Being the Difference: our Charity Focus

Cyncoed Methodist supports a range of charities at home and abroad. In addition to our regular annual giving, we often commit ourselves to support a particular charity for two or three years. In the summer of 2015, we decided to support the Wales-Ethiopia self-help project run by Tear Fund.

Ethiopia is an interesting place in many ways. It’s poor. There are about a dozen poorer nations but there are over a 170 richer ones. However, there is no good reason for it always to be poor. Historically it was quite rich as a land. It is mainly rural and 80% of the population are involved in farming and that’s almost all smallholdings. The best news is that there’s plenty of scope to grow agriculture. Three quarters of the land that could be farmed isn’t at present. Everyone could have four times as much land as they have now if they needed it.

In short, this is a country that could work with the right help given to the right people. It’s a dry area and we can’t stop droughts but we can make people more able to cope. Here’s the story of one person who was involved in the very first years of the project we’ve been backing.

Meseret was only just out of her teenage years when she met some women from a local self-help group. Her life had been tough. She’d had a simple but happy childhood. That all changed at 14 when her dad died suddenly. She was the oldest child so she set out to provide for the family. The only work she could get was selling alcohol which she brewed. She continued with schooling but her studies suffered.

When she married her childhood sweetheart, Belay, at the age of 18, it should have been the start of something better. But even love needs help. Aged 19, they were living together in one tiny room with a malnourished baby. Belay couldn’t get work. He was ashamed and ate hardly anything so that there was at least something for his wife and child. It was a helpless and hopeless mess.

Then Meseret met a group of women whose lives looked different to hers because they were hopeful. In fact, they bubbled over with ambition for what they were going to do. Meseret had come into contact with one of the early self-help groups that Tear Fund was backing.

She went along. Frankly, it looked ridiculous. These women were saving about 2 to 3p a week in their local currency. That was supposed to transform their lives! Meseret just laughed. It didn’t make any sense at all. But she joined because they seemed so much happier than her. One week, the session involved a short piece of drama where they acted out what happens when a family loses its father. Meseret collapsed in tears because she knew it was her story too.

That’s when she knew she had to change her situation. The next two years were the toughest of her life. Her husband was so short of work that he had to leave for another town in order to make any money. Then her mother died suddenly. She felt devastated…but not isolated. The group took care of her child as she travelled back home for her mother’s funeral. While she was away, others quietly paid her weekly contributions to the group. She couldn’t quite believe the practical love she’d been shown.

When she was back, she felt stronger rather than weaker and took a small loan from the group to set up a charcoal business. With the profits from that, she started to make and sell handicrafts. That allowed her to pay back the loan, send her son to school and build a small family home. When her husband returned after 18 months away he was thrilled and astonished.

The love she experienced has fuelled her faith. You don’t have to believe to take part in a self-help group but it’s the faith of one of the oldest churches in the world that underpins this work.

Over seven years have passed since Meseret reached rock bottom and needed that initial loan. Today, she has a degree in Human Resources Management and is responsible for a network of self-help groups. She’s also in charge of children’s affairs for the regional government. In spite of her elevated status, her passion is simply to help others as she was once helped. If she hadn’t met that group of women when she was at her lowest … this could have been a very different story. But she did meet them and it has made all the difference.

For those who like numbers, it’s worth recording that every pound that goes into this project has eventually produced a return between 200% and 400%. So, on average, when you give £1, the people of Ethiopia benefit by about £300. Even in the ‘Dragon’s Den’, that might well look like a good proposition!

If you want to know more about this scheme to give a hand up rather than a handout, email davekitchen30@hotmail.com or take a look at the Tear Fund website.