Tearfund Ireland is determined to strengthen Ethiopian communities so they are more resilient in the face of climate change and disasters such as drought. Key to our strategy have been self-help groups, through which vulnerable people support each other, financially and with mutual encouragement.

What are self-help groups? 

Self-help groups (SHGs) are groups of 15–20 people, usually among the poorest in the community. Facilitators help members develop healthy relationships, set up saving schemes and establish by-laws on how they will operate. Members save a small amount each week and, as the capital of the SHG grows, they can take out loans to be repaid in agreed timeframes, with interest. Initially, loans are generally taken to pay for schooling and health costs. Later, they are used for income generation and small business set-up. Also, groups often fund community facilities such as schools.

(Buzunesh Gebru, far left with books)

Not so very long ago, Buzunesh Gebru could not imagine her world would ever change.

Life revolved around raising her children and doing the household chores. Her husband’s salary was not enough to sustain the family and Buzunesh felt trapped.

‘We didn’t save, we spent unwisely and were trapped in abject poverty,’ she says. ‘I never thought I could be capable of doing anything.’

But then Buzunesh, who lives in Hawassa in southern Ethiopia, was invited to join a local self-help group called Alama Yalew (‘We have vision’). From that point on, her outlook changed dramatically.

After saving with the group for a while, she was able to take out a loan and buy cattle to breed, with support and advice from her fellow group members and the group’s facilitator.

‘I found people who respect my ideas and value my feelings,’ says Buzunesh. ‘I realised the hidden potential deep inside of me. I started to feel like someone important.

‘[Now] we are sending our children to school; we feed them three meals a day; we buy them clothes twice a year. This is all because I work and I know how to manage my own resources.’

Strength in numbers 

Buzunesh’s success story has been replicated thousands of times since the first self-help group supported by Tearfund was set up in Nazareth, 55 miles east of Addis Ababa, in 2002. In fact, there are thought now to be about 12,000 such groups, impacting the lives of more than 1 million people.


  • 115 local churches were envisioned to be more relevant in their community by supporting and initiating Self Help Groups.
  • 52,240 household members were impacted through the 10,528 members of 675 Self Help Groups and 36 established Cluster Level Associations.
  • Self Help Group members jointly mobilised €70,200 as savings from their own resources.
  • 71% of women in Self Help Groups engaged in some form of income generation activity, so that 97% of these businesses diversified income streams. This lead to an 87.8% increase in income among group members and enabling 99.1% of member’s households to provide for their basic needs.