Exploring Opportunities in Ethiopia

I finished up my time in Ethiopia on July 3rd and boy was it an amazing trip. I learned so much and put myself in a better position for pursuing my nonprofit as a career. I began to reflect on some amazing final encounters…

One day I sat down with Efrem, the school teacher and Friwot, the sewing teacher and we had an hour conversation about job opportunities for the girls after the Gifts for Confidence sewing program. Possible opportunities included going onto University or Technical School and pursuing a further sewing education. Pursuing higher education could earn the girls a training position at a factory or other supervisor roles. Other opportunities included working for local sewing shops which are scattered all over the city or even working on the side of the street as a clothes mender. At the end of this discussion I began asking about Ethiopian garment factories. One of my goals this summer was to tour one of the new factories in the area and see if there was a possibility for a future partnership where my girls could be hired at higher salaries because of my training program. After speaking with several locals I learned that factory owners choose to build and employ in Ethiopia because they know they can pay their workers low wages because of the economic state. I began to learn that the factory works their women overtime and sometimes they don’t get released until 11pm. Also they don’t pay for overtime. Friwot told me that they specifically look for young girls to train and they only get paid 1,200 birr/month ($52). However they also provide required housing (4 girls/room), breakfast, and lunch. So really the additional money received is 600 birr/month ($26). I began asking questions about the living wage in Ethiopia which I learned is about 2000 birr/month ($87) which covers rent, food, transportation, phone, fixing clothing. So basically, these women are paid low wages, they can’t live with their families, and they are worked overtime with no pay. Also I learned that all the clothing is then exported to other countries. I really hate the whole concept of sweat shopping and I aim to have socially responsible and ethical values, so this is not an opportunity I want to lead my girls toward. This information was helpful but I have to be careful not to generalize that every factory in Ethiopia is like this…

Lesson 19 teaches the girls how to create a reusable pad. It is made out of polyurethane fabric, fleece for absorbency, and dri fit materia. It simply snaps onto a girl’s underwear and can be rinsed out and used multiple times. While this exists in other developing worlds, I was more or less introducing it in Awassa. I learned that 8-12 pads cost about 20 birr ($1) which women try to make last throughout their whole period. This reusable pad would provide a better alternative that would last longer. The female principal of the school, Meaza, and Friwot, the teacher, were very excited about this project. To test the market, Friwot and I premade 22 pads to be sold the following week at parent’s day. Following parents day, I had received notice from one of the school teachers that all the pads were purchased and completely sold out! This was wonderful news because it ensures the customer for when it comes time for the girls to make the pads and sell them. Not only does Lesson 19 have the girls make the pads, but they also get to practice entrepreneurship skills by selling what they make, and then they get to keep the profit. This provides them incentive to make quality products and then make an effort to actually find their customer and sell them.

Me introducing the pads to the girls

Another day we went fabric shopping in the local markets but I stumbled upon so much more. I began searching for fabric amongst many other male shop owners in Ethiopia in this tiny store. Fabric shopping went really well and we were able to find new material for scarves for next year! Then I got into a conversation with some boys working in a nearby shop. They were 15 and 17 years old and doing night school. They learned how to sew from the shop owner. This is a common job in Ethiopia as there are many made-to-order shops. Next we went to a store that sold cultural fabric (this fabric is indigenous to the 80 ethnic groups that exist in Ethiopia). Initially I was only shown the storefront where I could purchase the fabric but then the merchant opened the back door to their actually workshop. There were people sewing garments, over edging and finishing off items, and weaving the cultural fabric. This was my favorite part because it truly was the heart of the operation. One thing I concluded from my excursions today is that sewing is a male dominated career in Ethiopia. This solidified the reason WHY I started my nonprofit, To Empower GIRLS globally by teaching them a marketable skill. My hope is that my program will change the game and more women will be employed in these workshops and storefronts.

Like I said earlier I finished up in Ethiopia at the beginning of July and the past month I have been studying abroad in London with the FSU International Merchandising Program. This too has been an amazing adventure but a complete 180 in regards to culture, food, and people. It has honestly been a hard emotional switch. I look forward to returning to the states and getting back to work on furthering my new nonprofit.


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