In December, I had the privilege of visiting Pact’s Ethiopia office where I met several of our women’s savings and lending groups. One visit to Adigrat, close to the Eritrean border, has stayed in my mind as particularly memorable. After a long drive through an absolutely spectacular landscape of rock plateaus and mountains, our team arrived at an isolated rural school to visit a group of about 25 women.
Dressed in beautiful white headscarves, they tossed popped corn into the air like confetti and welcomed us with shrill vocal calls and clapped hands. The room smelt wonderful from burning incense and was decorated with Eucalyptus branches spread on the ground. It was a generous, yet somewhat overwhelming welcome.
The women we visited put on a coffee ceremony for us. Traditionally three rounds of coffee are made and the women in our program gather regularly, using the coffee ceremony time to learn to read, to save together and to make loans to one another.
They also talk about social issues, like family planning, gender-based violence, harmful traditional practices, healthcare and child protection. Through these conversations, the women strengthen their relationships with one another and feel better able to tackle tough situations.
I am always amazed about the amount of change these women have been able to ignite within their lives and their communities.
In one community not far from where I was, women in a savings group managed to halt the practice of female genital mutilation by working as a group to educate men about why they should prefer to marry an uncircumcised girl.
The Pact team visiting a women's savings and lending group in Adigrat.
My job is to observe the program and ask questions to assess how it is going. I asked the women what they like best about Pact’s savings group program and a woman sitting at the back raised her hand. She said that she is so happy that she can now read and write and has learned to save her own money that she feels like singing and dancing — at which point, she stood up and broke into song. As she danced between the desks in the school room the other women joined her in celebration. Their unified voices filled the air with confidence and they danced without care.
Watching them, I wished I could share this moment with every women in every corner of the world because there could be no better demonstration of the transformative nature of literacy and numeracy than these women and their spontaneous expression of joy.