Asqual and Mehrat climb out of extreme poverty

December 1, 2011
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The below article was originally posted by Ann Miles, Director of Microfinance at The MasterCard Foundation, and Susan Davis, President & CEO of BRAC USA on the CGAP-Ford Graduation Program blog. Earlier this month, Ann and Susan visited one of the Graduation Program pilot projects in Ethiopia.

The below article was originally posted by Ann Miles, Director of Microfinance at The MasterCard Foundation, and Susan Davis, President & CEO of BRAC USA on the CGAP-Ford Graduation Program blog. Earlier this month, Ann and Susan visited one of the Graduation Program pilot projects in Ethiopia.

Her hand shot up each time we asked a question.  Asqual, a 25 year old single mother, is a beekeeper and lives outside Wukro in northern Tigray, Ethiopia.  We visited her to learn more about her experience in the ‘graduation’ program being implemented by an NGO called REST in collaboration with DECSI, a microfinance organization.  Through a partnership with The MasterCard Foundation and BRAC USA, BRAC Development Institute is conducting qualitative research about the pilot program in Ethiopia and other countries as they aim to help extremely poor households ‘graduate’ from the bottom 10% to being moderately poor and able to take advantage of microfinance.

Asqual’s daughter is 7 years old and her mother lives with them, too.  We visited her home, a stone house and a small yard where she keeps her beehives, and had an opportunity to hear her story.  Asqual started with two beehives and has since expanded to ten.  She is optimistic about the future.  She plans to purchase five more beehives with a microfinance loan.

Asqual standing in front of her beehives from the program.
She hopes with the help of a microfinance loan she can purchase more beehives.

She also participated in a focus group discussion with us and other young people later that day.  We asked the group what is best about life in Ethiopia.  The group was puzzled about this question and didn’t know how to respond.   The best educated, Asqual, who has completed Class 10 answered:

“Living here all things are available but we were unaware of how to use the natural resources around us, how to get money, how to change lives. We have everything it takes, the resources, the labor- this area is good- it’s just a lack of awareness. My only regret is that I didn’t start earlier- it’s about knowledge, to know and seize opportunities.”

Meherat is a 38 year old mother of two girls, aged 15 and 19.  Growing up, Meherat had a very difficult life.  She never went to school, not even a day.  She said, “There were 7 of us.  All of us worked in other people’s homes to get food.  We had no chance for any education or exposure to learning.”  She has rented her labor to better off households until now.  Meherat explained, “Now I am better.  I have a bright future.  I’ve improved my life situation.  I send my children to school, in class 8 and 11.  We have enough to eat.”  Meherat planned for her two children and then stopped.  She said that she wanted to be able to provide for them, “whatever is necessary.”  She hopes her daughters have a life much better than hers.

Meherat received 2 cattle from REST worth 4700 birrs.  She is fattening them and will sell them for meat.  She has .25 hectare of farm land.  In the past, she rented it out to someone else to farm using a sharecropping arrangement.  But the person who had the oxen to plow the land got to keep 3/4 of the harvest.  Now that she has cattle, she plowed the land herself and got to keep the entire harvest.  Meherat wistfully said, “If this project had come at my young age, my life would have been so much better.”

She received income from the safety net program and the land.  She will also get money from the animals once sold.  She has been saving with DECSI, the local microfinance institution serving 60% of households in Tigray.   Meherat said that in the future, she plans to take a loan from DECSI and keep growing her profits.

As we were preparing to leave, we asked this bone thin woman with weathered skin, ‘What did you eat today?”  Somewhat surprised, she answered, “Who me?  Bread.  I had bread.  I will eat some vegetables from the garden with injera (bread) later today.  Food is expensive. Pulses and beans have been going up. One kilo of beans is now 12 birr.”   I asked about the eggs from the chickens I see in the yard.  She said “I sell the eggs for salt and coffee.  I use them to buy this.”  She added, “I know the way of life, I know what a balanced diet is.  My plan is to save as much as I can to keep upgrading my life.”

Meherat proudly showed us her passbook; it said she has 2,078.81 birr (USD 122.28) in savings.

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