From barely surviving to thriving: A story of two Ethiopian families

September 21, 2016

Kelemie Getnet and Zewudnesh Nuri are both mothers of three school-aged children. Kelemie is a single mother living in Amhara Regional State, while Zewudnesh is married and lives in Addis Ababa. Though they are separated by hundreds of miles, both women faced the same challenge: how to give their children a proper education and economic security.

This challenge was precisely why Pact’s Yekokeb Berhan program reached out to them.

The Yekokeb Berhan Program for Highly Vulnerable Children, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), works with the Government of Ethiopia, international technical partners, and 32 local partners to ensure that children and families affected by HIV and AIDS, who often are the most vulnerable, are appropriately targeted and supported. The program enables these children to attend school and improves their families’ parenting skills, access to resources, and ability to earn income.

Since starting in 2011, the program has reached approximately 900,000 children and their families, making it the largest program of its kind for vulnerable children to ever be implemented in Ethiopia.

When Yekokeb Berhan approached Kelemie, she was barely covering her family’s monthly expenses through weaving and selling cotton threads. The program helped her and her neighbors form a local savings and loan group they called Serto Metades, which means “transformation with work.”

With training from the program and loans accessed from her group, Kelemie was able to grow her business to a point of profitability. She could finally provide for her family’s needs, send her children to school, invest further in expanding her business, and save money for the future.

She was so successful, she was able to open a side gardening business to ensure her family could eat nutritious food and to make additional income.

“My status is transformed from hand-to-mouth to saving the extra earnings for tomorrow and ensuring enough working capital to expand my businesses,” Kelemie said.

Similarly, Zewudnesh and her family were destitute. Her husband generated little, unsteady income selling second-hand clothes seen as contraband. She had to pull her kids from school and send them to work to make ends meet.

“My children had to stay out of school and work for other people’s gardens to make a very small amount of money,” Zewudnesh explained. “The money the children and my husband brought was used for food, yet we were only able to eat one meal per day. Thinking of buying scholastic materials was far beyond our daily concerns.”

Thanks to Yekokeb Berhan, Ethiopian children who were out of school are now attending.

A Yekokeb Berhan participant talks about the difference the program has made for her family.

Like Kelemie, Zewudnesh was approached by Yekokeb Berhan, which enrolled her children in school, trained her to farm vegetables, and linked her with the local savings and loan group. She used her first loan to rent a plot of arable land and cultivated cabbage and Swiss chard, applying the techniques she’d learned. Three months later, she was able to harvest and sell her first yield.

After repaying her first loan, Zewudnesh applied for another and rented a second plot of land so she could scale up production and maximize profits. The successes continued until Zewudnesh was able to provide for her family’s basic needs as well as purchase new furniture and begin saving for their future.

In its first five years, Yekokeb Berhan helped form 3,475 savings and loan groups with a total membership of nearly 68,000 households. Together, as of June 2016, these groups have saved more than $3.3 million and circulated loans of more than $10.1 million to their members, supporting thousands of Ethiopian families to secure their and their children’s futures.

Kelemie and Zewudnesh’s children are now six of the nearly 240,000 highly vulnerable children who attend school regularly because of Yekokeb Berhan. Mothers are able to independently beat the challenge of giving their children a proper education and economic security because of the training and livelihoods support they’ve received.

“I am confidently capable of fulfilling all the needs of my family,” Zewudnesh, who has since graduated from program support, exclaimed about her family’s now-secure future. “This is a great success for me and my family.”