Helping Women Worldwide
The Women’s Empowerment Program at Convoy of Hope helps women in impoverished countries like Ethiopia start sustainable businesses that help them support their families—for the long haul.
Little Treasures: Jami Peebles (above) brought home a dress and scarf made by women in Ethiopia, as well as a puzzle box.
We get off the bus, and we were expecting 40 women there, but there were 450 there to greet us,” says Jami Peebles.
One of the most impactful moments of Peebles’s life occurred in impoverished surroundings half a world away in Ethiopia. Sitting in her comfortable corner office at Central Trust Company, she recalls the story of her trip with Convoy of Hope. Ordinarily, Peebles, the Executive Vice President and Regional Manager of Central Trust Company, uses the office to attentively work with people to manage their wealth. Right now, she is recalling the culmination of her trip with a deep passion rarely heard in this environment, or any. After spending several days with the Ethiopian women bonding and getting to know their lives, Peebles’s group made up of successful women from across America now got to share stories of overcoming their own hardships, doing their part to give those in attendance a new hope to improve upon their $11-a-month income. As a guest of Convoy of Hope, Peebles was invited to Ethiopia to see how Convoy’s most recent project, a women’s micro-enterprise program, was helping impoverished women learn trained skills and eventually open their own businesses, therein providing for themselves and their starving families. It was far from her day-to-day life working to help clients manage their millions, but Peebles couldn’t have been happier about it. “These women came up to hug and kiss us,” says Peebles. “It was the deepest connection I’ve ever had with any other women.”
Although Peebles just made this trip in February, the roots of the trip began long before. In 2010, Convoy of Hope received a federal grant for a women’s micro-enterprise program. “We wanted to promote a sustainable model of empowering women to financially provide for their families,” says Kara Edson, the Director of Women’s Empowerment at Convoy of Hope. When they started, their plan was to work with the Ethiopian government to find women who made less than a dollar a day. What they found was the majority of women were making less than half that. “Most of the single mothers in the developing world are illiterate, with a third grade education at most, and they’re dealing with a lot of self-esteem and self-confidence issues,” explains Edson. “A lot of women have to resort to prostitution. They just love their kids so much that they’ll do anything.”
Convoy of Hope has never been accused of thinking too small, and they’re thinking big with this one, too. “There are 1.3 billion people living in abject poverty, less than $1.25 per day, and 70 percent are women,” says Edson. “I just look at empowering women and the dynamic impact that could have on eradicating global poverty as a whole.”
Sweet hopes: A group of girls (above) at a health center near Addis Ababa, a spot Convoy of Hope often visits and brings staple food items to help offset operational costs.
Making it Happen
In order to achieve big, global goals, Convoy starts with a very small idea: Provide an individual woman with confidence, education, training, and seed money for her own business, and you can change a community now and for generations to come.
After being selected by the Ethiopian government, the women begin a 10-week program broken into three phases. “The first phase, the woman gets acquainted with us and the others, and we talk about self-confidence,” says Edson. “Women who have graduated in the past, who are successful in their businesses, talk to them to give them that boost. After that we do basic financial training, writing numbers, keeping a ledger, the importance of saving money and basic things that will help them in the future.” The women who maintain good attendance and are really serious about the program move on to the second phase: the vocational training. “We ask them about what they love to do,” Edson says. “Did you grow up sewing? Did you raise livestock? Do you love cosmetology? Do you love hair? We teach them to pair what they love to do with what their community needs from them and have them benefit in the process.” With that direction, they teach them everything they need to know in their given field.
The process ends with a cap and gown graduation and certificate. Convoy’s involvement is far from over at that point. It gifts the women the seed capital they need to get their business started. To ensure success, Convoy representatives meet with the women weekly for a year and require the women to join a cooperative savings group where they elect leadership and create a constitution and bylaws. The point, as Edson says, is to make sure the women are “accountable to their sisters in the community.”
Growing the Program
This simple plan of educating women, training them for a vocation and helping them get started originally had a goal of graduating 96 women. To date, the program has graduated more than 1,200. Women who were making $11 a month are now making $300. Inspired by the success, Convoy has expanded the program, taking it to Tanzania and eventually El Salvador. After the initial grant for the program ran out, Convoy decided to fund the program and make it its own department.
To Edson, these are not facts and figures that point to the greatness of Convoy; rather, it’s about the women. “The program had a feeding program attached to it, but when we went and talked to the women, they said, ‘We don’t want this food. We would rather have more of our sisters learn these lifelong skills.’” Edson says the impact is more far-reaching than you see on the surface. “It really has an incredible ripple effect,” she says. “They are seeing the value of education. These moms are seen as role models, which affects the way a son treats a woman. It’s easy to measure quantitative stuff, but there are more qualitative things happening in the lives of these ladies.”
Learned skills: Thanks to the Convoy of Hope program, this woman now runs a catering business. She was making injera, the local bread, to sell to restaurants and hotels.
Forming a bond
Peebles, who is well-established in her career, certainly feels the impact. “When I was so upset one night after the trip, my husband, Tom, said to me, ‘Does it occur to you that the only difference in you and them is where you were born?,’” Peebles says. That statement encapsulates the whole experience for her. It’s what motivates her, now that she’s home, to continue to dream and plan with Convoy, and it’s how she bonded so closely to the women. “I can’t tell you how much pride I have in them,” Peebles says. “You instantly feel this connection, this ownership, this admiration for how hard they’re working to improve their quality of life. They’re my Ethiopian sisters, and I will be forever connected to them.”
Edson agrees with Peebles’s sentiment. “It’s a partnership,” she says. “I’m so grateful to work with these ladies, they’re such a source of inspiration. If you ever feel that you can’t do something, or you’ve lost hope, these ladies will restore your hope. They have gone from situations of darkness to these places of light. They’re my heroes.”
Roasted fresh before preparation, coffee is a large part of Ethiopian culture
Director of Women’s Empowerment at Convoy of Hope Kara Edson (above) helps in the preparation of injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread (below).
Want to help? You can make a donation at convoyofhope.org. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions will be forwarded to Kara Edson, director of Women’s Empowerment at Convoy of Hope.