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.
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.