“We should not choose life as a migrant as our only alternative”

Taken from Issue number 150, September, 2017 Let Me Narrate My Story, monthly newsletter of WISE

Wonishet Fantu. is a member of Yichalal Savings and Credit Cooperative. She now recounts the problems she faced as a migrant both in Ethiopia and abroad.

I was born in 1964 in Harar Administrative Area. My father was a soldier and my mother, a housewife. My father frequently had to go to the warfront and my mother, sisters and brothers survived on the wages he sent us. My mother was a wonderful and very industrious person. As the money our father sent us was insufficient for our needs, she started baking bread and traditional/local drinks and, with the small profit obtained, made sure that we lacked for nothing and pursued our education without worry.

While in this situation, we were informed that our father had died in the war between Ethiopia and Somalia. The news was extremely hard on my mother, since none of us, children, had reached the age where we could engage in work. My father’s previous wages were replaced by small monthly pension allowances, but this was hardly enough for one person, let alone a whole family. However, since my father had got on very well with his relatives, they did not abandon us in our time of need. So, one of my uncle’s sons took me to Addis Ababa to live with him and continue my education. However tiring, my mother took care of my siblings with the small pension and proceeds from her small business activity. I was in 5th grade at the time. When I reached 8th grade I was introduced to the future father of my child. We used to go for walks and have refreshments together. I was young, naive, and easily persuaded to have my first child, a girl. I was extremely worried, as being a girl child myself, I could really not bring up another child. However, on hearing of my predicament, my wonderful mother immediately came to my house, told me not to worry and to think only of my education, and placed me in the care of my aunt. She then took my child to bring up in her own home.

I took my mother’s advice to heart and soon completed 12th grade. I broke up with the father of my daughter and began a romantic relationship with another man. Our relationship lasted for a while and we soon had a daughter. After the baby was born, however, he left me. Very sad!!

Putting this episode behind me, I resolved to help myself and my family and traveled to Saudi Arabia, reluctantly leaving my daughters in the care of my mother. I knew that it was difficult living in a foreign country. I worked hard at my job as I knew I was the only one who truly had to care for my children. I sent my wages back home to my mother. She in turn took care of my children, ensuring that they lacked for nothing.

After a few months I started learning Arabic, which smoothened my work, as I could not easily converse with my employers. Although I worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years, I used to return to Ethiopia once a year to see my family. Due to my mother’s and my own efforts, my children have now grown up and are employed as health workers. I am extremely gratified by this.

While in Saudi Arabia I also saved some money for myself. I realized that this was not enough to start my own work, so I decided to stay in that country, continue being employed, and then return home. However, due to a directive by the Saudi government ordering Ethiopians (without proper work permits) to leave the country, I had to return home. Having resolved to do my own work, I got together with eight other persons in my woreda to initiate small scale business activities. Each of us put forward 30,000 birr to set up a poultry production farm. As we lacked the necessary expertise for such a venture, we incurred a 270,000 birr loss. But as we still wanted to continue in this line of work, we borrowed 200,000 birr from Gulele Subcity Savings and Loans Department. We gradually obtained more experience, became successful, and repaid the loan within a year. I had wanted very much to build a house but had insufficient funds and used to be stressed. While in Saudi Arabia, I had bought a plot of land back home. However, I was saddened to learn that work on construction of the house had stopped once the foundation had been put in place.

It was at this time that I first heard about WISE. As returnees from Saudi Arabia were being encouraged to undergo training and benefit from savings and loan services, I decided to take advantage of these services. I immediately acted and joined Yichalal Saving and Credit Cooperative and started benefiting from WISE’s services. /Yichalal was established with the support of ILO/. My money shortage problems which had troubled me a great deal were solved, and I am now able to realize my dream of building a two-story house. I have received excellent training from highly capable WISE personnel who showed great respect for me and other trainees. The training has helped me to transform my outlook and previous way of thinking. I never thought I could be afforded such opportunities in my own country and by my own people. At present I have borrowed 200,000 birr and have savings of over 50,000 birr. I am hopeful that with the support of my cooperative, I can be even more successful in the future.

Thinking about it all now, if only I had previously received such training, I would not have gone abroad in search of work. Even though I obtained money from my job in Saudi Arabia, I missed a lot of things, such as not being able to see my children laugh and be happy, and not being able to comfort them when they were upset. I also missed not being able to hear them stumble over their first words as babies. I strongly feel that it is good to be honoured in one’s own country.

I am now involved in a clothing business. Training on basic business skills, accounting, basic health, life skills and others that I received from WISE has been extremely helpful in my work. I have also increased my knowledge of savings issues and am currently leading a peaceful and fruitful existence.

My message to other disadvantaged women is that there is an organization called WISE in our country which can help train them to devise and develop meaningful and productive work, and that they should register with the organization and receive such training. They should also benefit from the savings and credit services offered/provided. You can transform yourselves in your own country and should not choose life as a migrant as your only alternative. After all, one’s country is one’s country!!”

Woinishet Fantahun,
Yichalal Savings and Credit Cooperative
Nefas Silk