Dereje and his family were already living in the margins before the Covid-19 crisis hit Ethiopia. His modest weaving business suddenly closed down while all market places in his village were shuttered. In fear that his family would be infected by the virus, and to alleviate the economic strain from having no income, Dereje sent his wife and 3 sons to the countryside to live with relatives.
Dereje is no stranger to difficult life challenges. His mother died when he was a toddler, and he and his brother were raised by a collection of relatives in southern Ethiopia. They never attended school because they spent most of their childhood farming in the family’s fields. When he turned 13, he ventured out to find paying work and a better life. But without the ability to read and write, he could only find low paying manual labor jobs, and wasn’t making enough to eat. Discouraged, he went back home to live with his family.
When Dereje turned 17, his father put immense pressure on him to marry. So he wed a girl named Arbe, despite them both feeling too young for this new responsibility. Soon after their first son was born, Dereje moved to the city and started weaving textiles for a family. As he learned this intricate skill, he started dreaming of creating his own small business. Four years later, he had earned enough to buy a weaving loom and rent his own apartment. Now raising three sons, his meager earnings from the new weaving business weren’t enough to survive. Dereje applied for assistance from Lelt Foundation. His family immediately began receiving food rations and access to business expansion loans. His son, Ashenafi, was enrolled in Lelt’s education program and came to our community center daily for nutritious meals and after-school tutoring. This family was thriving in Lelt’s programs until the pandemic hit their business hard, when Dereje sent them to the countryside to stay safe.
As the pandemic months dragged on without steady income, Dereje worried his family would never be able to return. His entire weaving community was in economic crisis. To combat the hardships our community was facing, Lelt Foundation created a small business recovery program, which empowered community artisans to sell their products to us at Fair Trade prices. In turn, Lelt sells these handmade textiles and 100% of the profit goes back into the small business recovery program. So purchasing a scarf from Lelt is truly giving back to our community in Ethiopia.