We’ve been working with single mothers in Bahir Dar, a city in northern Ethiopia, for the past 8 years, helping them start their own businesses so they can better provide for their families. These women get $275 microloans and training in business skills to help get their small businesses up and running. Not only do these businesses help women become more financially independent and confident, they enable them to send their children to school, pay for healthcare, and build a stronger community. Since we started our program in 2008, we’ve worked with 269 women. Today we are sharing the life stories of two women who have participated in our program.
Asnakech and her son
It’s early afternoon and Mrs. Asnakech is at home with her thirteen-year-old son. This isn’t how it’s always been. A few years ago, Asnakech’s husband died and she suddenly became the sole provider for her family. In order to try to make ends meet, Asnakech began working very long hours as a helper on construction sites. She started her workday at 6 am and came home after the sun had set. Her son would come home from school to an empty house and was accustomed to spending much of his time with neighbors. The only time Asnakech saw her son was after work when she was completely exhausted and struggled to keep her eyes open.
Since enrolling in our program, things have changed for Asnakech and her son. Receiving business training not only gave Asnakech the skills she needed to start her own business, it made her confident that she could actually be a successful business owner. Without this belief in herself and the support of her peers in the program, Asnakech wouldn’t have moved forward with her business plan. Today, Asnakech has two successful businesses and no longer works grueling hours at construction sites. She is now brewing and selling her homemade beer and also has a laundry business. When we asked her son how he felt about his mom being able to be at home more, he answered, “Now I’m finally happy,” with a huge smile on his face.
In 2001 Eseye Degu became a widow after her husband died fighting in the state army. She was pregnant with their second child. For the past fifteen years she has been focused on providing for her children When we asked if she was looking to get remarried, Eseye answered, “No, I’m not looking for another husband right now. I just want to take care of my children.”
After Eseye’s husband died, she couldn’t ask her family for help because they were all living in a village far away. Plus, they were struggling as well and Eseye knew that they would be able to provide little support. Eseye began working in a hotel kitchen for about $6 a month. She left for work very early in the morning didn’t return home until late evening. She couldn’t afford to pay anyone to care for her children.
Eseye hasn’t received any help from the state or gotten a pension or any type of compensation for the death of her husband who died fighting for his country. “They’ve told me to register at the Addis Ababa office, but I have had no money to get there. Even If I had the money, I’d rather buy my children some food.”
A New Beginning
Last year Eseye attended our introductory business training course. Since then she has started to make and sell her own beer and liquor (Areke). She earns 5 times more than she did in the hotel kitchen and she can work from home, enabling her to spend more time with her kids. “I close the shop as soon as the sun sets. I want my kids to have a calm time to study.”
While Eseye and her business have been doing very well, our colleagues in Bahir Dar want to help her get compensation, if possible, for her husband’s death. They will do whatever they can. “It is possible that her husband listed another woman as the recipient of the compensation,” Mr. Teshome Tena, project coordinator, explained. Unfortunately, this doesn’t only happen to the wives of soldiers. If a woman can’t earn money due to an illness or loss of a job, she is often thought of as a burden and can easily end up on the streets with her children and no support. This grim reality is part of what motivates our staff on the ground to continue helping women gain economic and personal independence so they can have more control of their lives and dream of a better future.