A House Big Enough for Everyone to Call Home

Originally published on September 3, 2015.

Crushing poverty used to be so immense for Workitu Tola and her husband Chala Gemechu that they did the unthinkable: they arranged for three of their children to leave their home and become daily laborers on other people’s farms.

“It was the most horrible decision we ever had to make, but we didn’t have enough food to regularly feed, let alone clothe them,” Workitu mournfully explained. “What little we earned went in full to pay for a place to stay. Outside our home, they’d at least be able to eat something, and we had a better chance of providing sustenance to our youngest.”

In fact, for many years, the family had no real place to call home. As daily laborers, the entire family constantly migrated from place to place looking for whatever work they could find – typically the most grueling and menial labor. Any limited earnings they made went back to the employer for the privilege of having somewhere to sleep.

In all my life, I never thought I’d own sheep, goats or chickens – let alone a cow! We are now on our fourth year of eating a diversified diet, and selling the extra after we ensure our family eats properly.

Workitu Tola (ENGINE client)

Eventually, the desperate moment came when Workitu and Chala realized they could not continue to care for all six of their eight children who still lived at home, and they arranged for three of the eldest, who are now 11-year-old twins and an 18-year-old, to begin doing similar daily labor on properties that would guarantee them food and a place to sleep.  

But, as a result of the extraordinary nutrition and livelihoods improvements the family has experienced over the past several years as clients of the USAID-funded ENGINE program, they finally have a huge home of their own, and are in the process of reuniting the entire family.  

ENGINE is a five-year program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and led by Save the Children that is working to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality by improving the nutritional status of vulnerable women of childbearing age, and children in their first thousand days of life.

Land O’Lakes International Development is leading ENGINE’s efforts to develop catalytic nutrition-sensitive livelihoods that can enrich access to nutritious foods for families like Workitu’s and lift them out of poverty, by providing resources and training to produce enough nutritious food to eat and sell for a sustainable livelihood on their own land.

Workitu Tola, her husband Chala Gemechu and their youngest son inside the house Chala built.
The program provided her with six basic farming implements and six types of nutritious seeds – carrots, kale, Swiss chard, head cabbage, beet root and an apple seedling – and trained her on how to plant, harvest and prepare them. A year later, she received three sheep and a ram – along with training on animal husbandry – and she began selling their offspring.

After harvesting sufficient crops for the family, they sold the excess at market for 2,500 birr, (US $118) and got additional income from selling four of their lamb offspring. With that cash in hand, they bought a plot of land for 7,000 birr (US $331). In just one year, Chala built their spotless, expansive home, all by himself.

“In all my life, I never thought I’d own sheep, goats or chickens – let alone a cow! We are now on our fourth year of eating a diversified diet, and selling the extra after we ensure our family eats properly,” Workitu exclaimed.

The family is now eating at least 3 meals a day, every day, combining their injera bread with combinations of vegetables, meat and eggs. “My most recent pregnancy as an ENGINE client was different. I didn’t have a single headache, and I produced so much milk he couldn’t even finish it,” she noted, adding, “What’s more, his mental capacity is different than the others. He’s very active and bright, while the others look stunted and lethargic.”

Her husband Chala’s confidence has grown, too. “Now that I can provide my family with a home, I feel like a man. We have already brought the 18-year-old back home and have enrolled him in school. We are working hard to bring the 11-year-old twins back home soon, too.”

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