Ethiopian families use cultural crafts to improve livelihoods

Ethiopian girls
This youth cultural entertainment group in Harari, Ethiopia, has benefited from training provided by the MDG Culture Programme and is now earning money and introducing the local tradition to a wider audience. (Photo: UNDP Ethiopia)

Genet Tesfaye is a young, married mother of one living in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa. A potter by trade, Genet has been contributing more and more to her family’s income through her craft.

Highlights

  • The three-year programme was implemented with US $5 million provided by the Spanish MDG Fund, channeled through UNDP and UNESCO
  • The programme was undertaken in Addis Ababa, Amhara, Harar, Oromiya, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) and Tigrai regions
  • The programme is among one of 128 active MDG Fund programmes in 49 countries, spread across 5 regions around the globe

Ethiopia has a diverse and rich cultural heritage, and a joint UNDP-UNESCO project is taking advantage of that heritage to help support the country’s fight against poverty. As part of that project, Genet and other women in a cooperative were trained to improve their skills.

“The design and quality of our pottery works has greatly improved following our training,” Genet said.

The training provided to Genet and the women in her cooperative is part of a three-year programme that has been active in six regions of the country, with more than 100,000 beneficiaries. The programme has contributed to helping communities use and build on their culture to preserve their heritage while simultaneously learning new skills to increase their income.

Producing 20 pieces of clay a day, Genet’s monthly income is now at least 1,000 Ethiopian Birr, and she dreams of increasing it by bypassing middlemen and directly supplying her clay cooking pots to major hotels and restaurants.

Amhara regional president Ayalew Gobeze reflected that the programme is helping tie commercial and cultural endeavors in a way that had not been previously approached.

“Now we are waking up,” he said.

Tigrai regional president Woldu Abay agreed.

“There was no knowledge of cultural income-generation activity before the intervention of this project,” he said, explaining that this new understanding has helped the community find self-employment through making and selling cultural goods.

Ashut Haji Mohammed has also benefited from the intervention. His family’s craft shop has been open for more than 13 years, but the training showed him that he still had new skills to learn.

“The training I received from this programme on new designs and models helped me a lot to focus on improving the quality and quantity of my products,” he said, explaining that the market for his goods has increased so much that he is now looking for a larger production space, as well as a new outlet for the finished handicrafts.

The same is true for Nestanet Asrat, a young man whose formal schooling did not go beyond the sixth grade. Nestanet’s natural artistic skills benefited from the joint programme’s training, and he is now earning up to 500 Ethiopian Birr selling his religious leather and wood artworks to tourists visiting the nearby monasteries in the Zege peninsula.

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