Staring Down Fear

Staring Down Fear

Publication info


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. 


With the support of her VESA and its chairperson, Etsay Wayu, Sindayo Belay gained the knowledge, skills, and confidence she needed to take a loan and turn her life around.

I came here after I divorced my husband. Whatever we had, he was using it for his own purposes. Even though I had no education and no skills, I decided I could do a better job of taking care of my children on my own.

When we arrived here, it was the Ethiopian New Year. I remember that we had nothing—no options and no food. We made ourselves a small grass hut, and the next day I went out to find work as a daily laborer. I got a little money. I used it to buy food and started thinking about how to make some changes.

One day I was visiting my neighbor, Etsay Wayu. I saw that he was fattening some sheep, and I asked him about it. He told me it’s a good business and it’s easy to do. He said he would show me how.

Etsay is the chairperson of the local VESA. He invited me to join the group. The project people agreed that sheep fattening was a good option for me. I got training in every step of the process: how to buy the sheep, how to feed them, how to manage them, how to sell them and to whom. I also learned about saving money and taking loans.

Previously the government had promoted taking loans as an option for people like me. The idea scared me. I had no family, no husband, and no brother to support me. I was afraid that if I took a loan, I might not be able to pay it back. But after all of the training, I saw that a loan was critical to moving ahead, and I felt confident that I would use it well.

When I had the money, Etsay and I went to the market. He showed me what to buy and helped me negotiate the price: we got 14 sheep for 5,000 birr (US $225). When we got them home, he showed me how to feed them and take care of them. Three months later we went back to the market and sold them for 14,000 birr (US $632). I bought more sheep with the profit and, because I was still afraid, returned the loan more than a year and a half early.

These days I’m very comfortable buying, fattening, and selling sheep. I’m also comfortable taking loans—even in large amounts— and paying them back. Now I am educating my children. I buy them new clothes every holiday. I built us this house, and we eat good, healthy food three times a day—and we always have good food to eat on the holidays. 

Photo Credit: Kelley Lynch