Meet Meseret, a young lawyer who perseveres despite her spinal deformity

Look at this determined woman!

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Meseret is not only a survivor – she is an example of how far a woman can go in Ethiopia! A native of a rural area outside Bahar Dar in NW Ethiopia, she is the daughter of a farmer and housewife. Her dad has an elementary education, and her mom is only able to sign her name. She grew up in a mud-walled home. But she was determined to do something more than simply stay in her village and get married in her teens as many around her do.

Around age 12, she developed a spinal deformity and was bullied in school. She was called “gobata,” a very strong insult, meaning hunchback. Classmates would say “You’re always carrying something on your shoulder, put it down.” After school, she would return go home and cry. But the next day, she’d be back in school. Even as she recounted this history to our team, she stopped and cried for several minutes, then reached for a tissue and continued.

“Ninth grade was the worst. I was depressed and had no appetite. I went down to 22 kg (48 pounds). But I kept going. And every year I was in the top 10 of my class. Even in 9th grade, I ranked #5.”

She studied continuously. She graduated from 10th grade #7, then went to preparatory school. From there, she went to Jimma University, where she studied law. Meseret returned home to Bahar Dar, and entered a 2-year training to be a judge. After the training, she was assigned to be a federal prosecutor in Gondar province. After 2 years she wanted to support her family better, so she opened a private practice. She had about 20 new clients a year and made enough money to help her parents, send her brother and sister to school, and even help some cousins. But her spinal deformity was getting worse and she was in constant pain.

Earlier this year, Meseret entered a masters degree program in human rights. A friend in Addis Ababa let her move in with her.

Medically, Meseret has a severe kyphoscoliosis. Her angle from front to back (AP) is 140 degrees. And her angle from the side (lateral) is also 140 degrees. This complex scoliosis is compressing her lungs – lung capacity is down to 39%. However, she is still operable. Meseret needs to travel to FOCOS Hospital in Ghana for several months of traction (23 hours a day) followed by an 8-hour surgery. With traction and surgery, a lot of her deformity is correctable, and it she would have a much better life.

I asked what she’d like to do in the future. With hesitation, she said “I want to finish my master’s degree in human rights and help Ethiopian women, especially the handicapped and those with spinal deformities. Our women need to be stronger and more independent, and I can help them,“ she said with a determined smile.

 

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