Smiling Faces: Microfinance Partners in Ethiopia Share How THP Has Changed Their Lives

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Mesqan is one of The Hunger Project's (THP's) six epicenters in Ethiopia. It is located about 150 kilometers west of Addis Ababa. As part of its integrated rural development approach, the Epicenter Strategy, THP-Ethiopia empowers local people to create lasting society-wide progress in food security, health, education, nutrition, family incomes and gender equality.

The Microfinance Program (MFP) is one of the major tools THP-Ethiopia uses to empower community members. The MFP started in Mesqan Epicenter in 2006. Since then, there have been 691 participants in that program (62% women and 38% men).

The majority of MFP beneficiaries are women. Various studies have shown that improving women's knowledge and skills leads to an increase in family income, health and welfare. Women are more likely to spend their earnings on their family, investing in present and future improvements to overcome poverty, such as more nutritious food, health, better housing and children's education. In general, women are more likely to reinvest their earnings in the business and in their families. As families cross the poverty line and small businesses expand, their communities benefit. Jobs are created, knowledge is shared, civic participation increased, and women are recognized as valuable members of their families and communities.

This is why THP has identified empowering women as one of its three pillars.

On a recent visit to Mesqan Epicenter, Ms. Kelalle Alemayehu and Mr. Dawit Wakgari conducted a survey among the MFP participants to assess the program's performance and get insights on ways to improve it. Using this opportunity, the THP Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Officer conducted a focus group discussion and interviews with the women who came to participate in Kelalle and Dawit's program.

Of the five women who participated in the interviews, three led female-headed households; in almost all cases their husbands have died due to different health-related problems. Their ages ranged from 35 to 50, and the women had an average of six children. When the families lost their breadwinners, their lives were shattered and became difficult to bear. Some of the women even said they were about to go out on the streets to beg.

For the women who still had their husbands around, they said that in the past, their income only allowed them to live from hand to mouth. The notion of "saving" for expenses such as health care, house repairs or education for their children was unknown. Moreover, they could not afford to provide nutritious and regular meals to their children.

When THP-Ethiopia's Microfinance Program came to their village, all of these problems seemed to be addressed.

All five women had been participating in THP's MFP since its inception. Through the loans they received, they engaged in various enterprises, including vegetable gardening, animal fattening, local beverage distilling, petty trading and weaving.

During the discussions, two women, Huluagre and Genet, were forthcoming with their opinions as to what has been achieved by the community through THP-Ethiopia's intervention.

Huluagre said, "Before THP came to our village, all our social meetings used to be conducted under the shade of trees. Members of our families, including our children, had to walk about 10 km to get schooling and basic health service. Additionally, our daughters could not attend school, since it was far from our place and they would have been vulnerable to various acts of violence and sexual harassment." 

Genet continued, "Now, we have a beautiful meeting hall within the epicenter building, the health clinic provides services within a few minutes' walk, our children--particularly our daughters--attend school without any fear or hindrance."

The women also added, "The different workshops and training provided by THP-Ethiopia has positively contributed to creating awareness and, consequently, building self-confidence about our (women's) rights."

The participants were asked about the quality of service provided by THP-Ethiopia staff in implementing the MFP. It was Huluagre who was eager to answer the question: "You know, just to give you a very good example, Kelalle and Dawit came this morning at 7:30 a.m. before any one of us had even arrived and they did not bother to go to lunch while we are here. They are giving us a superb service and they are playing crucial role for our success."

When asked, "What do you think THP-Ethiopia should improve in its working modalities?," the answer was with consensus and short: "increasing the amount of loan it provides."

In conclusion, the women said that "God was kind to all of us. Our lives have improved. Now our children are eating adequate and nutritious food and their educational performance has improved. In general, hunger is eradicated and poverty is on its way out."

All the ladies are now smiling, and they are dreaming of much better lives with the support they are getting from THP-Ethiopia, to which they emotionally express their gratitude.

After the interview, during dinner, I told Kelalle and Dawit what the women said and felt. Kelalle said, "Believe me, with the support we get from our partners and investors and the savings mobilized by our loan partners, we will see more and more smiling faces."

Reported by Beyene Moges, M&E Officer, THP-Ethiopia

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