Ethiopian Sex Workers ‘Wise Up’


Timret le Hiwot in Ethiopia – Part 3

Political correctness has never been much of a bother for me. If there’s a kinder, more respectful way to speak, I’m generally happy to find it. And if ever a word needed a kinder, more respectful overhaul, it’s the word prostitute.

Enter the world of Timret le Hiwot, a nongovernmental organization based in Addis Ababa that strives to eradicate HIV and AIDS in Ethiopia through work with some of the country’s most vulnerable citizens, commercial sex workers.

When education levels are low and unemployment high and babies need to be fed, women will do what it takes to survive. One of the most consistent forms of income can be through commercial sex. Demand for the service is high and, as a program administrator put it, “As long as people still like sex, we think there will be a need for us.”

The key to working successfully with anyone is respect. This is particularly true with commercial sex workers. At Timret le Hiwot, one gets an immediate feeling that people who arrive for services are treated with dignity and without judgment. No one is there to be reformed. Rather, job skills are offered that will provide an economically viable way out of the sex industry. Women gather in groups to learn sewing, leatherwork, mirror work, embroidery, clay work and woodwork. They are taught about reproductive health , hygiene and sanitation. A goal of 100% condom use is pursued through a companion program called Wise Up.

Learning a craft takes time and practice. You don’t expect success and perfection overnight. Success at Timret le Hiwot is measured in simple terms. A woman may not be able to leave sex work completely while learning a trade. If she can reduce the nights per week though that she needs to work, she has reduced her vulnerability to HIV infection. One does not need to renounce sex work as a condition of support. Care, love and guidance is offered to all women at all levels of involvement in the industry. The goal is to make more economic options available to women than sex work.

Just as important as the efforts with sex workers is the time invested with the supporting actors of the trade. Owners of bars and hotels are invited to educational days that are fun and informative. They, too, are encouraged to support 100% condom use by offering condoms at their facilities.

Our group spent a full day at Timret le Hiwot. We met clients, learned about the philosophy of the organization as well as the economic realities of the poor in Ethiopia. We mingled and talked story. I blushed with embarrassment after I realized how stupid it sounded to answer, “Because I don’t have a husband” when asked by a sex worker why I don’t have a child. My reality, of course, is much more complicated than that. Her reality is too.

We sat in on sewing classes. We ooed and awed over clay work and hand sewn toys. We talked about designs for decorator pillows that might sell well in the States. And we shopped. Boy did we shop. As if someone’s life depended on it.

Melissa Mendonca lives and works in Red Bluff as a youth development program coordinator. She has wanderlust in her heart and a love of stories that make our world seem smaller. You may reach her at

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16 Responses

  1. ADDIS LEMMA says:

    Good start.

  2. Darcie says:

    Nice to read about your continued growth and good work Melissa!

  3. nefsu says:

    two thumbs up

  4. Ayu says:

    God bless you; keep up your great work! I am so willing to support your effort, how can we donate to your great work?

  5. Yohannes says:

    That kind of assistance is what we need at home, not political jargon. Thank you for your contineous hard work and God bless you.

  6. sami says:

    WE CAN ASSURE ETHIOPIA RENASCENCE holding all our societies not ignoring non of them even if hand caped from

  7. Teshome says:

    It is so wonderful to have some one who realy cars for our sisters to protect and looking after them,they are caught in poverty trap with no hope,if we thier brother's give them the respect they diserve and try to alleviate some of thier pain,they will know that we are not with out care in the world, we do realy care for the pain and the suffering they are facing every singel day.

    I hope more citzen's of Ethiopia will join you for the wonderful job you are doing and God bless.

    We will and should not judge them,we only give them the love, and wish them all the luck.

  8. Eldana says:

    God bless you and the people you love, I like your start and effort for the people in need, I know you will receive blessing from God by caring for his childern. Keep up wirh the good work and let me know how to contribute on your effort.

  9. Melissa Mendonca says:

    Timret Le Hiwot is a nongovernmental, indigenous organization registered in Ethiopia. You may find more information, including contacts for donations, at

    I am simply reporting on a wonderful day spent amongst the remarkable people of the organization. I am heartened that many people are inspired by the work there. I certainly was. Thank you for reading.

  10. WUBE says:

    may GOD bless you, you have dne the greatest thing, thank you and keep it up.

  11. Belachew says:

    Guys. We need to wake up. Where did our 11%growth reach if it is not going to feed our starved children. Pliz tell me. I think it has gone to Tigray. What the fertile central and South of Ethiopia get starved while the rockey Tigray is well to do. Lets ………

  12. Caroline says:

    It is so sad to know that just a condom can stop this horrible desease. But life is so complicated…

    Thanks again for your travels and updated reporting.

  13. Biniyam says:

    it is a bright start to hear ur achievement. I am ready to help u in my proffession, as far as making a change the life of those vulnerable groups is everybody's responsibility. try to mail me soon!

  14. Yusuf says:

    the solution is apply Sharia to the whole world and to apply third pilla of Islam ie Zakat system . the two would will solve 80% of it thanks

  15. teshu says:

    i like your web site and it is importante for our contery speciaaly for sex worker so pleas do not berake your progerame. thanks

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