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.


  • 10,000 households increased their preparation for weather-related shocks. 
  • Over 300 community groups were trained in Disaster Risk Reduction strategies. 
  • Self-Help Group members were able to start small businesses and generate income. 40% of group members are now engaged in activities such as fattening of animals, weaving, running small shops and retail trade. 
  • Almost 300 women from Self-Help Groups were trained in Sustainable Organic Agriculture, which is primarily focused on vegetable production for improved nutrition. Many women sold their produce in the market, while others supplemented their food at home with their harvested crops. 
  • 65 farmers have been able to prepare their land for Conservation Agriculture, helping them grow more without damaging the soil.
  • The development of a new digital data collection system using tablets that enables better tracking of outcomes and change, using recognised indicators. Partners particularly appreciated that this system was developed with their participation and that it has improved their reflection and learning, too.