At first blush, Earu appears shy and quiet. She smiles in a reserved way, lowering her eyes and raising a hand to partially cover her face. Many Americans mistake Ethiopian’s tendency to be soft-spoken for shyness.
But first impressions can be deceiving.
Earu, when not meeting new people, is a jokester at the Mariam Seba Sanitary Products Factory, clever and engaging. She is only 25 and is a leader at the factory, showing the newer girls the ropes. She enjoys the work and understands the unique opportunity it offers women in rural Ethiopia.
She started working right after high school, around the time that she got married. Three years later, she is divorced and living with her mother. Thankfully, in Ethiopia, women who are separated from their husbands are often supported by their families rather than cast out.
But Earu doesn’t want to be supported by her family; she wants to achieve something that seems incredibly ambitious in Mekelle – she wants to support herself.
And she wants her two-year-old daughter, Mahalet, to learn from her example and build on it. She wants her daughter to have more opportunities than she does – a feeling that resonates with mothers in Ethiopia, the U.S., and around the world.
Earu uses Mariam Seba’s sanitary pads and is excited for her daughter to have access to them when she grows up. They are comfortable and save her the embarrassment of accidents. In addition to the pads, she enjoys many other perks at the factory. When the factory’s daycare opens in the next few months, she looks forward to bringing her daughter to work so she can spend more time watching Mahalet grow. She wants Mahalet to be influenced by the energy and excitement of the other young women there.
Before Mahalet was born, the factory supplied Earu with the fabric necessary to create baby blankets and clothes, which she took great pride and joy in doing during her pregnancy. She was also able to take three months paid maternity leave. If she had wanted, she could have taken more time and her job would have been waiting for her, whenever she returned – a rare opportunity for mothers in this region.
When asked what she’d be doing if she wasn’t working at the factory, Earu shrugged. She’d probably be doing what her mom does, and what most women in the region do – hard labor, keeping the house, taking care of the children. Her shrug and body language suggested that this wouldn’t be so bad, her eyes told a different story.