Story of Bosena, Ethiopia

At what age did you learn to read and write?

I started to read and write two years ago at the age of 44. I am now 46 years old.

Why did you not learn as a child?

I grew up in the countryside where girls’ education was not considered important by parents and by the society at large. My parents didn’t want to send me to school because they had a very poor attitude towards girls’ education. While they were preparing to give me away in marriage, I escaped and started to live with my aunt in a little town called Dangila. She earned her income from daily labour. I escaped because I hoped to go to school and be an educated person. Soon after, my aunt and I went to Humera (a place with a very big government cotton farm) to look for a job. It is there I got married and started to have children. Twenty years ago, we moved to Addis Ababa because my husband got a transfer. I never had a chance to go to school. I was busy with raising children and doing the housework. So many years had passed and I had lost hope of getting an education.

What was the most difficult thing about learning as an adult?

Obviously, learning is difficult with so many responsibilities and house chores. Especially in the beginning, I was not that interested. I often forgot what I learnt. Arithmetic is also challenging, especially when it comes to subtraction. I still have challenges in doing subtractions in my business transactions and retrieving missed calls from my phone number.

Why did you want to learn?

I knew I had problems. I was afraid and lacked confidence in interacting with people. I knew only some places in the neighbourhood, the church and the market. I did not know many places because I had a fear of getting lost and most of the time I preferred to stay home. I had left education to my children. Two years ago I was encouraged by my neighbour to participate in the Integrated Women’s Empowerment Programme (IWEP), implemented by DVV International in Ethiopia. I was almost laughing at her and telling her not to spend her precious time on such nonsense. She kept telling me that by learning we can improve our way of life. Day by day, she was convincing me and so I started to participate in the programme. After some time, I certainly became aware that the program would improve my life.

What has it meant for you? How has your life changed?

Participating in the literacy program opened new opportunities in my life. Now, I can read and write. I have no fear to communicate with people. I know the bus numbers now if I need to go to the hospital, kebele (municipal office) or others places. I can read the directions and office numbers. I am able to read, fill forms and sign what I read. I am confident enough that I will not be lost. I can use my mobile phone. My sons helped me to learn how to save and retrieve numbers. I can call relatives and friends without any problem.

I have developed a saving attitude. I have also got business skills and I bake bread and ‘injera’ (Ethiopian flatbread) at home for sale. I earn some profit while I am at home. I have a monthly savings of no less than ETB 300 and I have a vision to open up a shop in the compound where I live now. In addition, I take part in a group savings plan in which we have already bought a milk cow. Now I do not bother my husband for each and every expense. I have my own income which I can spend when necessary and I can support my family.

Arithmetic was challenging. However, I tried hard and I found it very useful, especially in my income-generating activities. I use my literacy skills to register dates, names, and the number of ‘injera’ and bread customers bought to collect the amount at the end. I can imagine how I would be in trouble if I were not able to register credit customers.

What would you like to say to other adults who cannot read and write?

I have a strong message to you women like me. Wake up! You should escape from illiteracy. You should take advantage of literacy programs. In addition to all the other benefits, isn’t it nice to be able to move freely and to perform your activities by yourself?!