This powerful story of one woman making a big difference to other women in Ethiopia comes from my friend Lucy Steinitz (see post on 9/9) who spent years working in Africa and knows Kidist well.
Kidist Belete is a single mother who was raised by a single mother –and one of very few women in leadership positions in Ethiopia today. Kidist started Developing Families Together by herself, using up all of her savings to serve the villages where she was raised, and the struggling women with whom she feels such a close bond. DFT is a pro-poor organization that focuses on empowering women through self-help groups that first determine their own needs and then work with Kidist to make change happen.
When Kidist first met with these women who were hungry, ill-clad, and far from decent medical care, what they wanted most was a school for their children (sons and daughters) that they might have a better life. So Kidist got into the school-construction business– working out a plan for the Japanese embassy to pay for the school, DFT to build it, and the government to staff it once it was constructed. Nobody could believe Kidist would succeed, but she did, with every penny accounted for, every report on time, and the quality of the work first-class. The result: a primary school and library for 600 children.
Developing Families Together also provides training for the women’s self-help groups in business skills, functional literacy and microfinance to support sustainable small businesses, and today, 1,600 women in 65 support groups are earning a better income. Kidist has applied the same vision and determination to a myriad other conditions that affect the lives of vulnerable women: giving 6,000 women and adolescents access to contraceptives; training 1,300 peer educators who have reached over 70,000 people with HIV prevention programs; providing palliative care and HIV testing to close to 5,000 people; and constructing a borehole and rain-harvesting schemes to bring clean drinking water to about 550 families.
Not only is Kidist a one-woman change agent, she is an inspiring role model for the poor women whose lives she is committed to improving. She doesn’t have a decent car and spends hours traveling under horrendous conditions, back and forth (usually on a bus) from Addis Ababa to the towns of Debre Brihan and Shoa Robbit. She came from their same circumstances, and her life is a shining example of the credo her mother believed: Educate women and you will change the world.
My $100 today goes to Developing Families Together, for its big plans and women-based initiatives. To join me in supporting Kidist and the women of Ethiopia, click here.