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.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

I grew up in Nairobi, lived in langata for the better part of my childhood years and still live in langata. We are a family of five. I have two brothers whom I love dearly. One is in form four the other is in his first year of a foundation course.

Growing up I loved reading to this day I still love to read. I loved the big old novels with very tiny font; those took a while to finish and were much more interesting. I loved swimming and was very good at it can’t say am still good at it I have not been at it for a while.  I was loud as a child I am still loud, I was strong willed and always spoke my mind. I still have more of those characteristics and I believe they are my best qualities.

I was not really good at math but really good in English and history. Those were my favorite subjects, I guess mostly,because I found reading much easier than calculating and figuring out how to use formulas.  Even as I progressed to high school, my strengths included English and history to this day in my opinion you haven’t been taught English unless you were taught by Mrs. Omollo my high school English teacher.

I am currently pursuing a bachelor degree in law at the University of Nairobi School of Law. I have just completed my fourth year exams.  Growing up I was very passionate about the law( I was and still am a very good public speaker) I especially loved arguing out my points more so when I knew I was right and the other person was wrong.  It is from my primary school experience that can say that my passion for the law was cultivated. I was in Loreto Convent Msongari primary school.  I was in a class full of girls whom to this day I believe are some of the greatest minds in this country. Each day my classmates positively challenged me, they challenged me to improve my grades, they challenged me to read more, to accumulate more knowledge and to learn new “big” English words so that I would use them the next day in class, just to seem even if it was for one day, as the brightest student in class but that was quickly short lived because the next day someone else would come having learnt a new word. On the plus side law does not have that much math it was a win win situation.

I would say I love studying law because I believe without the law society as it is right now would be in a state of anarchy. I believe that the law brings about order in society and instills a need for responsibility. I also do believe that the law has the power to bring about significant change in the society. I would love to be part of this change and not only be a part of it but also play an active role in ensuring that laws that will have a positive impact on society are enacted. This fueled my need to explore inter-sexuality as my thesis topic.  Through the law the rights of minorities can be championed. For me inter-sex individuals in Kenya are a minority group whose fundamental human rights have been violated and continue to be violated.  Intersexuality is not a unique phenomenon, it is not a disability and it is not a disease that requires to be corrected. I believe that by conducting research into this area I will be able to bring to light the plight of intersex individuals in Kenya and also suggest legal reforms that are long overdue that will enable the legal recognition of intersex individuals in Kenya. The journey has not been easy but I have been able to complete my thesis and I hope to build on it n future. I am not only passionate on issues affecting minority groups but also human rights issues and issues affecting women in Africa more so sexual reproductive health issues.

My experience at YWLI has been an eye opening and educational experience which I was very fortunate and grateful to have had. I learnt a lot on issues surrounding sexual reproductive health that affect women in Kenya. Through YWLI I was able to conduct research into the area of abortion. For me abortion has been a very grey area, for me it has always been a conflict between morality and fundamental human rights. Form YWLI I was afforded the opportunity to conduct an offline survey and also to deduce several findings from the survey. Firstly  that abortion is an issue of fundamental human rights more than morality and secondly that the law as it is, is patriarchal in nature and as such does not adequately and effectively address the issues affecting women.  My time at YWLI was also a learning experience I learnt how to conduct and compile research.  I was also able to make valuable connections with persons who would assist me with my thesis. All in all my experience at YWLI was a very valuable experience that i feel very fortunate and proud to have had.

I am a proud feminist. It took me a while to get to that point of appreciating feminism. My experience at YWLI helped me appreciate feminism and to be proud to be one. As such I will leave you with a quote by one of my favorite authors Jane Austen, for me this quote encapsulates the struggle and the journey  of feminism , equality and equity .

“I hate to hear you talk about all women as if they were fine ladies instead of rational creatures. None of us want to be in calm waters all our lives.” 

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. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Domitilla: The making of a community leader

Domitilla Mukanganza is a community leader in Kagugu Sector, Gasabo District, City of Kigali. She is also the head of her women’s cooperative. Her story finds genesis in domestic violence on her path to becoming a community leader.

Domitilla could only bear one child, and for this had to suffer humiliation and physical violence at the hands of her husband who found her worthless in her “infertility”.
It matters little that the beatings began in 2006, over 20 years after she gave birth to her son in 1985.

The battery started after her husband had been away from home for three days, and after Domitilla wanted to know where he had been, not seeming to care whether the family had eaten while he had been away.

For four years the physical and emotional violence continued all this while being reminded that she could not bear him more children.

In 2009, matters got out of hand after the husband took a hoe and hit her on the head, leaving her with a deep cut that needed medical attention. But when Domitilla reported the matter to the Police with help of concerned neighbours, her husband was held in the cells for only a few hours and released without charge.

It was around this time she came to know about Rwanda Women’s Network, to whom she poured her problems and received sympathy, and especially the safe space where she received counseling and group support.

Domitilla recalls the initial assistance she received to store her bean harvest at RWN premises away from her husband to prevent his selling them to get drunk. And, to supplement her income, she received training in weaving mats, bedcovers and other artifacts through Hope Cooperative, a socio-economic support group at RWN that found market in places as far as the United States of America.

While being able to earn steady income was empowering, she says it is the training she received on women’s rights – that women have equal rights as men – that would pave the way to who she is today.

Before she received the training in women rights, of which she is now a community paralegal, she did not believe she could stand for herself or speak before people.
But she gained in confidence and became more assertive, so that her husband and community took notice and began to give her respect.
She also gained weight. From 40 kilogrammes, she is much healthier and now weighs 63 – the right weight for her size.

As she gained her weight and confidence, she noticed how people around her were paying more attention when she spoke. She began being called to solve domestic issues as her advice was sought to maintain harmony in her community.
This led to her being elected head of her cooperative group of 30 members that engages in various socio-economic activities.

She is now a community leader in Gicikiza, her Umudugudu (village), where she is overseeing the monthly community activities (Umuganda) that also provide a forum to discuss issues affecting the community. She is also in charge of efforts in her village against gender-based violence where women and children are involved.

Domitilla has since reconciled with her husband and is today a grandmother of four, with whom she lives with her son in Gicikiza.

 Contacts:            Rwanda Women Network
                                Email address:

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

“Respect all kind of work to become successful”

My name is Elfnesh Abegaz. I was born in the Western part of Ethiopia. I don’t know the exact year of my birth; I just know that it was in a remote rural area. My parents didn’t send me to school because back then it was thought useless to send a girl to school. I was employed as a house maid at an early age to support my family after coming to the capital of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa and after a while I moved into a textile business.

In 1970 E.C, I got engaged to a man I used to do business with and started living with him then after; we now have 8 children together. I used to run my business and engage in Ikub (rotating savings) to feed my children. But the fact that the textile business held too much money left me with a hard time expanding my business. As a result, I found it difficult to feed my children and lead a good life.    

In the meantime, the Organization for Women in Self Employment (WISE) opened up a branch office at one of the Sub-Cities in Addis Ababa and I heard about the Organization for the first time. I searched and found its location to become a member of the Organization. I started saving money and took the basic business training course. I took my first round of loan 500 Birr ($50) right after the training.
I expanded my textile business with the money and started to trade. The blazing sun was difficult to put up with everyday that I had to put on tarps to protect me from the excessive exposure to sunlight. Irrespective of the difficulty, I managed to repay my loans on time. I continued taking out loans and repaying on time and sometimes I even earned twice the money I took out as a loan. Truly, my savings started to build up.
I have taken 11 training courses offered by WISE that helped me to plan my life, become aware of the culture of saving and the various working experiences and to implement or put them in action. I used to spend money before but not after the training. During the Epiphany (Meskel) Holiday (celebrated widely in the area I came from), I used to spend all the money I earned on my children because I wanted them to celebrate the Holiday equally with my neighbors. But now after having discussions with my children about how we can properly plan our budget for the Holiday I started to save money to be able to support my children who are in College instead on wasting it on a one day holiday.

Also, I used to stay at home during holidays. But now I go out to the market to sell my goods to make profit then celebrate the holiday with my family after work. After the trainings, I have become determined and fully dedicated to my work. The business training taught me to deal and handle my customers properly creating a profitable relationship. I work with my husband who brings me goods from the farthest market in town.
Now I have taken my 8th round loan which is 36,000 Birr ($ 1895). I have 27,000 Birr ($ 1421) in my savings account. I have a plan to expand my business more to achieve more in the future by fully investing all my time on my business. I advise others to respect all kind of work to change their life, to become successful and to be able to send their children to school rather than sitting at home complaining there is no job available for hire and spending their precious time drinking coffee with like-minded individuals.

Finally I would like to thank WISE for all the encouragement and support it provides us. 

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.

Thursday, May 8, 2014


Qualities that define her personality as an African woman of strength

Persistence- When I believe in something I keep on despite the odds against it. I remember I once was working in a team of trainers for media where I was the only female for a few years.Whenever I said anything with regards to women rights, women voices been heard or empowerment in the team, I was initially treated with skepticism and was branded a “feminist”. But with time I was able to introduce a training module into a preexisting training program on conflict sensitive journalism. The conflict and women module was aimed at increasing the voices of women in media especially the actors involved in conflict issues and capturing the unique experiences that women go through during a time of conflict. I was also involved in developing a strategy on how we could increase the number of women journalists to the trainings we conducted.

Mary’s AWLI experience

 My AWLI experience was mind blowing. From learning about women’s rights, to leadership and how to conduct myself as a leader, among many other topics helped me understand so many things I had not known in the past. In my personal life I have been able to assert myself whenever challenged on issues on women and her right to be heard and in my career development I have consistently been involved in various forums where I have been able to learn a lot on what is going on in women’s movement and in most cases been able to translate it to the trainings I conduct and also in telling stories of women especially on their health and safety.

Unique aspects of the AWLI training and lessons you got from AWLI that have proved particularly effective on improving her work with women

One of the unique aspects that was also one of my major lessons was on the practicality of the sessions. One session I will never forget is the one on how to be confident when you present yourself in any for a. I was initially a very shy person and could barely speak out my opinions leave alone even walking to the front of a room. When I heard about how I could improve on my confidence I made a conscious decision to try it. It wasn't something that I got immediately; it took many years for me to build that confidence. The fact that I am now a trainer and make presentations in front of many participants is something I don’t think I would have ever achieved if the seeds of how to be confident had not been instilled in me during the AWLI training.

The AWLI as a MUST for any young woman! Would you recommend any young woman to this training?

Oh yes I would. The young woman, if she is anything like me, will go to the training expecting to be like any other training where many people will come and talk to us and then leave but the fact that we were able to spend so many days at the workshop, meant that every trainer had adequate time to share information and took in many questions from the participants. If you are not as confident as I was then, the trainers who stayed at least for a few days with us and were open in their approach gave us the opportunity to have tea, lunch and ask the questions one has. As one of the organizing officials told me, the change for various participants happen differently. There are those who when they leave the training have their lives changed dramatically but there are some (like me) whose change will come later on but the main thing is that all of us would be able to associate that change with the training we went through.

“Fuelling” the women’s movement through the years!

The women’s resilience in light of the opposition they face. Also I think the positive stories of women who have gone against all odds and made a difference that is attributed to the women’s movement has gone a long way in giving examples that others can emulate and galvanized the movement. Every stride made in the women’s movement is celebrated and lessons learned and adapted to suite the various situations that other women work at emulating.

New challenges and new opportunities facing African women’s organizing today

The internet /new media/social media is the way to go in terms of providing new opportunities that women can tap into in terms of information. I have been involved in mentoring women leaders to utilize citizen journalism tools in telling the stories that the women’s movement is facing. However the main challenge that this poses is that women actors are exposed to is online insecurity as they are cyber bullied , have their date hacked and face various internet offences. But not all is lost as there are now tools that can help women protect themselves online.
A message for any young women interested in political leadership in your Country
“Go for it. But please, please don’t give room to people to say that they regret having allowed a woman to take up the position and not making any change as some women have done in politics as they relax in the throes of leadership. You need to do your best to impact the change that will keep reminding people why they need more women as political leaders.”

One thing you should not forget about Mary’s leadership journey;

“That I was able to make a positive contribution towards a person thinking differently on a certain aspect of their life and utilizing it. What would be even greater is if this thought/change would go a step further in impacting their society positively” 

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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Transforming a Girls Life through Soccer

I am an enthusiastic, confident young woman who loves football so much! I recall the first time I kicked a football was when I was about 10 years in primary school, it was amazing how much joy a single ball could bring. I happen to come from a sporty family, my older brother used to play for the Men’s National Football team. I would often listen to matches he played in on the radio. I wanted to be like him, and one day play for national team and my dream came true……

 I would excel in sports so much in school. I played football and netball but football was what I loved the most. My school team would excel so much in football that we would make it to the nationals; my parents would try and stop me from playing football, they wanted me to focus more on my studies.

 The secondary school I was in did not excel so much in football; we only made it to the district level. So after secondary school, I began to play football seriously and joined a football club in Dagoretti known as Dagoretti United Sisters. While playing for Dagoretti United, Mohamed, Binti United Football Club coach spotted me and convinced me to join Binti, which is sponsored by YWLI. 

When I joined Binti, I realized Binti had a lot more to offer and that’s when I decided that was something I wanted to part of . When I was in Binti I would play as well as coach and mentor young girls. I believe that there is a great link between sports and leadership. Sports has a lot more to offer other than just gaining fitness and being on the field and having fun, you gain a lot of personal skills. When you play football you take on roles on the field for example when you are tasked with being captain, this requires you to be resilient, a team player and have good listening skills. These are skills and qualities that you need to apply in your daily life.

Through Binti I gained experience in coaching girls team, I gained managerial skills, I gained leadership skills through attending trainings and forums organized by YWLI that helped boost my skills as a leader. Am currently working with girls who are much older, which is very interesting, many people  have the perception  that it’s difficult to work with girls, but I have discovered a way to get them intrinsically motivated. I expose them to what opportunities are out there for young women.

As a football coach, I strongly believe that girls would benefit from playing sports in their adolescent years. I believe that soccer acts as form of support system for the girls. It offers them a space where they can interact  and gain life skills. For myself, I don’t know where I would have been without football. It has opened doors for me and allowed to excel to great heights.

I believe that a lot more needs to done support girls and women’s football in Kenya. The lack of support makes many girls withdraw from football. The governments support towards girls and women’s football is minimal.  Many parents also do not support there girls to play football as they feel that the girls should be at home assisting with household chores.
I encourage girls who are currently playing to continue, I have seen girls who have been able to pursue higher education through football scholarships.

We can all play a role to ensure that girls and women football grows, through supporting women and girls who play football.

By Caroline Ajowi

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. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

“From Nothing to Something Big”

I was born in 1959 in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. I am the only child for my parents. My parents were separated and I used to live with my father, who was a boxer, and my grandmother. My father always took me to his boxing matches until he died during a party he was invited to celebrate one of his victories. After my father’s death, my mother no longer wanted me to stay with my grandmother and so she took me away with her. 

However, I very much wanted to live with my grandmother and so run away from home and went back to live with grandma right after my mother’s second marriage ended in divorce.
My grandmother was a businesswoman and I assisted in handling her business after school until one of my friends and I decided to withdraw from school and start a business. I became a street newspaper seller. I get the newspaper from a Printing Press and started the business but it didn’t last because I could not stand all the abuse from boys on the street. 

Then I withdrew from school at 4th grade to work for the National Coffee Board of Ethiopia at the age of 11 to support my grandmother. I worked as a coffee picker for a long time with a pay of 75 cents ($.075) per day.

In the year 1985, I got engaged and I am now a mother of four. My husband was a soldier in the Air Force. Our incomes put together never sufficed to satisfy the household needs. In addition to the money I got from the National Coffee Board of Ethiopia, I queued up for long hours to purchase goods with lesser price for both household consumption and to sell. After working for the Coffee Board for 35 years, I resigned from my job due to depression and upon departure was paid 3,000 Birr ($300) for my service of 35 years. The Corporation’s business activity was then closed.

I became a housewife for five years then on. In the meantime, a mother of my daughter’s friend, who was a member of WISE, advised me to join WISE. I was suffering from an illness at the time and so had my daughter, who failed to pass the 10th grade national examination, get registered instead of me. She managed to complete her College studies with the loan she took out after she received WISE’s training. She is now employed.

One day, I went to WISE to repay my daughter’s loan and got myself registered as a member when the secretary told me that both a mother and a daughter at the same time can become members. I applied to become member on that same day which was back in 2010. I then took the training courses which changed me like I was born again.

I learned how to start my own business, which I started with the 1st round of loan I took out which was 700 Birr ($70). However, after taking the creativity and professional development training, I was inspired to engage in the business of selling knitted garments as well in addition to the coffee sailing business I already had up and running. On the New and Viable Business Ideas competition, I then received an award for making knitted dresses and won 2,000 Birr ($190). I was capacitated to be able to provide for my family.

I now have 5,000 Birr ($ 263) in my savings and am eligible for the 4th round of loan which is 5,000 Birr. I have purchased a bank share and was able to raise my share capital from 2,000 Birr to ($105) to 7,000 Birr ($368) within a short period of time. I also once again won 8,000 Birr ($ 421) on the 2006’s New and Viable Business Ideas competition. I am a member of a Cooperative called ‘Wegen Le Wegen’ and one of the members of Committees and I am determined to assume any responsibilities as long as I am a member.

 I have a plan to expand my knitting business by purchasing a sewing machine with the prize money I got; I am tired of the regular rejections I face from the seamstresses claiming a broken/bent needle while sewing my patterns. In addition, I have a plan to buy a washing machine since the clothes get dirty very easily as they are knitted by hand. And in the meantime, I plan to buy a car for my husband so he can have his own cab. He is currently a hired taxi driver.

I advise my sisters to become a member of WISE so that they are no more called housewives but entrepreneurs.

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.