Ellilta Women at Risk (EWAR) is a non-profit organization, founded in and based out of Ethiopia, that has been supporting underprivileged women since 1996. EWAR first began when two women responded to a deep conviction to reach out and show love to women that were exploited and marginalized.
EWAR supports women that desire to leave the streets through an intensive rehabilitation program where they provide counselling, financial support, medical care, child care, skills training and job placement. EWAR is also dedicated to educating the community about the reality and risks of their work and ways that exploitation can be prevented. EWAR has helped over 1000 women leave the streets and find different employment at a 90% success rate; success meaning that they never return to the streets, ever!
WHAT IS THE EWAR REHABILITATION PROGRAM?
The formal rehabilitation program is a two-part program that runs for twelve months in total. The first five months is dedicated to individual and group counselling for the women. In the remaining seven months, the women undergo career coaching and eventually choose a career that they are interested in according to their talents and passions. They are then matched with an appropriate program to receive training and assistance in finding employment. After the twelve-month program is finished, the women graduate to continue on with their new jobs. For approximately nine months after graduation, the counsellors from their respective EWAR sites follow up with the women, meeting with them informally to see how they are doing, and to ensure they do not return back to the streets.
Currently there are four EWAR sites: the Bole site, the Adama site, the Hareg site and the Bahir Dar site. The Bole and Adama sites host twenty women each, and the Hareg and Bahir Dar sites host fifteen women each per cycle. Each site has one team leader and four to five counsellors that run the program from start to finish.
HOW DO WOMEN COME TO THE PROGRAM?
A critical part of the EWAR program is the night visits, which the staff of EWAR run every six months for three months at a time. On these night visits, staff go out to common red light districts where they simply engage women on the street through friendship. The staff tell these women about EWAR and invite them to free ‘drop-in’ information sessions, ran in the area, where the women can learn more about the rehabilitation program. There are six drop-in sessions in total followed by an interview process for those interested in joining. As there is a limited amount of spots per site for each cycle, the staff must determine which women can join that year. Based on the drop-in sessions and interviews, the staff evaluate each woman’s readiness to leave the streets. This is a critical process, as rehabilitation is only effective when the individual herself truly wants to make changes in her life.
WHAT IF THE WOMEN HAVE CHILDREN?
For approximately ten years now, EWAR has also been running a children’s program adjacent to the rehabilitation program. At the sites, they have dedicated child-care workers that watch the children of the women in the program, so they can attend without worry. On one or two weeknights as well as every Saturday, the sites also host programs for the older children and teenagers of the women. EWAR supports the women’s children by paying for their tuition and additional things including uniforms and school supplies, as well as any medical bills. From the time a woman joins the program, EWAR financially supports her children until they graduate from high school.
The children’s program was developed and became a key part of the rehabilitation program for many reasons. EWAR found that previously, many women opted out or struggled with completing the program due to lack of child care or the inability to support their children and their schooling. The children also experience significant trauma from what their mothers go through on the streets and many young girls are at a high risk for entering the same line of work. There is a significant stigma surrounding and many false assumptions about women in this field of work; not only do the women experience shaming and isolation, but their children do as well. EWAR not only supports the women in completing the program, but also provides a safe place for their children to play, learn and heal. EWAR is dedicated to supporting children’s psychosocial health to ultimately break generational cycles.
HOW IS EWAR AND ITS PROGRAMS FUNDED?
Currently, EWAR’s funding comes mainly from external organizations such as Samaritan’s Purse and also receives donations from various independent donors. With EWAR’s new retail branch and income-generating project, Ellilta Products, it is on its way to becoming more financially independent and self-sustaining.
WHAT IS IN STORE FOR EWAR?
EWAR has been lead by co-founder and former director, Cherry Friedmeyer, for the last twenty-two years. After Cherry’s recent decision to retire, Nebiyu Haile was appointed as the new director this year, becoming the first male director of EWAR. Though Nebiyu has not officially announced any specific projects yet, he has expressed his vision for EWAR’s future. EWAR will continue to run their yearly programs at each site, and will scout and research cities and towns that have a high number of women working on the streets for potential future rehabilitation sites. EWAR will also increase education and engagement with the community, with the goal to increase community involvement and to ultimately reach more women and children. Eventually, EWAR hopes to address the ‘demand’ side, focusing on prevention by reaching out to and educating men about the risks and its ensuing destruction on themselves, women and their communities. Ultimately, EWAR will continue to support more and more women off the streets and encourage them in pursuing a better, safer and fulfilling life!