Building strength, rebuilding lives

Senior Development Manager at Act for Peace, Steph Lenert, has recently returned from a field visit to Ethiopia. There she spent time with refugees who have joined a program which provides them with a holistic, sustainable, pathway out of poverty. Together we are working with our local partner to empower people experiencing displacement to rebuild their lives through the Tesfa project.  Tesfa, (which means ‘hope’ in Amharic language), is modelled on the highly successful locally led Forsa program in Jordan.

Fresh off the plane, Steph shares her experiences of meeting with program participants in Addis Ababa.

Tell us about your recent trip to Ethiopia – what were you doing there?

I visited Act for Peace’s local partner the Development and Inter Church Aid Commission (DICAC) to learn about the Tesfa project which builds the self-reliance of families, so they are no longer dependent on aid or unsafe/unstable sources of income.

It was really exciting to connect with the families recently chosen for the Tesfa project, right at the beginning of their journey and hear about their personal goals and vision for the future. They bravely shared their stories with me. Being a refugee or host community facing disadvantage, they shared details of facing unimaginable hardship.  They all showed incredible courage, resilience and strength to persevere.

The Tesfa project is just getting started and their voices were filled with optimism. They spoke of how the possibility of life-changing transformation is enough to spark hope, and how their outlook on life is already starting to shift. They are feeling excited for their lives to change and want Act for Peace supporters to know the difference that their support is making.

Steph meeting one of the Tesfa participants and her family in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Genaye Eshetu/ Act for Peace

What is the situation like in Ethiopia – why is there such a significant number of refugees and people who have been displaced?

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) there are more than 850,000 refugees in camps around Ethiopia’s borders. Conflict and violence triggered more than 5.1 million new displaced people in Ethiopia in 2021. This is three times the number in 2020 and the highest annual figure ever recorded for a single country. The conflict in the northern region of Tigray deepened, spreading to neighbouring regions and uprooting millions of people from their homes.

Refugees in Addis Ababa are facing a protracted refugee crisis. Many refugees are living there for years without any certainty for lasting solutions like resettlement.

There are high levels of poverty and limited access to sustainable income options to support their families’ basic needs. Host communities (Ethiopians) also face high levels of poverty and few income options.

Many of the people from these communities are reliant on aid assistance, which is inadequate and can be unpredictable due to shrinking budgets.

The lack of income opportunities and high levels of poverty can leave people vulnerable to protection risks and negative ways of coping to meet basic needs. These risks include gender-based violence, early marriage, child labour, skipping meals, selling assets and irregular migration.

Can you share what moved you the most or something that really stayed with you?

The people I met with were all incredibly warm and kind. I was instantly welcomed into their space and touched by their sincerity. Despite the unimaginable circumstances they have faced and are still facing, they shared their stories with an openness I could never imagine from a stranger.  

Each participant had their own story of loss, hurt and disappointment. They all overcame circumstances that left me in awe of their courage, resilience and strength. What became prevalent to me was how despite their past experiences, they were all united in their commitment to protect and serve their family.

All they want is for their loved ones to be safe, to have basic right to education met, to have control over their lives and the opportunity to fulfil their purpose.

They all dream of a prosperous future for their children and to receive the right support to break the cycle of poverty. The determination to live a better life, one of true self-expression and independence, shone through in each of their stories. 

I was touched by the amount of gratitude each participant had, both in being selected for the Tesfa (Hope) project and for their family. One thing became clear to me: despite the challenging circumstances they face, they were all thankful to have their health and be able to work and provide for their loved ones. I could sense that the love they held for one another was what kept them strong.

They always held onto hope, and just needed an opportunity like this to appear. One woman said to me “when I received the phone call to say that I had been selected for the Tesfa project, it was like an angel came down that day!”

Their ability to share themselves so openly fostered a connection between everyone in the room that felt palpable. Each participant showed their appreciation in their own way and welcomed me to return in the future to see how their lives have transformed through the Tesfa project. I felt inspired by each of their strengths and personal goals to become self-reliant so their family can live the life they deserve.

Konjit* and her young son meet with Steph in Addis Ababa. Genaye Eshetu/ Act for Peace

What was the highlight of your trip?

The highlight of the trip was the people! The DICAC staff were friendly and warm. It was inspiring to witness the difference that their programs make in person. The staff taught me about the situation the participants face living in Addis Ababa. I left with a clear sense of how strong the need is.

I was excited to meet the project participants and hear of their aspirations for the future. Everyone had a strong vision to create a livelihood and described what self-reliance would mean for their family.  

Connection is important to them, and I felt grateful to be in their presence.

The strangers I met along the way were friendly and many were excited to teach me some Amharic words. Ethiopia has a rich social culture with a unique blend of influences, and this was noticeable throughout my whole visit.

The afternoon coffee ceremony is a special social occasion in Ethiopia. Being a coffee lover myself, I was excited to be in the country where the coffee plant originated!

What did you experience that you wish everyone could see first-hand?

I’m moved by what the Act for Peace and DICAC partnership aims to achieve. Talking with families who have overcome incredible challenges and seeing their hope for the future is inspiring.

I wish everyone could see their faces light up when they talk about the difference this support will make. Their generosity has a lasting impact. It’s not just about a band-aid solution. It’s about giving these individuals a chance to build a better life for themselves. When the participants understood there are people in Australia who are supporting them to succeed, they felt overcome with emotion and gratitude. They really felt like people cared about them.

I hope that everyone who supports the Tesfa project understands the impact. This multidimensional project has the right ingredients to end the poverty cycle for families. It will change the trajectory of their entire lives.

I hope that Act for Peace Supporters know how far their gifts reach, both now and into the future. The results will be transformational on many levels and the impact will continue far beyond the two-year project. We’re talking about a child receiving an education and fulfilling their dream of becoming a doctor. Or a mother being able to provide safe shelter for her newborn baby. A family sitting down to a meal each night together and sleeping peacefully knowing they are now safe.

Steph connecting with the family of Tesfa program participants in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Genaye Eshetu/ Act for Peace

Can you explain a bit more about the Tesfa program?

The “Tesfa” (Hope) project follows the ‘Graduation out of Poverty’ approach with a range of activities designed to provide holistic support to refugee and host community (Ethiopian) families in Addis Ababa. All designed to build sustainable incomes to achieve social and economic empowerment. The project will assist 50 families over two years.

The program provides ongoing mentoring and training to build their businesses. Training includes technical/vocational skills; business and life skills; income-generation planning; and financial literacy. It also provides financial support such as business grants and savings and loans groups. Plus referrals to job linkages, protection, health and other services.

The approach positions refugees as the main actors in their own solutions.

The Graduation out of Poverty Approach is different from traditional income-generating programs, because it recognises that vulnerable people are often excluded or do not benefit equally from programs. They face a range of other barriers, including protection threats and lack of financial inclusion.

Act for Peace is backing local organisations to lead in delivering this complex and highly effective project approach. As local people are best placed to deliver the most effective, appropriate and efficient local programs.

To give hope to more people through the Tesfa (Hope) project make a gift at tax time.

Act for Peace gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

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