of other mothers and children in Ethiopia. We can do that together. 


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*name changed for privacy