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Ethiopia

A sweet business deal

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Helen Jones ('09, Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration) carries a clay pot women use to collect water from the river or a water pump. Jones is a Peace Corps Volunteer focusing on health-related issues, particularly efforts to slow the spread of HIV and AIDS. | Photo by courtesy of Helen Jones
Helen Jones ('09, Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration) serves coffee or "buna" from a clay pot, called a "jabena." "Coffee ceremonies are very common in Ethiopia," Jones says," and consist of three little cups of espresso-like coffee. Sometimes coffee ceremonies take place as late as 10 p.m. A ceremony usually takes one to one and a half hours, and is considered social hour especially among women." | Photo by courtesy of Helen Jones
Helen Jones ('09, Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration) and a co-worker celebrate Ethiopian New Year, which is in September of the Gregorian calendar. | Photo by courtesy of Helen Jones

Most Peace Corps Volunteers have sharp cravings for the food comforts of home. But Helen Jones’ wish for a popsicle in the middle of Ethiopia gave her a money-making idea.

Jones (’09, Fairhaven Interdisciplinary Concentration), is in the rural town of Adet working to slow the spread of HIV and AIDS. One project has her working with women who want to find a way other than prostitution to survive – the commercial sex trade is a major conduit of the deadly virus.

“Unfortunately, there is a pretty high number of commercial sex workers in Ethiopia,” Jones says. “It’s a symptom of poverty.”

After an 11-week course on HIV education, the women received start-up capital for their own business – a juice stand that Jones hoped would not only generate income for the women, but give their neighbors more access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

But the women struggled to turn a profit. One serving of juice cost as much as a basic meal for two. The fruit spoiled before it could be sold. So the women started selling a traditional barley drink that cost half as much.

But Jones didn’t give up finding a way to get more mangoes, bananas, avocados and pineapples into the local diet. She told them about her secret wish for a popsicle and suggested they blend the fruits with water and sugar to turn into frozen treats.

“They cost a tenth of what the juice costs,” Jones says. “It’s cheap enough that children will come over and buy them at recess.”

Even with the recent success, there are no guarantees the business will last, Jones says. Several women already left after such a rocky start.

But Jones is hopeful. The juice stand has just started to turn a profit.