Life for Regatu and her family in a village near the city of Adama, in Central Ethiopia, was once comfortable when her husband used to work in a sugar factory. But after he retired they had no savings and it was hard to provide one meal a day for their two children.
When her husband couldn’t find another job, Regatu started to work as a labourer, assigned to remove dirt from beans. It would take her three days to separate the dirt from 100kg of beans and for this she would receive only 6 birr (about 25 US cents).
Since they were unable to afford clothes, Regatu’s children wore secondhand clothes donated by neighbours. The children were teased by their peers because of the clothes they wore and they were insulted and called ‘beggars’.
Regatu heard from a neighbour about a Self Help Group (SHG) named “Yedikam Wotet”, which means ‘results from hard work’. From the lessons at the group, she understood the importance of developing the habit of saving a regular, small amount in order to gradually bring change.
She started saving 50 cents on a weekly basis and went along to the weekly trainings. After a few weeks, Regatu wanted to increase the amount of money she could save weekly and so she started to reduce her daily consumption of coffee. It helped her to save more than double what she had first saved. After three months, she was able to take out a loan of 100 birr.
Based on the SHG training, Regatu did some market research and found that in her particular village, people had to travel a long distance to buy traditional clay pots and dishes.
‘There is no lack of food in my home now, rather I can help others who are in need.’
She saw this as an opportunity and started a business buying clay pots from suppliers and selling them for a small profit in her village. Soon she was able to return her loan and took another loan of 300 birr.
Gradually, Regatu’s business grew and she was now able to buy her children food, such as cabbage and potatoes, and clothes from the market.
Regatu took another loan, expanded her business and purchased a plot of land. She planned to construct another house. Within a year she had built a single room and finished two more rooms a year later. She rented out the rooms and was able to earn up to 2,550 birr monthly.
‘There is no lack of food in my home now, rather I can help others who are in need,’ says Regatu. She also bought chicken and eggs and sold them for profit. She adds: ‘I am not an educated women but the business and savings training changed my entire life and my family’s as well.
‘In addition to looking after my family and covering the school fees of my children, I am also able to give pocket money to my husband.’
When her husband became seriously ill with yellow fever, Regatu was able to take a loan of 10,000 birr and take him to hospital. ‘It was not only the money that I received from my group, but they gave me emotional support and I was visited frequently by the members. This made me very strong and confident that I could rely on my group in good and bad times.’
Regatu’s husband appreciated the help and became a supporter of his wife’s activities in the group. ‘He now reminds me of my weekly SHG meetings and even handles my work by attending meetings while I am busy in the market,’ says Regatu.
“I thank Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church [Tearfund’s partner] and God for making our family’s poverty history. The SHG has given me not only money and plans in my life but also lessons on work discipline and values of love. These have increased my self-confidence. Expressing myself to others used to be difficult, but now it is easy,” says Regatu.
And her future plans? She now has a plan to take an additional loan and open a big supermarket in her village.
You can read more about the role of self-help groups in poverty reduction and building resilience and food security among poor communities in our recent research report: Saving for a very dry day