Entoto Beth Artisan – Restore Empower Create

It is rare to find an organisation tackling some of the biggest issues with such a clear vision. To restore the lives of women affected by HIV/ AIDS virus through producing uniquely designed jewellery from recycled materials. It is a powerful example of how #FairTradeInnovates!

Entoto Beth Artisan is located on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. The community on Entoto Mountain is around 5000 people, about half of whom are affected by HIV/AIDS. Most people have come to Entoto St. Mary’s Church on the mountain seeking healing from their disease through fasting, praying and bathing in the holy water near the church. Many left their relatives and everything that they knew either because they wanted a chance to be healed or because their family did not want them. They wanted to leave the harsh stigma of HIV and find solace in a community of people who shared the disease. Many end up living in very poor living conditions with no opportunity for work, no positive way of supporting their families, and very little hope for the future. Almost all of the population live on less than $1 per day with many resorting to begging near the church or worse carrying back-breaking loads of firewood on their backs into the city for less than $1.25 per load.

Spice girl Victoria Beckham with Beth Entoto Artisans

In 2012 Bethlehem Berhane started the Entoto Beth Artisan with the vision of empowering women living with the HIV virus.  With this vision, she has been providing counselling, technical training and fair wage employment. Once the women regain their dignity and self-confidence, they are offered employment opportunities as professional artisans.  Beyond the economic benefits, employment opportunities mean a second chance at re-integrating in to their communities.

Artisan Tizita explains, “it is like being part of a family we are friends to each other. We are always discussing our social problems, we find a solution together. It is priceless when you compare it to my life alone years before.”

Empowering women is a key contributor for positive change in society. Studies show that when women are empowered all of society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and income increases.

Kademech is the mother of five children. Her life was upturned when her husband passed away from HIV five years ago. Her in-laws paid for her to get tested and Kademech's results were positive for the disease. She moved her family from a rural part of Ethiopia to Addis Ababa. Kademech was introduced to Entoto Beth Artisans and started working with the group making jewellery. It was the first time she worked outside of her home. She loves to make necklaces because they are complicated and require concentration. Every day after work, she rushes home to spend time with her school-age kids. They make dinner together and Kademech helps them with their homework. 

"I plan to help my kids and see them succeed. They rely on me and I pray for them every day." 

Staying true to their vision, Entoto has grown to be a successful manufacturer of uniquely designed jewellery. The pieces are created using lead free beads melted from used artillery shells and scrap metal found scattered throughout the former war zones of Ethiopia. Farmers harvest the scrap metal, melting it down to be re-purposed for the jewellery, transforming destruction into beauty. Other local materials such as recycled tire thread and Ethiopian coffee beans are also used.

The organisation currently employs over 200 employees. In its 3 year strategy, they aim to create more than 200 additional jobs specifically for underprivileged women and additional 100 jobs for the broader community. Their ultimate goal is to offer long term employment to everyone on mount Entoto by Empowering each individual artisan. They believe by doing so, in return they will empower those around them to rise above the cycle of poverty.

By Tania Wheatcroft and Grace Kisilu