Tirunesh* was raised by her father and step-mother in a village in Ethiopia. For her family, and many others in the village, making ends meet required all members of the family to contribute. When Tirunesh was old enough, her family encouraged her to become a domestic worker to supplement the family’s finances.
As a loyal daughter, Tirunesh did as she was asked and found a family to work for. The mother of the household was her supervisor, and for four years Tirunesh lived away from home, did her work, received compensation, and sent money back to her family. Then one day things took a turn for the worse.
Young Tirunesh was raped by one of her employer’s oldest sons. Traumatized, she turned to the only trusted adult she could, her employer. She received an unthinkable response.
She told me that ‘these things happen’ and that I should ‘get used to this as every other woman does,’” Tirunesh said. “She didn’t seem to take it as a big deal.”
Life for Tirunesh did not become any easier as she had become pregnant as a result. She was not yet 16 years old. Upon discovering the pregnancy, the employer sent Tirunesh back home.
A few months later, Tirunesh went into labor but unfortunate complications arose and, on her way to the hospital, her child passed away. Tirunesh and her family were deeply saddened by the loss and tried to care for her for as long as they could. But because the family’s economic problems remained the same, Tirunesh, inevitably, was called upon to go back to work.
This time, Tirunesh left home to pursue an opportunity in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. When she arrived in the huge city, she was overwhelmed by the city’s size. Confused and alone, she became lost until she was found by police wandering around a bus station.
She was brought to one of Hope for Justice’s Lighthouses, where she was able to tell her story and receive the care she so desperately needed. The Lighthouse changed her life. For the first time, she was receiving a real education and was connected to a counselor who was able to help her overcome her past traumas. She was able to build social skills, confidence, and become self-reliant.
Finally, Tirunesh had the courage to return to her father. On her reintegration day, Tirunesh was thrilled to find that her father was just as excited to see her as she was to see him. He was so thankful to find his daughter in good spirits and health.
Tirunesh continued communicating with a social worker who inspired her to start a small business of her own. The social worker connected her with a local savings and loans association that provided the support Tirunesh needed to embark on this new journey. She was provided with 3,000 birr, or approximately $100 USD, to use as start-up money.
Today, Tirunesh is still living with her family, running her business, and remains hopeful about what the future holds for her.
*Name changed to protect victim’s identity.
Story provided by Hope for Justice.