Around the corner from our guesthouse in Addis – between the mechanics yard and the bakery that sells fresh yoghurt and barley rolls on busy Abware road – is Milka’s shop ‘Wild For You.’
The bright sign out the front caught our eyes on a walk home one day – ‘Natural products of Ethiopia.’
The shop was only two months old when we stepped in, but its freshly painted yellow walls were heavy with Ethiopian artefacts, draped with bright dyed scarves and gabis (highland shawls for the cold) and hand made bead necklaces. There were paintings, rugs, pots and wooden stools for traditional coffee ceremonies, embroidered pillow cases, wild-forest coffee and honey, soap made from camels’ milk and frankincense, teas, jars of guava jam and green herbs for the skin and hair.
We were wild for it – and for the next month or so, we would pop in after a day running around Addis to have coffee with the owner, Milka, and her friend Kidist – and to see what new things they had in that day.
Milka is married to an Englishman, Ben, who works in Agro-forestry for a UK based charity, FARM Africa. They had travelled a lot in Europe, America and Africa, before setting up home with their daughter in Addis eight years ago. Milka said she had a vision of her dream shop while at home one day.
“My idea, when I started, was to have the natural things, but we realized we needed to fill the space with much more,” she says. “I was thinking, thinking…I wanted to help poor women here so I started looking at different groups I could support.”
She decided she would sell sustainable and fair trade African goods, natural beauty products, and textiles and toys made only by local cooperatives of disabled women.
“Nearly everything in my shop is made by handicapped people now, mostly women. They make these things, it gives them good money and they help their families.”
“This one,” she says pointing to a woven cushion cover, embroidered with silver beads, “this is made by one woman with her feet. She’s in a wheelchair but she can do this all with her feet.”
Milka travels Ethiopia visiting these cooperatives and sourcing her ware, including the rare beads and old silver to make her jewellery.
One of the groups she buys textiles from is ALERT, a handicraft operation of the Berhan Taye Leprosy Disabled Persons Work Group, which is connected to the hospital in Addis Ababa. The forest honey, herb teas, soaps and face products come from Ecopia, an organic food, cosmetic and medicine company from the South of Ethiopia that supports small scale local farmers. “Many of the people working there are also deaf,” says Milka.
“Now I help these people and they help me….and everyone loves these things!”