Caught under the shadow of the already-famous women, there are also many other self made icons who turned tragedy into remedy, however their successes go unnoticed. Helina Yetateku, a mother of two, is one of such women. She just saw massive transformation on her life.
For about a decade, she had been an employee in a small enterprise. She used to earn a monthly 1900 Ethiopian Birr. While working there, Helina was also studying a degree programme in civil engineering at Addis Ababa University. At that time life was so hard that she was struggling to manage her family with her husband making small sum of money.
Having realized that employment could not bring her enough amount of money she needed to support her family, Helina dropped out of university. She said, "though I knew that learning is essential, I felt frustrated as I realized that those who have already earned degree making only 1500 birr as employee. That is when I decided that I had to start my own business no matter what the challenges could be."
Soon after, she left her job and started to see business alternatives. It was not an easy decision, all she got was determination and hope, no capital, no clue about managing business. After weeks, she finally joined Women in Self Employment (WISE) where she received a 12 day training on business handling and leadership. "The training was important that it gave me the skills on how to handle customers and deal with daily business activities," she said.
Then by borrowing 500 birr Helina opened mobile phone maintenance shop, which was short-lived. "It fell short because I was not professional and do not have the interest to do. In my entire life all I ever wanted to do was to work as a supplier of stationary materials," explained Helina.
"Consequently, I have opened stationary shop. I have been selling stationary materials for many customers. That is when I began making profits and have seen tremendous change in my life. Owing to the training I received, I have been wisely handling my income and expenditures. With in few years I have also opened a second shop at a different location. Then I found myself getting into the track. In doing so, my capital has risen sharply. I won a million dollar tenders. My life standard has improved a lot more."
Convinced by the changes Helina made, her husband also left his job and got into a private business. He now owns a small metal workshop. "It was such a remarkable journey that we were able to get rid off employment and began creating job opportunities for others," Helina mutters in amusement.
It has been a while since she set up a printing company. It prints T-shirts, hats and other stationary materials for organizations' promotional purposes. But she said her aspiration is big and she is currently thinking of starting a new business. She attributes the massive transformation of her life to her determination, business training and hard work. But Helina has been going through different ups and downs despite her success. She said if it was not up to your hard work and determination, the negative perceptions of the community towards women would make you fail shortly.
For long women have been battling the same problem, a long held misconceptions that "women cannot do so and so ". When such mentality is the rhetoric, the challenges could not be higher. The lopsided perception of the society sometimes convince the women themselves that they simply can not do it. But it is not just others but the women themselves including Helina who can discredit such ill-conceived thoughts.
Some women have been able to break the barriers and bring radical shift in their life on their own.. Nothing could be more pleasing to see women who made it clear that life could be more interesting on their own. Understandably, the journey to change your life is not easy but to end up victorious is worth telling. Layers of problems after layers would pose untold difficulties only because you are a woman. There are also similar accounts of success stories of many others.
Dasash Debebe, also a mother of three, is among those who set exemplary lessons for others. She had reached the nadir of their sufferings, as she and her husband were earn minuscule money monthly. Dasash was leading difficult life until she opened up her own business.
Her husband was a low-paid employee while she was engaged in selling fast foods for daily laborers. "And after many years of thought, I decided to change the course in my life. Because I knew that education is core to a society, I was fond of education and I attended school to grade 12. All I was thinking in my entire life was to open schools which is affordable to the low income class", said Dasash.
Prior to it, she have taken a 12 days training on business handling from WISE. The training she was provided helped her to be acquainted with the tools to analyze how she should run business. Without that knowledge, she said, it would have been impossible to understand a business.
"Point in time using the 500 birr I was given, I bought educational materials then started to teach students in makeshifts around my village. In so doing , I was able to enroll many more students. Now I own a primary school teaching around 250 students till eighth grade. I have also created job opportunities for about 25 people including my daughter. I still save money under the association I am organized," said Dasash who have seen her living standards improve dramatically. Now, she aspires to upgrade her education. But most importantly, she helps marginalized and poor children and enroll around 20 students for free at her school.
In similar showcase, there are strong women with few of them are already becoming a benchmark for change, but what it takes to encourage others to follow suit is to convince them they can also be mentor and change maker. Particularly, bringing change on the mindset of the women that they can achieve whatever they want to needs to be the priority area. Providing training, credit and finances are also equally essential.
In this regard, WISE has been breaking the ice in organizing women and providing training for economically disadvantaged women. The association exclusively setup and run by women has already become a springboard for lots of them who are witnessing radical shift in their life including the aforementioned successful women. WISE recently marked its 20th founding anniversary.
Tsigie Haile is Executive Director of the Association. She said that it was in 1996 that the idea of setting up an organization to assist women in need came to her mind. The main objective of the association is to help women with poor economic status. "The very idea of setting up the association has first popped to my mind when I was working for ActionAid Ethiopia. I know that it can be rewarding if women are supported. So far, around 36,000 people have benefited from the training WISE provides" notes Tsigie.
Once selected women are provided with the training, they would be getting organized under credit and finance and cooperatives where they can access credits. There are currently 83 women association and WISE provides training targeting at building the the associations' capacity. Tsigie further said "In so doing we were able to see magnificent changes in the livelihoods of many women. And the association intends to do more and reach more women by scaling up the best practices." She also commended the government's effort in helping WISE in different ways.