Ellilta started in 1995 after the founder, Serawit Teketel Friedmeyer "Cherry" encountered a woman in prostitution in Addis Ababa, and befriended her.
Cherry identified with this woman and the lack of employment opportunities at her disposal, for Cherry herself, a university graduate, was unable to find work in Addis Ababa at that time.
Cherry understood that the vast majority of women in prostitution were illiterate, in dire poverty, and had come to Addis Ababa from the countryside in search of a better life. Cherry never intended to start a project or ministry, but as she went out to the red-light districts of Addis Ababa weekly and met with these women, they began asking her to help them leave prostitution.
Using personal funds and pooling the funds of several friends, Cherry was able to acquire some used sewing machines and with the help of other friends, taught the women how to sew mosquito nets.
This was the beginning of the rehabilitation program of Ellilta, and the ministry quickly grew as more women on the streets heard about their friends leaving a life of prostitution.
Ellilta realized that in order for women to be freed from a life of prostitution, the women would need to access discipleship and counseling opportunities that would help them to experience healing from the bondage and deep trauma they had suffered. Therefore, intentional Bible studies and spiritual input was developed that linked the harms of prostitution to the Word of God and the 12-Step Addiction Recovery Program (the one used in programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous) was implemented. The 12-Step program was adapted to the Ethiopian context and the situation of prostitution, and has become a very effective tool in helping the women to receive forgiveness from Christ and for themselves, for their past life, and how to process the many issues they face as a result of prostitution.
Since its inception, Ellilta has been a loving and accepting community to some of the most marginalized people found in Ethiopia, and as more women and their children have received healing and hope through the program, that community has grown. On any given day, it is not unusual to find a former participant in the program visiting one of the project sites to update the Ellilta staff on the birth of a child, a marriage announcement, the death of a loved one, finding a new job, or other life events that they wish to share with their family.
The Ellilta staff are truly the only family that some of these women have ever encountered, and there are times when the staff have been called on to “give away” one of the women who have gone through the program, at her marriage ceremony! Several current staff were past participants in the program and have a very powerful ministry with the women, since they completely understand where they are coming from.
As Ellilta approaches its 20th Anniversary, it is committed to growing and deepening the loving, grace-saturated, caring, and accepting community it has fostered since its beginning.