By Natalie Lovenburg
Walk through the mountainous village of Arsi Negele in southeastern Ethiopia, where the sun is shining, livestock are wandering through lush green fields, and farmers are loading their wooden carts with produce to sell at the local market.
This is Shumitu Bulo’s home. Like many women in rural villages, Shumitu works extremely hard to provide for her family. She exudes self-confidence and a boundless amount of energy. Her captivating grin and exuberance draw others to her.
Her vibrantly colored head scarf waves in the wind along the light green field of wheat. She stretches her arms out completely, with her fingers lightly skimming the top of the grain. Beaming with pride, she stops and enthusiastically explains that the first harvest of her field will be next year.
Shumitu rented the land from the Ethiopian government to grow wheat close to her home. With the profits from the harvest, she hopes to buy her own land next year and increase the wheat yield significantly.
At 32 years old, Shumitu is a single mother of four. In her life, she’s faced hardship. When she was pregnant with her youngest child, her husband abandoned the family. Bearing the full and heavy burden of supporting her family alone, she scraped by to make ends meet.
Shumitu’s path to financial independence began two years ago when she joined Project Concern International’s Women Empowered (WE) initiative in the Oromiya Region, where she was trained on small business management, budgeting and leadership skills.
WE helps marginalized women form self-managed savings groups to develop sustainable businesses and social empowerment.
Working with her WE group called Misoma, which simply means “Development” in the Oromo language, Shumitu expanded profits from her businesses.
Shumitu, who serves as the WE group bookkeeper, meets weekly with 21 women from her village to encourage savings among each other. She’s applying the business knowledge she’s gained from the WE group to her own small business ventures.
With motivation, determination and support from WE, Shumitu is finding new income opportunities and reaching her once unattainable goal. She has taken out loans 20 times, totaling 2000 Ethiopian Birr (US $94), and she continues to receive and repay loans.
Through WE, new income-generating ideas and approaches are helping to transform Shumitu’s life — and her mother’s.
Shumitu’s mother Medina, or “Mama Medina,” is also active in the Misoma WE group. The group of women pulled money together to build a new home with a tin roof for Mama Medina and her husband.
Small businesses hold the potential to drive economic growth that can help transform generations of families and communities living in poverty.
Along with tending to the wheat field, Shumitu processes Ethiopian bananas or “false bananas” and sells traditional handcrafts and firewood at the local market.
Grown in moist mountainous areas in Ethiopia, false banana plants are helping Shumitu provide for her family. She makes money chopping the plant’s stem, which is then grated into pulp and used as flour to make bread, porridge or soup. The stem can also be boiled and eaten as a vegetable.
The stems are scraped for starch and then combined with water to become a pulp. The pulp is fermented with yeast and turned into Ethiopian kocho, a type of flatbread.
The large black seeds from the banana plant are used as beads and threaded to create necklaces and rosaries.
Millions of Ethiopians for thousands of years have relied on false banana leaves, seeds and stems for survival.
Shumitu also sews Ethiopian cultural pots and other traditional crafts. She weaves decorative pieces onto clay pots and gourdes and sells them at the local market for about 300 Birr (US $14) each.
“I developed the skills to weave by watching other local women sew and decorate crafts,” said Shumitu.
In Ethiopia, more than 80 languages are spoken in very diverse cultural groups. Traditional crafts and art help preserve the rich culture of each ethnic group.
Shumitu said, “With the loans and profits from my crafts, I bought a sheep for my family.”
The confidence, leadership skills, higher self-esteem and social cohesion women gain through WE groups, combined with economic access, results in real and lasting impact.
PCI’s WE program has doubled over the last year, working with 18 local partners in 19 programs across 12 countries. Globally, WE groups surpassed $3.5 million in cumulative savings and over $2.9 million in loans issued, with over 438,000 members.
PCI’s WE groups in Ethiopia have helped women like Shumitu gain emotional confidence and a community of support.
Today, she is standing on her own two feet and making her dreams a reality. Like Mama Medina, Shumitu has ambitious plans to build a house with a sturdy foundation and tin roof for her four children with the profits from all of her businesses.
“My wish,” Shumitu said, “is for the best for my children. I want them to stay in school and have a future. I want a better life for my family.”
Natalie Lovenburg is a Global Communications Officer for PCI.