Standing Alone, But Not For Long

Standing Alone, But Not For Long

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You don’t break the cycle of poverty by giving people money. You break it by giving them power. This has been CARE’s mission from the start – to give people the ability to take control of their futures, and not let it be dictated by assistance.

Every success story reinforces this mission. That’s why we’re publishing a series of success stories from CARE Ethiopia’s GRAD Program (Graduation with Resilience to Achieve Sustainable Development), a microfinancing program funded by USAID wherein communities set up Village Economic and Social Associations for its members (VESAs).

VESAs give members of the community a chance to buy into a savings and loan program, from which they can pull small, targeted loans to start new businesses and enterprises. It has been a wild success. Members are trained in financial management, adaptation to climate change, promotes behavioral changes in husbands and men, nutritious meals for children and there is an almost 100% repayment rate. Most importantly, it shows women that when the power is in their hands, great things can happen, and entire communities can prosper.

The program shows that when you give someone not assistance, but opportunity, just how far they will run with it. 


Kassa Mulualem is a project participant and role model. By sharing her experience with the VESAs in her area, she is helping to raise awareness about gender equality and encouraging others to change their understanding of the division of labor between men and women. 

Before GRAD, I was alone in struggling for gender equality in my community.

My father was too old to farm, and things were getting bad for our family, so I decided to start farming. I knew the community believed it was wrong for a girl to do this kind of work, but I did it anyway—not only to help my family, but also because I believed that if women wanted to do this work, they should be able to do it.

I also knew that if women could take care of themselves, they could be free. I saw how hard they worked and how badly their husbands treated them. At one point I asked all of the women I knew, including my mother, “Why do you continue to suffer like this when you could just leave and take care of yourself?” They rejected the idea. They told me, “You are bringing the devil to this community.”

After I started farming, the harvests were good and my family had enough to eat. We could slaughter a sheep for the holidays, we could give our share of food to the church, and my two sisters could continue their education. Still, my parents weren’t happy. My father told me, “The neighbors will isolate you if you keep doing this. You are only one person and you can’t win over the community on your own.”

A couple of years later, GRAD started. And through the VESAs, men and women in every community started learning about gender equality. These days, it is common to see women in the field— and men in the kitchen. My father was right about one thing: one person’s struggle cannot bring change. Now, thanks to GRAD, we are many. 


Photo Credit: Kelley Lynch