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International Rural Women’s Day
Nacho Korjo defied her husband to save 8p per week, start a business and change her life
By Philip Goodwin
CEO Tree Aid
Today Fushi and along with my organisation, TREE AID International, are joining the celebrations for the International Day of Rural Women. TREE AID is dedicated to supporting villagers in the drylands of Africa to unlock the potential of trees to break the cycle of environmental decline and poverty. In so many ways women are most affected by poverty and most affected by climate change. And it’s the resourcefulness and strength of women that’s key to sorting out these twin challenges. Last month I travelled to Ethiopia to talk to rural women about what they have been experiencing and how we can support their work.
In the month of September the Ethiopian Rift Valley gives a deceptive impression. In contrast to the drylands that normally form the backdrop to life in the valleys, it’s the end of the rainy season and the landscape is green as far as the eye can see. I’ve been travelling to areas around Ziway and Gurage about 160km south of Addis Ababa. Despite the current lush appearance, this is an area of grinding and extreme poverty. This is an area that is prone to drought. It’s a place where hunger and poverty are commonplace. Where a fragile environment is under pressure because of the desperation and need arising from that poverty.
During the visit, I meet up with the Behan Women’s Group. The group is part of a pilot initiative that TREE AID is delivering with our Ethiopian partner Vision of Community Development Association (VoCDA). Behan means “sunlight”, a name the group chose to highlight how the project is helping “move the women into the light”. The Behan group are celebrating their 1st anniversary on the day of my visit and the women have baked a celebratory bread to mark the occasion. They describe themselves as the poorest of the poor. For Westerners it can be hard to imagine how strongly that poverty affects every aspect of these women’s lives. It’s not just a case of them having low income. These women and their families have little or no access to land in order to grow food and no livestock that they can depend on for money. Their lives, and the lives of their families, are precarious and uncertain, existing always in the twilight between survival and death.
Nacho Korjo, the secretary of the group, tells me that in this first year of the project, the women have organised themselves into a savings and loan group. This means they put a few pence each into a collective pot each month. Each of the women can draw a sum of money to invest in earning a small income or, if needs must, to help get them through a particularly difficult period.
Despite his protests, she took advantage of an invite by the local authority to attend a project meeting. She defied him and joined the group. She saved a little bit of money each week - 2 birr or about 8p - by using less coffee in her morning drink, diluting it with water. After putting enough money into the savings group, she took out a loan to invest in equipment to produce a local drink called Araki. Now she earns her own income, she doesn’t need to ask her husband for household expenses and she is able to contribute financially to supporting the family. Seeing her success, Nacho’s husband has been won over and is now supporting her as she continues to grow her income.
But the real success of the project isn’t just about the money she’s making. Nacho says the relationships she built with women in the group have fundamentally changed her life. “Previously, I hid myself from people even if I went to the market. Now I feel free to go out to run my business. Before I didn’t know what saving was. Now our minds are open. We have changed”.
If you would like to support TREE AID’s life changing work with Africa’s poorest people donate here. TREE AID’s work. Keep up-to-date with the women’s groups TREE AID supports by following Philip’s blogs on this site.
In Africa trees mean life. TREE AID help villagers and especially women in the drylands of Africa unlock the potential of trees to break the cycle of environmental decline and poverty. You can follow them on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+.