Bread from Heaven

Community EmpowermentEthiopia

How another Nazareth – Nazareth in Ethiopia – has been the source of another kind of good news...

I peer into darkness. I’m trying to see who is in this hut and what is going on, but there are clouds of smoke obscuring my view. Gradually, I make out three women working hard in front of open fires. They are cooking injera, a local flatbread made from teff flour and water.

One of the women, Siret*, steps outside into the sunlight. She has a broad, welcoming smile and offers us a taste.

Injera is the staple dish in Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea. It’s an acquired taste for newcomers, but I’ve learned to love it. Siret’s injera tastes fresh and warm, like newly baked bread.

Siret has much to smile about these days, but it hasn’t always been this way. She was one of the poorest of the poor in Nazareth, a bustling city in the centre of Ethiopia. With her husband, they struggled to provide for their family. Siret didn’t have any work but, as we’ll discover, she had lots of potential...

Saving grace      

Siret with freshly baked injera bread.

Siret started saving. You wouldn’t think that was a luxury she could afford. Indeed, when she joined a savings group with women like her in 2009, she managed to put away just one Ethiopian birr (about three British pence) each week.

The savings scheme is only part of the mutual support that this group offers. It’s known as a ‘self-help group’. Tearfund has worked hard to promote these groups and it’s easy to see why.

Women are encouraged to save regularly together. Eventually the scheme accumulates enough money to provide a small loan for one or more of the group members.

Rising to the challenge

When the time was right, Siret made her pitch for a loan. She wanted to start a small business making and selling injera.

Siret is clearly a woman with natural business gifts. She identifies and makes the most of key markets, such as local hotels and a nearby business park. Over time, and with periodic loans from the self-help group, the business has grown.

Siret now employs three women. She has also expanded her business, buying a shop – run by her husband – and a recreational centre with one staff member, where locals gather to play pool.

'Now my house is full, We have a cupboard, a bed, chairs and a fridge. I can provide enough food for my family to eat and I can clothe them well.’

Siret

Freshly baked beginnings

What difference does this make to her family? ‘Now my house is full,’ she says. ‘We have a cupboard, a bed, chairs and a fridge. I can provide enough food for my family to eat and I can clothe them well.’

Standing next to her is her daughter, who carries her own child on her hip. Siret and her husband support their two children as well as two more from poorer relatives in the countryside. Their blessings have overflowed into many more lives.

It’s a huge success story, but so are self-help groups. Back in 2002 Tearfund helped to launch self-help groups in Nazareth, along with the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church.

There were only 100 women in the first Tearfund-supported self-help groups, all of them in Nazareth. Now there are almost 20,000, helping to change the lives of roughly 1.5 million people across Ethiopia.

Self-help groups into southern, eastern and western Africa, and as far as Haiti. The power of the self-help group to lift its members out of poverty speaks for itself. As a result, more and more women and communities want to get on board.

It reminds me of the tale told in John’s Gospel about another Nazareth: ‘"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.’ (John 1:46)

Come and see indeed!

Prayer for this:

  • Pray for the Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church, and other churches in Ethiopia, that they will continue to find new ways to live out the gospel –  good news to the poor. 
  • Thank God for the countless thousands of communities around the world who have already escaped extreme poverty through these self-help groups. 
  • Pray that these groups will continue to take hold and multipy, across Africa and further afield.
Richard Lister
Richard Lister is Global Church and Development Lead at Tearfund. He writes his own blog – Churches Changing Nations – about his adventures in church and community transformation. Email: richard.lister@tearfund.org