• Zerihun Ayana and Eric Mazango

Wollo, Ethiopia  - Sitting by the edge of a building, Kedija, a mother of one girl, silently weaves a traditional Ethiopian home décor. She deftly knits the dried grass strands, producing a gorgeous basket.

Kedija was not always a skilled weaver with the techniques handed to her from a previous generation, but she was motivated to join a group of female craftswomen when she relocated to a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in South Wollo, in Ethiopia’s Amhara region.

Freshly woven grass baskets known in local language as sefed are common in kitchens and dining tables of many households in Ethiopia.

In August 2021, she fled Oromia for South Wollo Zone in the Amhara area following deadly clashes in the area, leaving behind her house, her belongings, and other family members due to ethnic clashes, which also left her mother, sister and other relatives dead.

“I was away from home attending a relative’s wedding when word reached us that chaos had broken loose at home. I had no alternative but to flee with my daughter and two nieces,” narrated a dejected Kedija.

Kedija currently lives in an IDP site with her daughter and two nieces. Although she was relieved to find sanctuary and livelihood support from the government and humanitarian organizations, getting over the distress of losing family members, her possessions as well as separation from her husband has not been easy.

Her situation got worse when she got sexually assaulted at the height of the two-year armed conflict in northern Ethiopia. Fearing she might have contracted HIV, her metal suffering worsened. She also began to isolate herself due to stigma.

When the Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) team of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and community volunteers began offering services in IDP sites at the close of the war, they encountered Kedija, who displayed signs of hopelessness, poor appetite, an inability to care for herself and her family, headaches, sleep disturbances, nightmares, flashbacks, feelings of loneliness, and a general lack of interest in social activities.

She agreed to get an HIV test after receiving psychosocial support, and was ecstatic to learn the results were negative. Kadija subsequently started attending counseling sessions, which she successfully completed.

As a result, she has started caring for her family and herself, as well as interacting more with her family, friends, and neighbours during social events and religious meetings. She and other displaced persons continue to be assisted by the MHPSS team to strengthen their social ties and sense of self.

Additionally, she received a 2,100 ETB multipurpose cash grant from IOM, which she used to start a small business that generated revenue through buying and reselling minor items. When she ran into issues with her business and needed to continue earning some money, IOM enrolled her in the women's crafts club.

Fearing she might have got HIV, Kedija began to isolate herself due to stigma.

Now that her mental state has improved, Kedija displays renewed optimism and is producing lovely handmade products.

"Thanks to the help I received, I'm finally feeling better and healthier after all those ups and downs. I can now concentrate on making handcrafted items to generate income to support my family and myself," she says.

“Kadija’s interest in the counselling sessions and eager engagement motivated us to keep a close eye on her situation. Working closely with clients result in more positive counselling outcomes and greater client and counsellor satisfaction,” added Zerihun Ayana, MHPSS Senior Project Assistant with IOM Ethiopia.

With funding from Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA) of USAID, the governments of Japan and Germany, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), IOM has provided mental health and psychosocial services to more than 92,000 crisis-affected people in Ethiopia between January and September 2023, in addition to the over 125,000 supported in 2022.