Anti-trafficking ministry in Ethiopia points to Book of Ruth

25 March 2019

To reduce human trafficking in Ethiopia, a Canadian-supported ministry educates the public using the story of Naomi in the Bible, according to this report from Samaritan's Purse Canada. Story and photos by Jeff Adams, reposted with permission.

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When Yetranet Andarge goes into Ethiopia’s schools and churches to talk about the need to help women escape prostitution, she often points to the story of Naomi in the Bible.

In the book of Ruth we read of the deaths of Naomi’s husband and two sons. Through the support of her daughter-in-law Ruth, Naomi is able to survive. Ruth marries Boaz, and they ensure Naomi is cared for during the rest of her life.

What if there was no Ruth and no Boaz, Yetranet asks? How would Naomi have survived? She might have been forced—like other desperate women in biblical times—to resort to prostitution.

In Ethiopia there are millions of women just a desperate as some were during biblical times. That’s why we thank God for Yetranet and Ethiopia Women at Risk (EWAR). It’s a Christian anti-trafficking organization that Samaritan’s Purse and its donors have supported for many years.

Few options for Ethiopian women

Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest nations, where education and employment options for women are painfully scarce. So when their husbands die, or their boyfriends abandon them in pregnancy, or they move to the city for a job that never materializes, prostitution can seem to be the only option.

“Don’t judge them too quickly” is one of the primary messages Yetranet and other EWAR employees and volunteers convey when they speak in schools and churches.

“Some people think when they see a prostitute standing on a street corner wearing a miniskirt that she wants this life—that she doesn’t want to work at another job,” Yetranet says. “They don’t understand the real causes.”

Another important message she regularly conveys, as EWAR’s prevention program coordinator, is that it’s very easy for women to be unknowingly lured into prostitution. They think they’re being hired as a restaurant or bar waitress, but they’re soon being pressured into sex. Or they think they’re coming to the city to be a nanny or house servant for a distant relative, only to be handed off to human traffickers.

Christians patronize prostitutes

One final point that Yetranet says is essential to share—especially to males—is that paying for sex is wrong. This message shouldn’t be necessary in churches, but she says lots of Christians in Ethiopia and elsewhere patronize prostitutes.

Yetranet says 22-year-old EWAR is always emphasizing “the value, the respect, and the dignity of human beings” that God intended for each of us. This opens the door for another vital message: “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, ESV).

EWAR’s program to prevent women from entering prostitution is one major component of the organization’s work in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, plus two other cities in the African nation.

The other two major components are:

  1. A 12-month rehabilitation program that provides Christ-based counseling and vocational training to women wanting to leave prostitution. They learn income-earning skills such as jewelry making, weaving, hair styling, food services, and hotel housekeeping.
  2. A coinciding program to help the children of prostitutes pursuing rehabilitation. It includes a daycare and, for school-age children, free school supplies, free tutoring, and free tuition.

Success stories

Sisay Kebede, a team leader at EWAR, says the organization monitors what happens after women complete their rehabilitation. At least 85 per cent do not return to prostitution.

One of the success stories is a graduate of the program who went on to university, became an accountant, and is now married with children. Another graduate is a counsellor at EWAR.

Despite the many successes, Sisay says “it can still be discouraging” knowing EWAR has capacity for only 140 women at year at its four facilities. Studies indicate there are at least 150,000 prostitutes still on Addis Ababa’s streets, many of them desperately wanting new lives.

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