Ninteen years old Meseret with her nine month daughter Meron. Meseret earns a living from shining shoes."I didn't have an ideal childhood. My mother and father separated when I was just a baby. I lived with my father and my step mother for a while, then I was given to my grandfather. I lived with him until I was 17. I managed to study until grade three. I wanted to continue going to school but our living conditions were far from allowing me to do so. Then I started working as a maid. I was probably 10. I learned to take care of myself at an early age.", says Meseret. "I came to Addis Ababa in search of a better paying job. I found one as a house maid but I had to endure harrassment for being a woman. And one day I had nowhere to go. My only option was to ran away. I ended up on the street. I became pregnant not long after. I had to live on the streets for two months that's where I met the father of my child.", December 2013.
Meseret awaits customers while carrying Meron on her back. "I never afforded a day off. I shoe shined until the last few hours before I gave birth. Less than a week after giving birth to my daughter, Meron, I went back to shoe shining in Piassa. She slept on my back while I shoe shined. I constantly had to take care of her, feed her and make sure she is okay, while I tried my best to earn enough money for the day.” December 2013
Meron, 9 months old, steps on her mothers' shoe shining tools. Meseret had to make sure Meron is fed and have to look after Meron while shining shoes. “After saving up some money working as a daily laborer, I bought all the tools I needed to start shoe shining. I was still on the streets at that time, and pregnant. I wanted to make sure I raise my child out of the streets. So with the money I made, I managed to rent a one room house in the outskirts of Addis." December 2013, Addis Ababa
Meseret awaits customers while carrying Meron on her back. “People prefer to get their shoe shined by men. I don’t understand why. Sometimes the shoe shine boys tell me to go away and find another place to work because they feel like I am taking away their income. Mostly I just ignore them but other times I have to find another place. But not all of them are mean to me. Some actually care. They hold my daughter for me if I get a customer.” Addis Ababa, December 2013
Meron at nine months old. December 2013, Addis Ababa
A studio portrait of Meseret and her ex boyfriend a few days after Meron's birth. "He gave me a sense of security but only for a while. We were both young and clueless" December 2013, Addis Ababa
Meseret shines a cutomers' shoes with Meron on her back. Often her customers encourage her for doing the job while caring for a child. "They say children bring with them good luck. Meron's birth also brought good things for a while. Many people offered me to shine their shoes." December 2013, Addis Ababa
Meseret walks to her home after a day of work. Her one room home she rented in the outskirts of Addis is where she is able to afford rent.
Meseret and Meron spend some time after a lunch break in their home before heading back to work. "When I was pregnant and living on the street, some people told me to terminate the pregnancy, saying it is going to be even harder to survive. I didn't want to do that. Even though I was not ready to have a child at 19, I knew I wanted to keep the baby." October 2015, Addis Ababa
Meseret awaits customers with Meron by her side. “There are days when I barely make enough money from shoe shining to even cover my bus fare from home to work. Because I have to save money, I mostly walk to work and back home, which takes up to four hours. Still I choose to work every day because I respect it.” December 2013, Addis Ababa
Meron lies on a bed she shares with her mother. March 2014
Meron turns one and Meseret celebrates Meron's first birthday in their one room rented house in Piassa, Addis Ababa. March 2014.
Meseret and Meron at their home in Piassa. "Everytime the home-owners increase my rent, I have to find the cheapest place I can afford. This is where I am able to do that for now", says Meseret. March 2014, Addis Ababa
Meseret locks her one room home before heading out to work. "Being a mother has made me more thoughtful. I try to put her first to the best of my abilities. No matter how difficult my circumstances can get, she reminds me that I have got to carry on because I am the only one she has in this life." March 2014
A customer buys Meron a snack while her mother Meseret shines his shoes. Meron is now 2 years and seven months old. November 2015, Addis Ababa
Meron cries after losing her water bottle. Meseret sometimes gets frustrated over Meron's behavior. October 2015, Addis Ababa
Meseret tries to keep Meron off the walkway. "I always worry she will run into the main road." says Meseret. October 2015, Addis Ababa
Meseret walks home after a day of cleaning shoes. November 2015, Addis Ababa
Living in a new neighborhood in order to afford a one room house, Meseret learns to adjust to her new environment again. October 2015, Addis Ababa
Meron plays at home after spending the day with her mother at work. November 2015
Meseret makes the bed she shares with her daughter Meron. October 2015, Addis Ababa