What I Learned From Stick Women

In 2013 I was invited to go on a trip to Ethiopia to speak at a women’s conference. The countryside of Ethiopia is beautiful and the people are so kind in spirit but the poverty was hard to see and evident everywhere we went.

During the trip, we were asked if we would like to go see how the “stick women” make their living. I had never heard of stick women and all of us were curious enough to make the early morning drive. I was not prepared for what I was about to see.

As we headed up the mountain, I saw women, smaller than me, wearing tattered shoes and carrying a bundle of sticks about 24 inches in diameter, eight to ten feet long and weighing 100 pounds or more. They walk up the mountainside each morning before sunrise and walk down mid-morning before it gets too hot.

They’re called stick women and they have done this for generations. It is the lowest kind of job woman in their culture can have. (They make 60 cents a day.) They are disdained in their culture.

The burdens these women carried were visible and so much more than their physical bodies were capable of. Many of them cannot have children because of the strain on their lower back and the stress on their female organs. They have a very short life expectancy.

I was struck by it all. The reason they do this is that it’s all they know and they have no knowledge of another way to live. It was evident to me their burdens were more than they could bear or carry alone and yet they do this every day for years and years.

None of us will ever carry a 100 pound bundle of sticks on our backs and yet we have heavy invisible burdens that are too much for us to carry alone.

We do it silently because we believe there is no other way. Our deep sighs cry out, “would someone please help me,” and at the same time, we hope no one will notice the strain of this burden.

Being silent is the way we carry our burdens.

Just as the stick women have gotten used to the weight they carry, we have adjusted to our burdens. We carry it alone because we too believe there is no other way. We believe this is the way life is and nothing will ever change.

The truth is, we were meant for more! SO much more! And it starts by taking full responsibility for our own action and responses.

We cannot always change our circumstances but we can change ourselves. We cannot always control what others do or say about us but we DO have choices to make on a daily basis.

It’s so much easier to blame than it is to take responsibility for our own behaviors and choices. Blaming takes no responsibility for our own actions, failures, and attitudes.

I don’t know if the stick women blame others for their hard way of life. I suspect, they are simply doing what they do best. They get up every morning and do what they’ve always done because they don’t know a better way.

We’re a lot like them, going about our daily lives never thinking there is another way, a better way. However, when we do the hard work, we begin to think differently and then we begin to change our behaviors.

In that process, our lives begin to change. If you want to change your life, begin by changing your heart.


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