Born and Raised in Addis, Hilina Abebe is a self-taught documentary photographer who was influenced growing up by her fathers black and white family photos from the 1960ies and 70ies. Hilina specializes in documenting social causes in her environment.


What’s Out is delighted to highlight her first personal project about a young single mother working as a shoe shiner (first published on CNN in 2016). Hilina has exhibited her work internationally including New York’s Photoville and Addis Foto Fest and she has received an award for her work.


Hilina’s project “The Shoe Shine Girl” looks into the life of Meseret a young girl who was 19 years old at the time of her first meeting with Hilina in 2013, and of her then nine month old daughter, Meron. The photo essay over the years depicts Meseret’s life as a shoe shiner girl (a largely male profession) in Ethiopia and explores her struggles, hopes and her survival as a young and single mother who strives to provide for her child. Life is not easy but Meseret is determined work often walking hours to work – pitches where she is able to find work shining shoes and often having to move home according to how much she can afford to rent (one room) not helped by landlords often raising rents and causing Meseret to have to find cheaper accommodation.


After losing contact with Meseret and her daughter in 2014, Hilina was able to reconnect with mother and daughter at the end of 2015. “She is not just a shoe shine girl but someone with incredible skills and dreams of her own. A couple of years ago, she progressed from shining shoes to making shoes (as pictured) all by hand”.


If readers know someone who can guide Meseret in this new journey of hers, especially in helping gain access to a marketplace, a start-up loan, or even just business advice, it will be of immense support to her. However, please do not offer any false promises or hopes – only legitimate offers of support”.


Photos © Copyright Hilina Abebe.

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