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Answers from Ethiopia: Responses to your questions

ONEMoms in Ethiopia

A week before I left for Ethiopia with ONEMoms, I spoke to a thoughtful, engaged group of women at the Blogalicious Conference in Las Vegas, Nevada. This event, founded by Stacey Ferguson of Justice Fergie, was full of energy and expertise. Blogalicious attendees have big plans for their blogs, and understand the importance of community.

The conversation happened at the ONEMoms poolside chat, an hour-long break that took place in a cabana by the pool at the Red Rock Resort. Jyl Johnson Pattee, one of the original ONEMoms team that went to Kenya last year, and I answered questions about ONEMoms: what the program is, why ONE is so committed to the community of mothers in social media, at what ONE is all about.

We also wanted to find out if anyone had questions for the people we’d be meeting in Ethiopia the following week. The questions (and the women who asked them) were so thoughtful and diverse, I’d like to share them here, along with the answers I got:

Harriette of Sense & Sensitivity

To mothers: What are your dreams for your children?

Every mother I spoke to expressed her greatest hope was for her child to be healthy and to get an education with the possibility of  “a position” or a well-paying job. I’m sure, had we had the chance to speak to wealthier mothers in Addis Ababa, the answers would have been wider in scope. It struck me that when survival isn’t guaranteed, that’s where mothers’ dreams begin.

Stacy of Kids * Stuff * World

To children: What do you want to be when you grow up?

One of the recurring themes of our visit was hope. We met kids from different circumstances: kids going to school on the outskirts of the capital city; rural children who have little access to formal education. But I got to ask your question directly to a group of girls who live as “domestic workers” in the Merkato slum in Addis.

These girls, who were sent to the city from rural villages for a shot at a better life, ended up working practically as slaves in the homes of their employers. Little to no pay, long working hours, no education, and, in many cases, physical abuse. Despite this shocking profile, the girls I met at an education program based in Merkato were full of hope and ambition. They were taking the smallest bit of education and turning it into fuel for their dreams. “Doctor.” “Pilot.” “I want to raise a family.” “I want to become a mentor to other girls.” “I want to teach girls about violence so it doesn’t happen to them.”

Lolo of Crazy About My BayBah

I’m an art teacher and would love to see something the children have made with their own hands.

We visited several schools and educational programs. The programs focus heavily on academics: writing, learning English, math, and science. When I asked about art education, I got quizzical looks from some of the program directors. My sense was that, with the limited time and resources they had and the importance of providing basic education to so many, art was something of a luxury.

However, at a local elementary school, we got to see the “Pedagogy Room,” a room full of visual teaching aids created by students and teachers. Hand-drawn maps of the world, painted diagrams of the human body, and this, one of my favorites, a portrait of a lion decorated with feathers.

Lion artwork from a school in Mojo, Ethiopia.

Thien-Kim of I’m Not the Nanny

I’d like to know about college students’ hopes and ambitions.

One of our final nights in Addis Ababa was spent with young entrepreneurs and students. The implications weren’t lost on us: we had witnessed plenty of “lack” when it comes to education, access to technology, and basic opportunities, and here were fired-up young people ready to take on the challenge of starting businesses, and in some cases, starting entirely new industries.

As we ate dinner together, we swapped stories. I asked about their hopes and ambitions, and their answers sounded much like an American college grad’s or entrepreneur’s: we want our careers and businesses to be successful. But there was more in their answers. I could hear a desire not just to succeed for themselves and their families, but for Ethiopia, a country with huge potential that still struggles under the weight of outdated images of famine and poverty. Yes, these and other problems exist, but they are not the full story of Ethiopia. The young people we met want to break through those old stereotypes, and, with their creativity and leadership, formulate a new image of Ethiopia.

Kendra of The Savvy WAHM

Do entrepreneurs have access to microfinancing and investment? How could I support a women entrepreneur in Ethiopia?

One young entrepreneur I spoke to talked about the lack of venture capital and private investment in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government does offer limited financing, but at great risk to the entrepreneur: one has to put up a house as collateral! Many small businesses are self-funded, or funded with the help of family and friends.

She and other businesspeople we met spoke of a more insidious problem: Ethiopia’s outdated image. Despite huge growth and potential for Ethiopian business, many people still view Ethiopia as a backward country full of starving people. They lack trust in the ability of an Ethiopian business to work professionally, or to even to be stable.

As for how to support women-owned businesses, it’s a tricky proposition. I was half-serious when I suggested to this woman that someone needs to launch an Ethiopian Kickstarter so entrepreneurs could connect to people around the world who would be excited to invest in their businesses.

Until then, seek out and buy fair trade goods from Ethiopia. Or buy FashionABLE scarves, which provide Ethiopian women with a sustainable living wage.

Also, look at this NYT article, published just this week: Women Entrepreneurs Drive Growth in Africa

* * * *

Thank you to all the women who took time to talk with Jyl and me. At the time, I had good intentions but NO idea how to imagine what life was like in Ethiopia. As I write this now, from my couch, home from the ONEMoms trip for less than 24 hours, I can picture the faces of the people who answered these questions. I can see their homes and schools and farms and streets. These are real people, living real lives, like us.

On October 6-13, 2012, the ONEMoms visited Ethiopia to learn about progress being made in healthcare, education, agriculture and economic stability. Visit the ONEMoms website to read posts from all the bloggers.

By joining ONE, you add your voice to millions who want to make a difference in the fight against poverty. ONE will never ask for money and will keep your contact details confidential. Please join. It’s important.

Asha Dornfest is the co-author of Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More By Doing Less and the publisher of Parent Hacks, a site crammed with tips for making family life easier.

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