Tear Fund in Action
Bingham gave a group of us an insight into one of the successful charity projects here in Ethiopia. Through the school’s provision of education for their children, those who work for the Tear Fund Charity are able to assist some of the poorest Ethiopians in a self-sustaining context. This is how it works…
When Tear Fund go to a new area they walk through a community observing the sort of people that they see, they look at what those people are doing and the accommodation available. They will then meet with prominent individuals from the community through the local church and explain how ‘self-help groups’ can be beneficial. Often this is illustrated with leaves, a nice green healthy leaf, a dry green leaf and a brown shriveled leaf to help the people appreciate levels of need. The community often point out those in greatest need (brown leaf group). Up to 20 people (usually women) will get together to contribute maybe, 50 cents (around one and a half pence) a week. Tear Fund’s project facilitator prompts discussion so the group decide together how the money will be kept and how it will be distributed, also how to cope with group members who cannot even raise 50 cents. They may instead bring a commodity such as coffee beans. These will be stored and when there is enough they will be sold and the money added to the group pot. Self-help groups may be formed amongst those who are less poor too. The groups may then support each member in turn by giving them a helpful loan.
This week starting at 6am we made the two hour drive to the town of Nazaret. We were driven to a small corrugated iron fenced property. A group of ladies and several toddlers were waiting for us sitting on a rush mat which was laid over the mud outside a small concrete dwelling. Opposite this some wooden dining chairs had been placed for us. We all introduced ourselves individually. Through an interpreter the ladies explained that when the group formed they didn’t really know each other, but a Tear Fund Facilitator prompted them to discuss how they may save a little each week. At first because they were very poor domestic workers it was hard to save 50 cents, but after six months the first person benefited from the collective pot. Prior to this they didn’t even understand the function of a bank.
The benefits have not been restricted to cash however. This group was formed in 2006 and these ladies who are now strong friends. They are saving more each week towards the loans and have enough for a small social fund as well which is used for a coffee ceremony for anyone having a baby, to help those in need medically and they even told us that if one of their husbands abuses his wife they will collectively sort it out!
We then heard some individual stories. One lady had bought an injera cooker and was using it to cook injera to sell, another began with bread making but now also makes injera and supplies a restaurant. At this point a chicken appeared from nowhere and fluttered across the yard noisily. The lady whose house we sat outside had begun a beauty business from home and was beginning to build a salon in her yard. In between breast feeding one mum told us how she bought her husband a drill to enhance his woodwork business. They now employ 2 other people. Someone asked the group where they might be in five years. They laughed and said “we may have sofas to sit on and not need a mat”. They now have vision and hope.
In 2002 Tear fund initiated five self-help groups in the town of Nazaret. There are now 625.
During the afternoon we were taken to another compound, here we squeezed into a crowded hot room (I ended up sitting on a desk), where we met at a Cluster-level group. Two representatives from each of twelve self-help groups get together regularly to share ideas, provide intergroup training and financial accountability and to solve any conflicts that may have arisen. The group members each have responsibilities that they are very proud of.
Finally we were shown to another equally small room where the ‘federal level’ ladies sat made up from cluster-group representatives. Senait was the president (I had met her earlier), and before she spoke she proudly set a framed, faded certificate up on her desk. It was sporting a familiar government stamp. This was a licence she explained, it had taken a lot of effort to obtain but now they could access greater loans. Meet Bizen, who then began to share her personal story. Bizen joined one of the first self-help groups twelve years ago. She was a domestic helper and her husband a day labourer at the time. She found it hard to put aside 50 cents at first but with her first loan she purchased vegetable seeds. These she cultivated, ate some herself and generated money by selling the rest. With the next loan she bought an injera cooker and made and sold injera. Two cows resulted from a loan of 900birr, these she fattened and sold for 1400birr. She repeated the process with a number of sheep and used the dung they produced to sell as fuel while she fattened them. She now had enough money to take a business degree. She has just sold the bajaj that she bought after selling the sheep. Her latest loan will be for 10,000birr. One day she hopes to own a minibus.
Bizen’s final comment was something like this “it is hard to remember my history, but I must never forget it.”