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The Chosen – Part Three

Lemma and his family in his workshop. Photo: © 2013 Jon Warren/World Vision

Lemma and his family in his workshop.
Photo: © 2013 Jon Warren/World Vision

Today is the final chapter in the three part series sharing the stories of Lemma and Bekelech. On Monday we shared how both were in defeat and struggling. Yesterday we saw how they participated in World Vision microloan program in Ethiopia. And today, we see how their lives have been changed…

by Kari Costanza

Hope for Today
Lemma was ready. His training and micro loans could not have come at a better time. He’d hit rock bottom. “I used to argue with Bertukan,” he says, nodding at his wife. “I would come home drunk. I’d beat her and insult her and abuse her.” Today Lemma and Bertukan have three children—two boys and a little spitfire of a girl named Hawi. Their oldest boy is sponsored and already has his own savings account through WISDOM.

Lemma has taken out and repaid four micro loans through WISDOM, ranging from $50 to $250. He’s currently on his fifth loan. While most of the loans went to purchase equipment—saws, hammers, sanders, compressors, and hand grinders—he used one loan for something special. “I bought an ox and rented some land,” he says. “I hired someone to farm so our family would have food to eat.” Lemma doesn’t have to buy food for his family anymore. The former farmhand now owns a farm.

No longer does Lemma awake to the sound of a friend encouraging him to accompany him on another bender. “Now I awake up as early as possible, when the sun rises,” he says. “Sometimes I am up until 2 a.m. making furniture.” Lemma employs five workers who have little time on their hands for anything but work. Their biggest selling items: beds. One bed can bring in between $100 and $175 for just four days of work. After his training, Lemma made Bertukan a beautiful bed. Every night, he now knows where he will be when he wakes up.

Bekelech and her team create and deliver stoves—about 100 per year. They have an ever-growing waiting list. To supplement her income, Bekelech took out three loans from WISDOM. With those loans she purchased sheep. It takes just a few months to fatten them up and then sell them for three times the purchase price. “The reason I can get loans is because of my business,” she says. Bekelech sends the money she earns from her sheep to her oldest son, Tsegaye, who is just finishing college in Addis Ababa. Because of his mother’s success, he was able to stop tending cattle and go back to school. He will graduate soon—with a degree in banking.

Bekelech, the Stove Maker, and her sons, Melkamu and Gile, and sheep they were able to buy with the earnings their mother made from selling fuel efficient stoves. Photo: © 2013 Jon Warren/World Vision

Bekelech, the Stove Maker, and her sons, Melkamu and Gile, and sheep they were able to buy with the earnings their mother made from selling fuel efficient stoves.
Photo: © 2013 Jon Warren/World Vision

Bright Hope for Tomorrow
Lemma has become a mentor to young carpenters in his community. “I share my past experience with them,” he says. “When your life transforms, you have to transform somebody else.” In a nearby carpentry shop, Abera Bekele, 27, has benefitted from Lemma’s tutelage. “He’s a very good man,” Abera says of Lemma. “He has been kind to me. He chose me. He is my mentor.” Abera runs a shop that specializes in beds. “The community here used to sleep on the ground,” he says. “Now they no longer do.” Abera works with three young men he has personally trained in carpentry. Lemma is proud of what his student has accomplished. There is no sense of competition. In a place where until recently no one had furniture, there is plenty of work to go around.

But, that isn’t stopping Lemma from dreaming about the future. He wants to open his own furniture store in nearby Woliso, a trading town about 30 minutes from Chitu. “That is my vision,” he says. The store would be called IfaChitu—Light of the Town—named for the glow that seems to radiate from Lemma.

“I love my job. I love my family. I love my life,” he says. And it shows.

Bekelech is future-casting as well. “We are aspiring to get a grinding mill,” she says. It would be expensive—about $2,000. But the closest grinding mill is in Woliso. Bekelech thinks she can corner the market in Chitu, grinding the spices so important to Ethiopian cuisine—to be used in cooking of course, with her energy-efficient stoves. And as for the education she was denied twenty years ago? Her son recently told her, “If you are willing to go to school at your age—we will make it happen.”

But, Bekelech is undecided. She has moved from being a woman with no options to a successful business owner whose potential is unlimited. Bekelech’s life is now brimming with choices—all of which are good.

Want to learn more about Lemma and Bekelech? Watch videos of their stories: Lemma the Carpenter and Bekelech the Stove Maker

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  1. […] week we shared the story of Bekelech the Stove Maker, a woman in Ethiopia struggling to raise her children after her husband left. A microloan through […]

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