By Arabella Stewart

Published in What’s Out Addis magazine

Gelila Shewaye is a young Ethiopian woman determined to make a difference; Addis Ababa born and raised where she attended school and college, Gelila grew up in Bole. It was when she applied to work for a Guest House across town that her eyes were opened for the first time not only to another side of town but another side of life; Korah is a community that sprung up around the Alert Hospital where people thronged from the countryside to first seek treatment for leprosy and other ailments – treatment was often long and therefore people began settling in the area surrounding the hospital dating back to the 1970ies. It is now home to over 130,000 people and it was on a trip from the Guest House to the nearby neighborhood of Korah (acting as a translator for American visitors) that Gelila first became aware of this compressed and underprivileged area.  She admits that she was initially embarrassed that as an Ethiopian growing up in the city she had not been aware of this community and yet foreigners were aware (several NGO child sponsorship and feeding programs work in this area of need). 

After the impressions of this visit that remained with her, Gelila made a pledge to herself that as a city resident she could and would do something to help. The Guest House was supportive and agreed to promote her idea with their primarily American guests who were indeed interested in her vision of helping to empower Ethiopians to help themselves.

Today Lila Products is a social enterprise small business employing a small team of men and women either disabled or who are suffering from HIV; members of society who find it hard to integrate into society to earn a living. These individuals spend their days in a small compound producing delightful and unusual accessories both contemporary and traditional using natural (cotton for scarves) and recycled products – clay, beads, paper (for jewelry) and rope (for rugs) are their primary materials. My favorite item is a multicoloured stretch bracelet made from magazines! Gelila has an even bigger dream however – she wants to start a training program that will not only train women in need to make products but to also provide life skills – these community women need both practical training and opportunities.

Gelila knows that there are many more men and women she can help but needs to raise the necessary funds to implement her vision for expansion – if you are interested in partnering or can help with outlets interested in selling Lila Products to help promote her goal of expanding and thereby providing more people with sustainable livelihoods, please do contact her; Gelila is passionate and committed to her project and works long days (she still needs to work night shifts at the Guest House in order to make ends meet).

Lila Products empowers marginalized men and women to create “products with purpose”; the artisans love visitors and whether you are just one or a small group, everyone is made to feel very welcome; there is also a small shop where you can buy or order the lovely items as well as observe them being made by the artisans on site. Visits are best made by appointment by calling or emailing. The compound is on a cobbled road off the new Makanisa Rd at St Mikael roundabout

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