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One Light of Hope in Ethiopia


Birhan’nesh is a small business owner and one of the members of the Self Help Group (SHG) in Wolaita Sodo, Ethiopia. Like most of the women in her group, Birhan’nesh came from the lowest class of society. Growing up in poverty, that was all she knew until she became a full-grown adult. However, that didn’t stop her from trying to earn a living by selling anything and everything she could put her hands on.

Her entrepreneurial journey started in her early youth when she would make homemade bread and a traditional nonalcoholic beverage to sell. Later, she started a business making cultural spices and cotton ginning with a loan of six dollars (300 Ethiopian Birr).

Birhan’nesh remembers an occasion where she couldn’t feed her children for four consecutive days. She had to hide and bring bread from a local church in her village where she served and beg for salt from her neighbors to prepare meals for her family. She tells her story with tears and gratitude.

However, Birhan’nesh’s hope began a slow reconstruction when she joined the all-women self-help group in her neighborhood five years ago. After six months of saving every cent she made as a profit she was able to receive a $30 (1500 Ethiopian Birr) loan. Shortly after paying that loan she again made a request to borrow $100 (5000 Ethiopian Birr) from the Cluster Level Association (CLA)–an administrative body of SHG’s which is distributing loans to group members whose businesses were affected by COVID-19.

In addition to the two loans Birhan’nesh received and paid from the SHG and CLA, she also accessed a loan amounting to $600 (30,000 Ethiopian Birr) from a Micro Finance Institution to scale up her business!

She is now in the business of making traditional blankets in her home and selling them to customers in another region. She takes between 40 and 80 orders a week which she makes with the help of four employees! One of those four employees is Birhan’nesh’s husband, who has taken the job opportunity created by his wife and is supporting his family with the income he is earning. Birhan’nesh now plans to borrow a bigger loan to open a wood-making shop for her husband inside their compound—which now has a newly built home for their family of five.

Birhan’nesh is one of the many women empowered through the SHG approach being supported by the Terepeza Development Association. These Self Help Groups are platforms for women like Birhan’nesh to save and borrow money, access financial support, create networks, build their capacity, develop personal and social skills, and much more. Birhan’nesh now has hope more than anything! She has big visions for herself and her family. She has seen the fruit of working hard, praying, and taking risks and she plans to do more of it.

The name Birhan’nesh translates to ‘You are a Light”. One light of hope in the midst of devastating poverty.