If I had a pound for every time I had used the word ‘amazing’ today I would be a rich woman, especially by Ethiopian standards. I actually used it twice in a tweet earlier today, which isn’t very clever, but the people I have met today really are amazing, so I make no excuses for the word.*
Today we went to visit an amazing** food project that has been supported by World Vision. The project is made up of around half a dozen women, all of whom were facing significant challenges when they started the group four years ago, including living with HIV and struggling as single parents to provide for their children on their own. One thing they shared though was ambition – a determination to makes their lives better.
The group were supported by World Vision and by the Ethiopian government to set up a business making the Ethiopian staple, injera. They wanted to do something that would provide an income for their families for years to come, a sustainable business that they could then grow into something much bigger as in turn their confidence and experience grew.
World Vision supported the group in two ways. Firstly they provided them with equipment and a small shop premises. One injera hotplate costs around 700 birr – totally put of the reach of most Ethiopian women starting up on their own, but the equivalent of only about £25. I don’t think I will ever be able to spend £25 again on something as frivolous as a ir of shoes now I’ve seen the difference such a small amount of money can make.
More importantly though, World Vision provided training, equipping the group of ambitious women with basic business skills. This type of support is priceless. Not only does it empower the initial group, but skills and knowledge can then be passed on to other women in the community, indirectly supporting many other families.
Enough of the background though. This isn’t about facts and figures, this is about real women.
Lemlem is the leader of the group, a sort of project manager if you will. Lemlem’s husband died unexpectedly 14 years ago, and after his death she struggled to make ends meet and to provide for her two children. Five years ago, after a period of illness, she discovered she was HIV positive, and it was the following year that she became involved in the project.
So succesful have they been that Lemlem is now able to pay for one of her children to go to private school, and she supports the other one financially while he attends university, sending him money for food. (We’re not really that different to mums in Ethiopia are we?)
Lemlem sits very still, her hands in her lap, while we ask her questions about how her life has changed since becoming in the injera project. She is softly spoken, but has a powerful presence – it is obvious that she is a woman with a wonderful strength of character.
I ask her how important it is to be a good role model for her children, for them to see her being ambitious for the future. “Anyone who is strong enough to work,” she says, “and is committed can change anything.”
They may currently be working for a small shack, but her dream is to grow the business and begin exporting to other countries, perhaps even the UK. Aiming high is clearly the name of the game.
Letay, a single mum of three, definitely couldn’t be described as softly spoken. Letay is the sassy one of the group, with a sharp sense of humour. Before we even begin our own attempts at injera making she is laughing, although it transpires that her friendly mocking is more than justified. You’d think that pouring a bit of batter onto a hot plate would be easy. It is not.
The aim is produce a smooth, thin injera, that cooks through evenly. I try to pretend the holes in mine are intentional, but I’m not sure Letay is convinced. “Good, good! Very good!” she says, but there is a twinkle in her eye.
These women have high hopes for the future. What are your dreams and ambitions?
*Perhaps you could turn this post into some sort of drinking game where you take a swig of Ethiopian wine (not recommended) every time I say it?
**Go on, a nice big gulp…
The simplicity of this post moved me. Us mums are pretty much all the same all over the world.
We really are! When I asked them of they had any questions for us you could feel a shift in the dynamic – suddenly we were just women gossiping, and they wanted to know all about our family, did we have boyfriends, what food we liked to eat….
It’s that thing isn’t it…. when you realise how far your own money could go, if you stopped pissing it up the wall on frivolous crap. It’s horrifying really.
It really is. You sort of know it, but don’t want to believe it, and then you see it and it’s like ‘oh, now I understand’.
Thank you for this post Jo, I found it to be really inspiring, at a time when I needed some inspiration! I have a friend, a fellow breastfeeding counsellor who lives in Ethiopia (she contributed to Musings on Mothering) and she’s doing amazing things to raise awareness about the importance of skin-to-skin contact for mother and baby right after birth – I believe it’s routine in the part of Ethiopia she’s in to separate mother and baby after birth :-( I think she’s also trying to set up a donor milk bank and is generally doing so much to help other mums become empowered through correct information about breastfeeding; as well as providing a listening ear to support them. So if she and all these amazing mums that you’re meeting in Ethiopia can really strive to achieve their ambitions, empowering themselves and others along the way so that they can provide for their children, so can I. I too want to help mothers to feel empowered, and to have correct information about breastfeeding, and friendly encouraging support, so that they can feel happy and comfortable about feeding their babies with their own free and ready-made superfood. Sending you and the other amazing mamas many many best wishes!
Thanks Teika, I’m glad to have been able to inspire you! I think we all feel at times like we are banging pur heads against a brick wall so sometimes it’s good to step back, see that there are a lot of projects that ARE working, and take fresh hope from these.
Great blog – am so encouraged by the way a small helping hand is all these women need and then “amazing” things happen! Well done to you for going out there to see the reality of what aid does, not all the negative whinging you see in the press.
I can honestly say that I’ve seen it with my own eyes – aid works!! And you’re right, it can be such a small amount of investment, yet it makes such a big difference. World Vision tend to work in a particular community for 15 years – enough time to put in strong foundations so that when they leave, initiatives, businesses and groups have the skills they need to be sustainable.
Hi there I am working as an Ambassador for WV UK, loving your daily blog on Ethiopia. My WV ‘child ‘ Yekitie lives in Ethiopia . I am currently writing my 2013 WV speech which I will be giving to organisations across Norfolk. May I use some of your Ethiopia blogging content? Let me know? Many thanks, I am very jealous of your trip! ‘B’ x
Absolutely! I’d love you too :-)
Thansk for sharing, I love to read of all the amazing things happening in countries that some people have written off. Ethiopia for me is a country of constant hope. Mich x
Constant hope is a perfect way to describe it. Everyone we have met as been so positive and it is actually one of the fastest growing economies on the world today, so definitely not one to be written off!