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Nurturing talent at Desta Mender – Aselefech’s story

Aselefech, 35, is from a small town in the Oromiya region in central Ethiopia. Although her life has sometimes been hard, up until a just over year ago she was happily married with her eldest daughter aged 15 at school and her youngest three, at home. She was delighted to become pregnant for a third time in 2019, but was left shocked six months into her pregnancy when her husband left the family.

Staying strong

That was the hardest time of my life she told us “On one hand I was dealing with my pregnancy and on the other hand struggling to take care of my young daughters”. Aselefech stayed strong and when the time came for her third baby to be born she prepared to give birth at home, as she had done with her daughters.

However, with no medical support, as her labour went into the end of its second day, she realised something was terribly wrong. Aselefech managed to travel to the nearest government hospital, where she was supported with a cesarean section, but tragically it was too late for her baby. Not only did she have a stillbirth, but the extended labour had left Aselefech with a fistula.

My life was thrown into the worst situation when my delivery became complicated, l lost my baby and was left with a fistula and incontinent.”


Thankfully, the doctors at the government hospital referred Aselefech to Hamlin Fistula Ethiopia for specialist help. Within six months she was supported to travel to the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital for surgery which was a success. She told us “My treatment and cure was like a miracle”.

Returning home

After recovery time, Aselefech returned home to join her daughters and told us “I took a stand to face life’s challenges by myself. I had no one around who could help me except my young daughters. Eventually I let my elder daughter leave school because I could no longer afford it.”

Aselefech had learnt pottery skills from her mother, and before long the family’s only source of income was from making pots. “My elder daughter and I woke up early in the morning every day to climb to the nearby mountain where we found clay soil to make pottery products” she explained “It was from the sale of those pottery products that we got the money to cover our rent and food. There were times where we sold nothing and slept hungry.”

A new opportunity

Not long after Aselefech was discharged home, a new project was launched at Hamlin’s long term residential recovery centre “Desta Mender”, which means “Joy Village” to offer women a two-month business skills training course. Hamlin’s rehabilitation manager Tigist Aman knew about Aselefech’s pottery work and called her, together with 45 other fistula survivors from across Ethiopia, to invite them to join the course.

The business training gave Aselefech a new perspective on her work – and a chance to hone her skills to become a master in making injera baking plates (Ethiopian bread), pots, dishes, flowerpots and many other products.

Aselef is a very brave woman who owns an inborn talent that could change her life. Our role in this training was to show her how talented she is and direct her into exploiting it for business. She has even become a trainer for other women interested in pottery”  

Tigist Aman, Rehabilitation Manager

During her stay at Desta Mender Aselefech started selling her products to the staff and they proved popular. As she completed the course and was getting ready to return home she looked back on the impact the course had on her;

“I used to make my pottery products in a very backward and labour intensive way. This training has shown me how to do it in a modern and better way. If I can get some starting capital, my future plan is to ask the government bodies in my area for a building space to work in to make the pottery products in a modern way and give my daughters a better life they deserve. I would like to forward my thankfulness to those who organize the training.”

Asalef holding some pottery she made
Aselefech with her pottery

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