Zemzem’s story – VSLA member, entrepreneur and farmer: “Now I see what I am capable of”

Zemzem Nori  CREDIT CARE Ethiopia  Dina Sisay

Zemzem Nori, VSLA member, entrepreneur & farmer

14 July 2023


My name is Zemzem Nori, I live in Arerit Kebele in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. I am a mother, a farmer, and an entrepreneur.

Facing multiple crises in Ethiopia

We have faced many crises in recent years – the pandemic, locust invasions, severe drought, and armed conflict. Before I joined my VSLA, I was just a farmer growing sorghum. I struggled to feed my family and send my kids to school. We had to limit our aspirations because there was no money. During these difficult times my husband and I separated. It’s not that we didn’t have the energy, or we didn’t want to work. We just didn’t know how.

Now, I can buy what I need, and what my children need. I can send my children to school. I can buy nutritious food and clothes for them. Now, I can buy oil, potatoes, tomatoes, sugar, and lentils. I can also buy sanitary pads. These are all things that I could not buy before, but I can now. Now I have an income.

Gaining knowledge through Livelihoods for Resilience

I have completely changed since joining the VSLA and CARE’s Livelihoods for Resilience project. I have gained a lot of knowledge from this project.

Just a few days before the war, I had taken a loan of 3,000 birr ($60 USD) for my business from my savings group. I used that money to survive. When things started to calm down, I still had a little bit of that money left. I used it to bake bread, since that had been one of my businesses before. But it was harder during the war as all the roads were closed, so I couldn’t get any flour. But we didn’t stop. We used camels and took back roads and small paths to get flour so I could bake again. I repaid that whole loan, and I am still running my business.

After the conflict, I took another loan, which I topped up with my own money. With that, I bought two donkeys. I take the donkeys to the river and bring back water for the village. I can earn 40 birr (80 cents) a day selling that water. Before, maybe I could earn 5 birr (10 cents) a day. I have already paid back that loan, so now I own those donkeys completely.

A path through the crisis

People who aren’t in the VSLA, they live like I was living before. They are barely surviving. They live hand to mouth. They can’t do any business activities. They can’t spend money. During the conflict, people who had no money just had to run into the desert to hide. I didn’t have to do that. I used my savings and my loan to survive. It was like I took a shortcut. I was able to buy things and keep going during the crisis. So, when the conflict was over, I didn’t have to start from zero.

Now I see what I am capable of, which motivates me. It means I can do more. I want to keep going and keep moving forward.

It was God’s will for me to survive all these crises. The project showed me a path through the crisis, but I am the one who had to take that path.

I am so proud that now I have harmony with my husband. Through the VSLA, I saw a path. We could save money and come back together. We are moving forward together and solving our problems.

Planning for the future

I don’t expect anyone to just give me money or give me things. I don’t want to beg. That’s not what I want or need. I am most proud of the way I think now. I have plans for the future.

We will never go back. We will never be what we were before. We will always go forward. That is what we want, to go forward."

Image: CARE/Dina Sisay

What are VSLAs?

The Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) model is implemented across a range of CARE programmes, stimulating the creation of savings groups within communities. The groups are self-managed, and members meet regularly to save their money in a safe space, pooling their money together and lending it within the group.

Since 1991, the VSLA model has played an important role supporting more than 8 million group members — the majority of whom are women — to increase access to and control over their resources. They provide a way for communities unable to access regular banking services to develop their small businesses and cover any additional expenses they may face.

You can find out more about the impact of VSLAs in CARE’s Village Savings & Loan Association Annual Report 2023: ‘Beyond the Box’.

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