Blind Perseverance with Yeweinshet and Her Gang

Dear Gary,

We miss you dearly and often wonder how you and your wife are doing. Your kindness and support mean a lot to us.

Our organization is thriving, and I'm still running the shelter, now providing a home for 16 blind girls. Thanks to the generous donors we no longer worry about covering our expenses.

I wanted to take a moment to express our heartfelt gratitude for everything you've done for us. Your kindness and generosity have made an incredible difference in our lives. We're deeply thankful for your support during our times of need.

Please extend our warm regards to your wife. We miss you both greatly and appreciate everything you've done for us.

With sincere thanks,

Christmas Finote

I first met Yeweinshet (the character in the middle of the photo; the one with the huge smile and funky glasses) around 2007/08. She arrived determined, arm-in-arm with her faithful and fully sighted sidekick guiding themselves into my new office with no prior appointment. I was today’s corporate target. Intriguingly, she had not come to beg for herself but for a whole bunch of similarly disabled and otherwise abandoned souls, many of whom I met later. There was something I instantly liked about Yeweineshet. She was totally unapologetic, and fully expectant of support. She was a worthy cause indeed. I was a company owner, and a ‘forenge’ one to boot. So clearly, I must be loaded and would be eager to provide whatever assistance was needed? And she had all the usual, shabby and indecipherable paperwork to prove she was not a scam artist. [It was often the case, the real scam artists had the most convincing paperwork so it was always best to simply feign interest in degree certificates, testimonials, government approvals and licenses]. The truth was, we were new in the business, had few contracts, huge overheads and were making peanuts at this early stage and had very little to offer anyone. Nevertheless, she was delighted to accept my gift; a bunch of old and decrepit computers, used box files, waste paper and a stash of similar rubbish I had been planning to dump in the near future. Repairing, recycling, re-using, re-purposing and all the other re-verbs were very common at that time in Ethiopia and nothing usually went to waste. Ultimately, she ended up with a formal invite to visit my offices once a month to pick up anything we did not need and that she could in some way utilize. This was an easy ‘win-win’. Finote Selam Rehabilitation (the name of her NGO) kept my offices uncluttered and she somehow made magnificent use of what I considered as nothing but rubbish

On each subsequent visit, Yeweinshet would invite me to see her projects and to meet her beneficiaries and ashamed at my usual prevarications, I eventually jumped in the car and drove the short ride over to Shiromeda. She must have read me well. On seeing her people struggling to make ends meet, using the rubbish that I had handed over to them to equip their tiny office I had to do more. Through her sterling efforts, and hers alone, she managed to keep some of the most destitute people off the streets and gainfully ‘employed’.

I managed to scrounge yet more rubbish from my friends and colleagues! Sometimes good quality rubbish too! One of the funniest and heart-warming gifts came from Mesfin – a wonderful man who had worked with me on various committees and projects. He once advocated for us and managed to supply Jill’s Food Run with really high quality rubbish; 10 year’s-worth of old furniture and bashed up white goods from the UK Department of International Development (the now defunct DfID). On one particular occasion, he was working for the newly opened Radisson Blu Hotel and they had no idea what to do with all the old, disposable, cloth and flannel flip flops that guests would wear after a shower. Yeweinshet did. She and her crew chopped them into pentagons, sewed them together, used the off-cuts for stuffing and produced cute little footballs. These were every bit as good the stuffed-sock variety local kids tied to lamp posts and used to play ‘swingball’. Amazingly, she could make money out of anyone’s rubbish.

One last triumph before the untimely end of our alliance, was to link Finote Rehab with Highbury Grove Academy in Islington, London. Through the concerted efforts of our friend Paul , a teaching colleague of Jill’s, we managed to establish some fair trade-type links between Finote’s beneficiaries and some interested school kids in north London. I often wonder, did any of those patchwork footballs ended up knocking around the streets of Highbury.

Before Jill and I hurriedly left Ethiopia in 2015, Yeweinshet was scheming with us big time. The rent on Jill’s respite centre was going up exorbitantly, and we needed to find a new place with new staff and to drastically cut costs. Allowing Finote to operate out of the same space and compound and to look after Jill’s street people seemed to provide economies of scale and mutual benefits. We found a nice old villa, undertook basic repairs, prepared the place to receive guests, made and signed contracts. The Food Run advanced the first six month’s rent and Finote Rehabilitation moved in with us. Then disaster struck and we left Ethiopia penniless – leaving Yeweinshet at the end of the year, to fend for herself. From her recent email, Finote Rehab not only survived but clearly flourished. I am so pleased for her and all the other folk in her photograph.

I would love to know what she did with our final donation. Truckloads of broken discarded medical items. Beds, tables, bedpans, wheel-chairs, machines that go ‘ping’ (or rather no-longer went ‘ping’). She had enough to fill the house and the whole compound with crap! But we could see it in her eyes… well not exactly – I forgot she was blind – but she had a plan and God was certainly with her and it would necessarily go well.

And so – I was unbelievably proud and happy, after seven or eight years of silence, to receive this email and I now encourage anyone who is reading this piece, to think about supporting Yeweinshet and her friends to do even more. She is a real treasure. Jill and I remain honoured to have met and worked alongside Yeweineshet in whatever capacity; such a tremendous force of nature.