A Multi-Talented Ethiopian That Went from Driver to Entrepreneur
Born in Addis Ababa in 1973, Amaha Girma’s early years were not easy. Both of his parents died by the time he was 17 years old. He and his three sisters survived off the income generated by renting their family home. After graduating high school, he was unemployed for ten years before he finally landed a job as a driving teacher.
That didn’t stop him from dreaming, though. Like many young boys, Amaha wanted to be a professional soccer player. Instead, he would become a husband, father and much loved local entrepreneur.
Today, Amaha works as a driver for imagine1day, but he is an ambitious man with many projects. Just ask the people of Ganzilla, in southern Ethiopia. Months ago, while the rest of Amaha’s team was busy scrutinizing the village’s new school construction, Amaha was interrogating a six-year-old girl with a potbelly that dwarfed her small frame.
Although Ganzilla is in the highlands of the Bale Zone, where it rains almost six months a year, this town has no access to a clean or reliable water source. The ground water is simply too deep to drill a well, so residents walk 3 km each day to fetch water from a nearby stream surrounded by farmland and cattle.
Knowing this, Amaha convinced his boss, Seid, to bring the pot bellied girl to a doctor in town. She had no less than 35 parasites living in her tiny body. The doctor came back to the village with the imagine1day team and found another 80 children with parasites. Today, thanks largely to Amaha, children in Ganzilla are taught basic hygiene and instructed on the importance of boiling water before they use it.
This is just one example of Amaha’s passion for helping others. Although there are stretches when he can work for ten days straight, 10 to 12 hours a day, he somehow still finds time to manage several side projects. Here is a brief rundown of his many endeavors:
- In 2012, Amaha founded his own non-profit organization, called Sustainable Development, which distributes indigenous plants and fruit trees to low income families “to keep our country green, to keep our air clean, and to create local sources of food.” Since 2012, they’ve planted 6,820 trees. This year, his organization is planning on planting more than 70,000 in the Afar region alone.
- He collects books and runs a small library out of his home for children in his apartment complex. He has more than 100 books in his collection. “I used to have more books but I donated them to a local school,” he says.
- This March, Amaha started his own micro financing service. He has more than 100 clients whom he tracks down each day from all over Meskel Flower Street, near where he works, to collect their daily savings. His clients are coffee girls, shoeshine boys and saleswomen. Ninety per cent of them are women. In July, he opened bank accounts for all his clients, something none of them have ever had before.
“I started it because there is no culture of savings here,” says Amaha. “Some people can only afford to save a little bit each day, but the bank won’t accept a five birr or a 20 birr deposit. It’s too little,” he explains.
“It’s important to me because in Ethiopia, women have no bank accounts of their own. Husbands can behave like dictators because they have all the money in their hands and the women have no power or control and are always dependent on them no matter what. I hate that. I want women to be financially free and to have confidence to be able to stand on their own two feet,” says Amaha.
With so many projects on the go, Amaha knows he could never do it alone. He fell madly in love with Mimi when he was 24, and the couple now have three kids (two boys and one girl), with one more on the way.
“Mimi is what keeps me up if there is a problem. When I am down, I immediately call her and tell her the story. Talking to her is like a therapy,” he says.
In ten years, Amaha hopes to be running his own business. He has visions of owning an ice shop on Meskel Flower Street, or perhaps of selling coffee.
Through all his ups and downs Amaha’s main motivation has always been bringing joy to other people. “With my local savings, I helped the coffee woman downstairs save 6,000 birr ($343 CAD) in two months. She was so happy! My motivation is to see people happy, that is what drives me.”
This story is part of a larger piece on our featured cover story of the month: Discover Ethiopia.