Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Voice for the Voiceless 

Describing herself

I am Christine Adokorach, 33 years old; I am also a mother of one son and two daughters. I am a Lawyer by profession and I define myself as a feminist.

Qualities that define me as an African woman of strength

There are many qualities that define me as an African woman of strength including but not limited to courage, braveness, calmness, intelligence, friendliness, honesty, empathy, quick to action, a self starter, persuasive and charismatic.

My AWLI Experience 

My experience involved learning, unlearning and relearning. For example under the personal empowerment, organization development, transfer of skills and knowledge, I learnt that women are judged in respect of their private/personal issues because of the patriarchal mind set to limit women participation in the public sphere. During this time we interrogated the institutions of marriage, family and religion and discovered that our attitudes had been shaped by them. It was from here that I committed to undo all the aspects geared at limiting/blocking me and fellow women’s participation in the private and public sphere.
In my work after the AWLI, I was able to reach out to women groups in West Nile and in Kampala among refugees; sensitized them around self-care and care for each other as a therapeutic aspect of leadership. This is because I further learned that you cannot give what you do not have.

Unique aspects of the AWLI training that stood out for me and lessons learned

One of the key aspects of the training was the topic on taking care of ourselves and each other. I have shared it extensively with several individual women, women groups during talks and in counseling, who have reported increased self-esteem and confidence including ability to share their story.
I got a new experience of knowing my person, body and taking care of myself; it was very empowering.

Reasons for every young woman to undertake the AWLI training

The training stimulates and prepares any woman to stand out of her private and public life with confidence and self-esteem. She becomes hungrier for knowledge and hence sharpens her articulacy and consistence. The training acts as a catalyst /stimulant for women of all ages to begin thinking. By the time one is out, they only want to do something to advance justice for women where ever they are.

Message to AMwA at 30 years

I first would like to congratulate AMwA for marking 30 years of advancing African women’s voices. I trust that you will continue to strengthen women’s voices on the continent and beyond. My message to AMwA is that although the feminist movement has focused on the regional and international spaces, there is need to consolidate the women movement at the grassroots for both the illiterate and literate, generate resources from within the movement for ownership, continue to identify, develop, empower mentor and facilitate young feminists to take up public offices as an activity towards achieving transformed societies.

Transforming the women’s movement from “NGOlisation” to Activism.

I believe the women’s movement continues to be challenged because it lacks its own resources ( funds, we the women should fund the movement to advance our interests and be accountable to us) and is always run on donor terms and deadlines hence change of goal posts depending on the interests of the donors, the women’s constituency is very large and needs to be reached and liberated, we have not yet attained solidarity and ownership of the movement as a women’s body with women from all walks of life. Many women have fallen out of the movement for various reasons hence need for constant refreshers and renewal of solidarity.
The women’s movement needs to have consensus, solidarity and unity; bringing together women from all walks of life. Facilitate members to participate in political leadership. Engage with religious and cultural institutions. Women have been relied on throughout time immemorial to sensitize and train children and fellow women (young women/girls) hence have played a paramount role of ensuring the continuity of patriarchy. Women are responsible for bringing up children, hospitality; teaching fellow women being married in the family/clan/tribe hence are responsible for training and sensitization on matters of custom/ tradition. Women of all walks of life should be targeted to facilitate attitude change and establish acceptable traditions and customs through the young generation

Views on the Post 2015 development framework and what I would like to see African governments commit

End armed conflict, safeguard borders against arms and human trafficking as these continue to jeopardize/thwart all efforts towards ending all forms of violence against women.

Advise to young women interested in political leadership

Have a clear understanding of women’s political, social, economic and cultural environment. You ought to be a feminist and identify with the women’s movement this will keep you on track have a personal agenda and align it with in the right political group where your interests have the possibility of being achieved. Assertiveness and confidence will be sharpened with continued interaction within the women’s movement; always consult your constituency and the women movement.

Remembering Christine

When I am long gone, I would like this world to remember me for having been a friend of women and bringing out the best out of every women and girl I got in contact with.

Learning more about Christine;

My life’s philosophy is that I do not need to have a title to be a leader, but simply identify a need and avail myself as a change agent. I was born into a polygamous family, an elder of eight siblings; leadership came in naturally for me at a tender age providing and protecting my siblings.
After my Law degree in 2006 I headed north to Adjumani district and began interning at the districts natural resources department. My stay exposed me to gross human rights abuse through courts and local government structures against the weak and ignorant communities including high prevalence of GBV hence I founded the first legal aid clinic in African Development and Peace Initiatives a local CBO. I further networked with the Legal Aid Project of Uganda Law society in Gulu to represent Clients in court at no cost which had never been in place before. It was a common occurrence for court clerks to draft both plaints and statements of defense hence for parties to a suit at a cost thwarting justice for those in the favor of the clerks and magistrate, no written judgments etc. I am grateful that I laid a foundation for increased information on rights and procedures for claiming. I also worked extensively at the early stages of the transitional justice discourse in northern Uganda where my organization was branded a rebel collaborator in a bid to shut up our voice concerning victims’ rights by the local government and district intelligence officers. Am happy I gracefully took on the conflict and with the support of OHCHR the president’s office concluded the matter clarified and apologized for the acts of their errant officer.
In 2007 I met two wonderful women in the Hague while attending a working seminar on SGBV before the ICC for countries being investigated by the court. When we returned we founded an organization in Gulu called Centre for Reparation and Rehabilitation to provide legal Aid services, advocacy for reparation and rehabilitation for victims/survivors of the LRA conflict, provision of psycho-social support. Our target beneficiaries were women and children who are the most affected. We were very active transitional justice activists, raising the voice of women survivors of the conflict.
I am currently the chairperson of a grassroots women’s organization called Rural Women’s Action to participate and decide. I founded it immediately after the AWLI in 2012; its purpose is to mobilize grassroots and rural women and women groups into a movement, provide a secretariat and training facility for the movement. I have not yet achieved this due lack of funding but I have determined to persuade the women to fund the activities through donations, subscription and membership and they are interested. My biggest challenge is time due to pursuit for personal development being a young woman; I have not yet attained financial independence. I find myself torn between working for a salary which keeps me out of action against doing what I love the most - Women Activism.

AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Sub Saharan Africa- Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or AMwA please follow the links below.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Defeating Poverty

My name is Zeyneba Yinga; I was born in 1974 and grew up in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa around a place called ‘Kirkos’. The area used to be populated by very poor families but there was a very strong social bond between families. My mother passed away while giving birth to my sixth sibling; I was then 12 years old and my youngest sister was just one. Between the two of us, there were four boys.  Following the death of my mother, all responsibility of taking care of my siblings fell on my shoulders as I was the first born and a girl.

I remember a day where I came from school and there was nothing to eat at home that I found my siblings crying for food. I just couldn’t watch them cry so I run to a neighbor’s house where I found the family sitting for a meal. They invited me to join them and I very much wanted to eat but couldn’t do so thinking about my hungry siblings crying for food at home. Hence, I lied saying that I just had lunch however the lady gave me a ‘gursha’ (gursha is a traditional way of sharing meal with someone else by putting a chunk of food –usually big, into their mouth). I pretended to have eaten the food but took it out and covered it with my scarf. They gave me more ‘gurshas’ , I did the same and run home to feed my siblings. I have so many stories that I witnessed to at a young age, and all of them are very sad. I always wonder if the burden would have been that heavy on me had I not been a female. If I were a boy, would I be expected to be as much responsible?

Let me now tell you how I got to Women in Self Employment (WISE). I joined WISE while I was in the worst of situations. It was a woman in my neighborhood who advised me to join WISE. As I met the criteria of being very poor, I was immediately accepted and started saving 1-2 birr ($.05 -.1 cents) per week. After few weeks, I took the Basic Business Skills training which was so lively that it made me forget my problems at home. Trainees were given birr 5 ($.2) for transportation and were offered some bread and tea during breaks. For someone like me, who didn’t have a proper breakfast or lunch, that meant a lot! I used to save the money I was given for transportation and walk home. Since all trainees were in similar situations, we understood each other very well. The training enabled us ask ourselves critical questions like “Who am I? What do I have? Why am I poor? How can I change my situation? What should I do?”

After completing the training, I took a loan of birr 500($25) from my saving and credit association and used it for a business plan. I was tempted to buy a pair of sandals with the money but I decided not to and continued wearing the torn shoe. My first business was preparing and selling spices. I was doing everything by myself and I can’t tell you the exhaustion. I paid back the loan in a year and continued taking more loans. With the third cycle loan, I started a ladies beauty salon and I was already attending hairdressing training. Life started to look good. I created job opportunities for two more people. In addition, I started a trash collecting business partnering with two women I came to know at WISE. AS the practice was new then, I needed to knock on 1000 doors and was able to register only 50 houses that requested the service. I used to carry the trash on my back to discard it and some people used to tease me calling me “Koshe”- trash and my reply to them was ‘the cash is clean!’I gradually employed 12 men and women for the job. When the government changed its regulation on ownership of trash collecting businesses after five years, I handed the business with the entire asset over to my employees and fully moved to a café and restaurant business. I also gave my beauty salon to my brothers and sisters. Through it all, I continued getting advices and encouragement from the staffs at WISE; and the director has been like a mother to me.

Let me cut my story short and tell you where I am now. The self employment that started with 500 birr ($25) loan has now grown to a capital of millions and aspires to go up to billions. My house is estimated at birr 2 million ($100,000) , my car birr 300,000 ($15,000), a loader rental business I ran in partnership with a friend , also a member at WISE, estimated at birr 3 million ($150,000), my café and restaurant worth birr 300,000 ($15,000). Recently, the government gave me a 2000m2 piece of land to establish a flour mill factory and I am currently processing the license. I have created jobs for 22 employees excluding the trash collecting and beauty salon businesses. I received awards from the former Ethiopian Prime Minister, the former President of Ethiopia, my sub- city administration and WISE.

I now have three kinds and a supportive husband. Regarding my education, I dropped out of school when I was a 5th grader, tried to continue with it later but dropped out again reaching 11th grade.

I continue to share my experience with new members of WISE and mediate people in conflict in my neighborhood. I help people in need as much as I can and have served in my cooperative as a chairperson for six years. I do all these with grateful heart remembering where I came from.

Zeyneba Yinga 

  Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.                                      

Monday, December 8, 2014

The personal mastery of Virginie

 Virginie at first appeared too quiet and a bit un-involved for a person picked to represent her organization in the Rwandan version of feminist leadership training under the ACE Program.

But her quietness could be attributed to the fact that she only had a smattering knowledge of English to fully feel involved. However, this was no deterrence to her participation. She requested to express herself in Kinyarwanda as the training began, while eager colleagues were on hand to translate the proceedings which were conducted in English.
One of the hall marks of the leadership training involves personal mastery, which has to begin with self discovery. It is anchored on the notion that understanding oneself can lead to personal growth by being able to face yourself for who you are and aspire to become. This is by building on your strengths and improving on your weaknesses for personal transformation.

It was during the sessions in personal mastery that, in facing herself by narrating the situation that characterized her life, Virginie defined one of the most poignant moments of the workshop.

Every woman has her story. Yet, hers was many women’s story; the story of abuse and dis-empowerment across Africa and the world that makes it a universal women’s issue. Virginie encapsulated this when she broke down in tears recounting the emotional violence she has experienced in her own home.

By virtue of only being able to express herself in Kinyarwanda, she was in many ways symbolic of the situation of the Rwandan woman and the oppressive patriarchal structures she has had to endure in her socio-cultural milieu. She demonstrated not only her frustrations in personal empowerment, but the frustrations most Rwanda women must face in the existing barriers to effective leadership and personal advancement that continue to be entrenched in cultural norms and are perpetuated patriarchal hierarchies. Traditional social and gender norms continue to perceive women as inferior, while there is limited awareness on human rights.

Yet, Virginie is an accomplished leader, despite the abuse and humiliation she suffered in her domestic situation.

“I am the leader of the ruling political party in my community, as well as the leader of my women’s group and, among others, of the parents’ forum at my children’s school,” she had explained without seeming to quite appreciate the personal achievement.
The irony was that this was yet another exemplification of Rwandan women and their leadership potential despite having to contend with patriarchal structures that tend to keep them down, paradoxically in a policy climate and political will that champions women.
But the moral of Virginie’s story was that, like most of the participants at the workshop, she was not aware of herself as a leader, as if it was a favor, and appeared to have resigned herself to her fate in her colleagues’ vote and realization of her potential to thrust her on the pedestal to lead them.

The feminist leadership training was about unlocking the leadership potential by making it obvious that it is inherent in women to be effective leaders and claim their right as such in defiance of the patriarchal hierarchies.

By the end of the workshop Virginie was a changed and empowered woman. For one who could only express herself in Kinyarwanda, she vowed to express herself in English henceforth. Speaking in English symbolized her empowerment to overcome any of her life’s hurdles; she demonstrated how “the personal is political” in learning to assert one’s rights through self awareness and understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to build on our strengths in our various socio-cultural and political contexts towards our individual and collective empowerment.

Rwanda Women's Network (RWN) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.
For more on IIE , ACE or RWN please follow the links below.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Who am I?

I am Agness Chindimba, a young feminist and a disability rights activist from Zimbabwe. I am also a mother and a wife. I have been deaf since the age of 14.Many people think that I am outspoken, but I believe in speaking my mind. If someone is wrong I believe I should tell them so. I have my opinions on many issues and I believe that my voice should be heard as well. I also believe that it is my duty to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, for whatever reason. I have values and principles, I do not believe I should compromise on these just to please someone;my values define who I am; a strong African woman.

My Passion for advocacy for people with disabilities

My first interaction with deaf people was in 2000 when I was transferred to a special school for the deaf. When I became deaf in 1995, I continued to learn in a mainstream setting; my mind was opened to the trials and tribulations that the young deaf girls went through on a day to day basis as they struggled to be understood by a system that was ignorant of their needs.

After I finished my studies I began working with deaf children. I would be called on several occasions to help the police with communication with deaf girls who had been sexually abused. From that point the challenges that these deaf girls faced became my own. It was then that I decided to take up the cause of the deaf girls and other women with disabilities. I could speak and write but most of the deaf girls struggled to be understood because those who were supposed to help them could not understand their language. However what inspired me most was to make a difference in someone else`s life

Living with a disability myself has inspired me to be an activist so that the future generation of women with disabilities will not face the same challenges that we are facing today; especially challenges of exclusion.Being Deaf motivated me a lot as I feel that I understand people with disabilities better especially women and children because I experience the same things they go through; it is different from someone who can only imagine what or how it feels.My love for people is the one thing that keeps me going.

Reflecting on the feminist facilitation course I attended in June 2013

It really started in 2010 when I applied and I was accepted into the Young Feminist Leadership Course that was organized by Open Society Initiative of Southern Africa (OSISA) and Africa University. The intensive course gave us a thorough grounding in concepts of Feminism; I was able to speak from a position of knowledge when I spoke out about issues that affected women with disabilities. As a follow up to the 2010 course, the feminist facilitation workshop organized by OSISA and Akina Mama waAfrika (AMwA) in 2013 further enhanced my skills especially on facilitating feminism learning to other young women with disabilities.

The workshop has greatly influenced my work in so many ways, especially through raising my confidenceand enhanced my facilitation skills. It has also encouraged me to think outside the box and be innovative in order to find solutions to the problems I face or those that face the disabled community in my country and beyond. Being with the other young feminists during the facilitation workshop also helped me “recharge my batteries” and made me see things in perspective. I learnt a lot from the facilitators and the other young feminists.

Following the workshop I organized a training for 10 deaf women from across the country on feminism concepts that was sponsored by AMwA in partnership with OSISA as part of the post training activities. This created an opportunity to not only practice my skills and knowledge in feminist facilitation but also enabled me transfer feminism learning to other young deaf women in my community.  And we are now working at building a movement of young deaf women in the country.

Further I, with others, founded an organisation, Deaf Women Included, which advocates for the inclusion of deaf women in issues that affect them. We hosted forums and workshops, initially at the major urban centres on participation of deaf women in formulation of policies that affect them. I must say I am putting the facilitation skills I learnt to good use.

Some of the success stories of my activism since I started working with this constituency

It were concerted efforts of the  disability rights movement in Zimbabwe  that led to the signing and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD) by His Excellency, President Robert Mugabe on 23rd September 2013, and I am proud to have been part of this movement. For the deaf people in Zimbabwe, the adoption of the new Constitution for the country in March 2013 also saw the Sign Language being accorded official language status. These are achievements that we have been celebrating as both instruments offer us more opportunities for advocacy.

Our organisation, Deaf Women Included, has experienced notable growth in less than a year of operations. Through our projects on participation we have mobilized young deaf women from across the country so that their voices can be heard. This project is ongoing. We are also ensuring that young women with disabilities have information on Gender Based Violence and Sexual and Reproductive Health. Personally I have been using every available opportunity to fight for the inclusion of women with disabilities into the mainstream feminist movement. And I have written an article about the same in the past.

My call to African governments in the wake of the Post 2015 Agenda

It is encouraging that disability mainstreaming has been recognized in the post 2015 development agenda. The governments realized that by leaving disability out of the development framework the chances of meeting the development targets were limited. Persons with disabilities constitute 15% of the global population so by leaving out this key population component, the chances of reaching the development goals were slim. I think African governments should commit in ensuring that the rights of its disabled citizens are respected,more so for women and children. We hope that such commitments will be operationalized and not left on paper only. I feel that the women and children with disabilities are the most affected and the most vulnerable first because they are women and second because they are disabled and children because they are defenseless hence they need more protection from the governments.

New challenges and new opportunities facing African Women’s organizing

While we have achieved major strides as African women, there are still challenges ahead. I think that our society still looks at strong African women with suspicion. However we must still forge ahead with the struggle for social justice. It is also not enough when governments pay lip service to issues affecting women.
African women still need to be economically empowered and we need to make sure that we keep in touch with the grassroots and not to have a situation whereby those fighting for women’s rights become divorced from the women at the grassroots. I still would like to see the women’s rights movement embracing women with disabilities. Poverty remains a reality among women with disabilities. Ourwomen are also lacking when it comes to the issue of participating in key issues such as economic, social and political as a result this is a hindrance to development.

For women with disabilities in particular, I think the signing and ratification of the United Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities by a number of African governments is a major opportunity. We need to hold those in authority to their commitments. I also think that issues of gender are getting to be understood in the corridors of power so African women need to take advantage of such developments. The rise of the feminist movement is also giving women an opportunity to liberate themselves from the patriarchal system.

Advise for any young women interested in leadership

To the young women who are interested in leadership; I say do not let anyone discourage you for you are a very strong woman who can make a difference so you should go for it. I also believe that no one should be discouraged from taking up a cause that they believe in. Leadership requires commitment to a cause. Leadership is also about sacrifice. It is important to find mentors within our networks who can guide you on the leadership journey.

Celebrating my works

I would like to be remembered as a woman of strength who had passion for rights of women with disabilities and persons with disabilities in general.

AKina Mama wa Afrika (AMwA) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or AMwA please follow the links below.

Monday, November 3, 2014

My name is Pauline Atieno and I am 19 years old. If I could describe myself in three words, I would say; smart, driven and respectful. I started playing football at an early age till this day I still get an adrenaline rush every time I play or even thinking about it.  I began playing football in 2007 for Binti Football Club while still in primary school at that time we were only 6 girls on team. When Binti started, many girls were not playing football because most of our parents did not want us to play football. They thought it would distract us from our studies and household chores or make us engage in “bad things”. Later on my mother came to realize that I was a talented footballer and football was not going to prevent me from working hard in school.
Being in Binti has been a great experience for me. Being the only girl in my family it was Binti that gave me other sisters who I can share my experiences with. I have been exposed to different people and places. I have gone for learning exchanges with girls from various parts on the country and I came to realise that many adolescent girls experience similar challenges. Through Binti I was able to secure a scholarship to study at Matuu Girls High school and I am currently at Kenyatta University on a football scholarship studying a Bachelor’s Degree in Education. No one in my family has ever attended university I am not only the first one but a girl for that matter. This is a huge achievement for me and being at Binti made me prove the community wrong as they never thought we could study and play football.  
Over the years my leadership skills have been sharpened through the Binti empowerment sessions.  In 2012 I was trained as a peer educator during the YWLI Adolescent Girls Leadership Camp.  This training enabled me to facilitate sessions at YWLI outreach projects as well as during sessions and with other young girls in the community.
My facilitation skills have grown tremendously. I usually use the YWLI adolescent curriculum as a guide during my sessions, my favourite topic in the curriculum is leadership. When facilitating I have noticed how the participants really enjoy the activities especially the games part and I must say that’s my favourite part too.
“I would really like to see more girls at the community empowered and informed with accurate information, this is my driving force to continue with my peer education

Young Women's Leadership Institute (YWLI) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership program run by the Institute of International Education (IIE) , Ethiopia Office.

For more on IIE , ACE or YWLI please follow the links below.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

“Aim High, Value Time and Convert it to Cash"

Bizunesh Geberehiwot is well known for her excellent public speaking. She served in a Cooperative for six years as a chairperson. Currently she is serving the same Cooperative as a member of the Control Committee. She will tell us her story in short as follows:

My name is Bizunesh Geberehiwot. I was born in February 1957 in Addis Ababa. I am the first child for my parents. I completed elementary school and as I passed the 8th grade national exam, I was transferred to Teferi Mekonen School.  I met my husband when I was a 7th grade student. At that time he was a famous sports man and a boxer. We met when he was going for training and I was on my way to school. When we first met, I was only 16 years old. Since I was in love with him I dropped out of school and married him in accordance with the traditional ceremony.

I then gave birth to four children. When I lived with my parents, I was a spoiled child and I was not able to cope up with the changes and responsibilities I faced in a married life. My husband’s monthly earning was 25 birr (~$2.5) . His salary was not sufficient to support us. As a result it was inevitable for me to start working. I started working in Nifas Silk Thread Factory. My pay was 75 cents (~$.075%) per day. Still our earning was not balanced with our demands. In addition to working there, I used to take different goods to the factory, sell them on credit and collect the money when the employees collect their salaries. Though I did not have much money I managed to send my children to school.

Since my husband stopped contributing money for the household, I decided to go to the sports commission and ask for my share from his salary and stopped waiting for him to give me money every month. Unfortunately my husband passed away in 1999. After his death I was faced with hardship. All my family members had passed away and nobody was by my side.  At that time it used to take two years to authenticate a retirement benefit of one’s spouse. Through that period of time we were in a difficult condition. On top of everything that was happening to me, the factory I was working in was bankrupted and I was laid off.

It was at this moment of hardship that Women in Self Employment (WISE) came in to my life, in 2005. I never was fan of taking credit. However, before providing us with any credit, WISE gave us a training on how to invest, save and manage money, and how to develop speaking skills. With 55 members in it, the  Saving and Credit Cooperative I was a member of was established and I was elected as its first chairperson. After that, I started noticing changes in myself. I felt as if I just started living. Even though I knew how to read, I knew nothing about investment, profit, loss and the value of my labor.

Based on the knowledge I have acquired from WISE, I took my first round of loan. I started trading twice a week in a certain area in Addis. Currently I have goods worth over 6000 birr ($316) at my kiosk in Addis.

My son was unemployed hence I opened a barber shop for him and now he is working successfully. My first child runs a beauty salon for women in the house I inherited from my parents.  The asset we have is estimated to be more than 80,000 birr ($4211) and we have created job opportunities for three people.

In an Innovative and Viable Business Idea’s Competition, which was organized by WISE in 2010, I competed and won a prize of birr 5000($263). I also received 200 ($10.5) and 300 birr ($15.8) awards from two competitions that took place in our Cooperative. Before, I never had speaking skills; now I am capable of speaking in public and sharing my experience to women like me in different forums and events.

I do not have words to express what I feel about WISE.  I was a woman who used to borrow money in exchange for my gold earrings. Today I am not only helping myself but also others. I have savings in two different places, one in my Cooperative, I save around 356 birr ($18.7) every week.

I am now responsible for controlling the activities in my Cooperative. I make sure that no amount of money is withdrawn from the Cooperative for a reason which is not convincing. I have taken a 33,000 birr ($1737) loan and my saving in the association has reached 11,000 birr ($579). My long term plan is to purchase a vehicle. The message I want to pass on to other women is that there is no way a woman who is trained and assisted by WISE could not change if she is open-minded.  In addition, we women have to be strong and persistent in what we have started. We need to aim high to achieve the end goal. We need to value time and convert it to cash.

   Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.                                                                                                     

Monday, August 18, 2014

“More Organizations like WISE,  less Poverty”

I was born in 1963 in Gojam region, in an area called Bure. I was the third child for my family. My father was a merchant and had a low value for education. However, with my own determination, I studied until 11th grade. In between, my parents forced me to stop going to school and get married. After getting married, I gave birth to two kids. Even though I have children, I decided I should still go to school and complete high school. I did and I went further and worked on my diploma. Since I was married against my will, I felt pressured; I filed for divorce and migrated to Addis Ababa. 

When I came to Addis Ababa, I came with the hope of a better life in mind. However, situations turned out differently. I started my life in the city by working as a cashier in a hotel.  While working in the hotel, I met my second husband. We got married in 1987 and started living together. I left my job and after that I started facing difficulties.  Even though my husband was providing me with the things I needed in the house; I was not able to have enough cash on my hand. As my father was a merchant, I grew up having cash on my hand. Therefore I was not able to cope with the changes I faced. It became impossible for me to leave my house and socialize. My self-esteem became very low and started believing that this was my destiny.

I lived in a kebele (district) where the head was a woman. Frequently, I used to come in contact with her and mention to her that I could be the chair of the women’s association if it were strongly organized. I did this because I am educated and believed that I should not simply stay home; I was looking for an opportunity to leave the house and do something productive.  Fortunately, one person came to my house and informed me that a new institution named Women in Self Employment (WISE) has been established. I was very happy when we were gathered and given orientation about the programme.

In 2009, I became a member of the cooperative established. In the process of taking training on Basic Business Skills, I started envisioning a bright future. I began to think that it all happened for me. All the trainings given were engraved in my heart. With the idea of working on what is not there in mind, I took the first round of loan and started selling spiced butter. Although it was successful, it was exhausting and as a result I decided to stop and shift to street vending which was for the moment making and selling potato chips. In a very short period of time, the business became profitable. So I thought to myself, if it is this profitable, I should not be working on the street.

I then made potato chips, packed them in 100 pieces of plastic bag, wrote my name and phone number. I told my children to go around and distribute them for free. On that same day, 36 customers phoned and placed their orders. I delivered the orders and after that Hiwot Chips became well known in the area. In 2008, in a competition of innovative and variable business ideas, I made potato porridge from the starch of the potato and also made food for cattle from the peels of the potatoes. I won the competition and got a prize of 30,000 birr ($1546). With the money I was awarded, I rented a hotel in Chancho town and invested there successfully for two years. In addition to this I bought a plot of land and started a potato farm. 

The competition’s benefit was not limited to financial award only, but also linked me with different organizations and built up my network. For instance, I got in to Holeta Research Center and was part of a research conducted about the food content of potato starch. In addition, with partners of WISE, such as Concern Ethiopia, I was invited to travel to Wolaita and Wolo to share my experience with others. Furthermore, I also gave training to farmers on the benefits of potato and other ways of cooking it besides boiling and cooking it in to a stew. I believe I am where I am right now because of what I have gained from the trainings on Creative Thinking given by WISE. 

In 2013 I also won a second place in the competition. By using used papers, I invented a charcoal lighter and won a 10,000 birr ($ 515) prize. I was initiated to make the invention from the tip I was given on a WISE training. We were thought that creativity is the solution for a problem. In the same year, in a Bazaar and Exhibition organized by WISE for Christmas, I was able to make 2000 birr ($103) by selling my invention.

I am now done paying off debt, which was 16,000 birr ($825). Currently, I am preparing to take the next round of loan. The saving amount I now have in my cooperative is around 15,000 birr ($773). Besides what I save in the bank, I have bought shares in Addis International Bank. At this moment, I am able to help more than 100 destitute children who have lost both parents. When EdegetBer Saving and Credit Cooperative was established, I served as the Chairperson of the cooperative for two years and later I also served as its Vice chairperson. Currently, though I have transferred my position to others, I am contributing to my cooperative by encouraging other women to join and persuading those who are thinking of leaving the cooperative to stay.

My plan for the future is to facilitate ways to enable me take my next round of loan, in order to pursue and upgrade my inventions, specially the second one. The message I would like to pass on is that there are so many women out there who have the knowledge but not the resource and the knowhow to convert what they have to action. Though WISE is now working with these kinds of women, this Organization alone cannot reach every woman. I suggest; if other organizations with a vision similar to WISE are established, it would be possible to eradicate poverty in a short period of time.

From EdegetBer Saving and Credit Cooperative

                                                                   Kirkos Sub-city

Women in Self Employment (WISE) is one of the four partner institutes of the African Centers of Excellence (ACE) for Women's Leadership Program run by the Institute of Intenrational Education (IIE), Ethiopia Office 

For more on IIE , ACE or WISE please follow the links below.