“Living abroad as a migrant is an experience more bitter and than I can ever describe to you”

(taken from Issue No. 151, October, 2017 Let Me Narrate My Story monthly newsletter)

My name is Ayalnesh Tegegne, and I was born in a place call Yeju in Wollo. When I was 3 years old my parents brought me to live in Addis Ababa. I entered school and was educated up to 8th grade. It was then that I met my husband. According to our custom, he requested my parents for consent to our marriage who eventually gave him their consent to the marriage. We had 3 children and even though I was a young girl, I did not have difficulty bringing them up, as my parents were on hand to help. Due to some misunderstanding, my marriage soon collapsed and I took my children to live with my parents once more. At the time, I heard people in my area talking about how their children were going abroad to middle eastern countries, working there and sending money back home to their parents, in order to help them buy various essentials and improve their lives. I became eager to do the same thing for my family, thinking there were riches to be made in such countries. I thus obtained my passport, traveled to one of these countries, and, through my sponsor, was placed in a certain family as a maid.

I found the work very tiring. I was given no rest and had to undertake various household chores simultaneously. I also slept very short hours, but with the welfare of my children always uppermost in my mind, I carried on working to the best of my ability.

My employers kept my passport and did not allow me to leave their house for any reason or make ‘phone calls. I told them that I wished to send my wages back home, but they said they would do so every month, and asked me for my home address. I readily gave it to them in the belief that they would really send the money back home. During the five years I worked there, my employers told me that they were regularly sending my wages to my family, and I believed them. One day I met another Ethiopian girl who also happened to be employed in a family, and as we got to talking, I told her that my employers were sending my wages to my family every month. She was surprised at this, and asked for my family’s telephone number to check if they were indeed receiving the money. She found out that they had not received anything from me and were extremely anxious about my welfare. When I heard this I became very agitated and nearly gave up all hope. One day, I took what little money I had, and with only the clothes on my back ran away from the employer’s house, making my way by sea to Turkey. On arrival there I was promptly arrested by Turkish border guards and put in prison.

After spending six months in prison enduring great hardship, I was about to be put on a plane back to Ethiopia when I became emotional and began complaining loudly about my plight, that I had worked for five years and had nothing to show for it, that I had come to Turkey in the hope of finding work and encountering better luck, and that I could not go home empty handed. An Ethiopian pilot who was nearby and witnessed my emotional state asked me what the matter was. I told him of my suffering and he then asked people who had gathered around to try to calm me down. Since I had my sponsor’s telephone number with me they managed to telephone him and, in due course, he sent me a plane ticket to fly home. I had no alternative but to go home empty handed after all these years. From time to time I became greatly embarrassed when people I know commented negatively on my return without having any money from my five years spent abroad. However, I resolved to start over, but how? I did not have sufficient funds. Nevertheless, with my last remaining Birr 145, I bought lentils, other small items of food, baked some injera and started preparing food for people. I did not even own a bed. I slept on plastic sheeting in the home of a friend. All my suffering had somewhat damaged me psychologically.

While in this situation two friends of mine, Aster and Wogayehu, both members of WISE cooperatives, came to my home and told me about the organization and its activities in providing training and savings and loans opportunities. The objective was to help poor and disadvantaged women create their own line of work. At first I was skeptical, asking how I could pay back any loan since I did not have any money. However, after my friends repeatedly explained how WISE operated, I decided to take up their suggestion and registered as a member of Bisrat WISE Savings and Credit Cooperative. I then underwent training in various skills. I was hugely appreciative of the quality of the orientation, and thanked my fellow Ethiopians for this opportunity. For once I began to feel a great inner peace.

Having undertaken the training, I began saving from the transport allowance provided by WISE. After a few weeks, I took out a first loan of 500 birr, with which I gradually improved my activaties, baking up to 400 injera a day. I returned the loan on time and took out further loans, expanding my work while continuing with my savings activities. I brought my children to live with me and educated them properly. In their spare time they helped with my work.

I had previously taken out a loan of Birr 93,000 from my Cooperative and, in September, also borrowed Birr 100,000 from my union. I used the funds to buy a plot of land in Sendafa, on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, on which I am now building a house. My children have been successful in their education. Two of my sons are involved in shipping activities, while the third one is employed as a teacher. My daughter works with me in my business activities.

The training I received from WISE has enabled me to transform my life for the better. I have now garnered valuable knowledge, on, for instance, ensuring the quality of my products, maintaining good relationships with my customers, managing my time in an appropriate fashion, and engaging in sound accounting practices,

I have experienced a lot of problems in my life. However, WISE has been with me every step of the way. The Organization’s door is always open to me, and its staff are always willing to help in providing advice when I encounter difficulties. I am greatly indebted to the Organization which has, among things, taught me that I can choose to work and transform my life in my own country, and do not have to suffer degradation in a foreign land. I am now the proud owner of a restaurant, bar and automobile. I currently employ 16 persons and intend to establish a food processing factory.

I wish to stress to my fellow women that living a life as a migrant is a very bitter and trying experience. When I was working in that middle eastern country I had to get up every morning at 5 a.m. to clean 26 rooms. I then had to iron clothes, wash dishes, prepare food and make coffee for guests. All these tasks were supposed to be done in the space of a day. I was forbidden to use the lift and had to carry heavy items up several flights of stairs. One time, while carrying equipment up the stairs, I fell and was injured. Other Ethiopian girls working abroad sometimes die of such injuries. My employers did not even want to pay me for all this hard work.

So, my fellow sisters, I strongly advise you not go abroad to suffer hardship and indignities as migrant workers. Come to WISE and taking advantage of the various services provided. Strive to work and live proudly in your own country. Living abroad as a refugee is an experience more bitter and undignified than I can ever describe!!.

Ayalnesh Tegegne,
Bisrat WISE Savings and Credit Cooperative,
Nifas Silk Lafto Sub-city, Addis Ababa