With new skills, a young mother in Ethiopia hopes for a brighter future

April 28, 2015
Nigisti, a 25-year-old mother and miner in Ethiopia

For Nigisti Mokonen Niguse, nearly every morning is the same: She wakes early, says goodbye to her young daughter, and makes the grueling trek up a nearby mountain to the gold mine on which her livelihood depends.

Her husband, Aman Gebrehiwot, is usually already there. Because the trip from home is so exhausting, he sleeps on site most nights to save his energy for mining.

Nigisti’s days are long. She cooks for Aman and other miners in his cooperative. She fetches water. In the heat, she carries and sorts rocks that her husband breaks from the mountain. When it’s finally time to return to her daughter, she descends the mountain, hauling stones to be washed and crushed in her village. After she feeds her daughter, she sleeps.

And then she does it all again.

Nigisti, who is 25, says she wishes she had another choice. But in her village in northern Ethiopia, mining is the only option for those without land to farm or savings to start a business.

“That’s what our life is,” she says.

Pact is working to change that. Nigisti’s mine is one of 10 sites in six Ethiopian states where Pact and its local partners are improving the lives of small-scale miners.

At Nigisti’s mine, the Goberehan mine in Tigrai state, Pact and a local organization, REST, are providing training to miners on a range of topics, including health and hygiene, small business development and the inclusion of women in decision-making. And miners are regularly taking part in community discussion sessions about solving problems and improving living and working conditions.

Miners are building the skills and cooperation they need to be healthier, to expand their livelihood options, and to take ownership of their future. In Tigrai, about 3,000 people have benefited.

For Nigisti, the health and hygiene training has already made a difference. She’s created a toilet away from her family’s living area to prevent the spread of disease, and she’s working with other women to improve sanitation at her mine.

“Before, we knew about health and the consequences of not keeping your environment clean, but we didn’t give it emphasis or attention,” she says. “The training has given us energy to look at ourselves, our lives, our community and our environment.”

It’s also helped her to create closer ties with the women in her community. “It has become a very good forum for us to discuss the issues among ourselves,” she says, “to help us solve our own problems.”

A topic that comes up often: the risks that come with climbing the mountain each day and leaving their children alone or attended by neighbors. Nigisti’s daughter stays with a local farmer.

That’s why, of all the skills she’s learning, Nigisti is most hopeful about the business and personal finance training.

She plans to begin slowly saving money. Maybe soon, she says, it will be enough to start a small business — one that could be tended closer to home, with her daughter at her side.


This project is funded by the JSDF trust fund of the World Bank Group and is implemented by Pact and its partners.