Muday Mitiku: The Best Hope for Eradicating Absolute Poverty

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world”.  ~Harriet Tubman

Her name Muday (also a logo for her association) symbolizes a keepsake where one finds unexpected treasure perhaps a long forgotten family heirloom. She is a treasure to many who are shunned by society and who have accepted life as their fate. She tells them otherwise. She tells them life is under their control and God has given it to them to make the best use of it.

Muday is a young woman of 33, very unassuming but her looks and her humility belie her power and determination for making life happen to the community that looks up to her as a modern day messiah. At age 15 Muday volunteered to serve a nearby school and served for 3 years.

Through her service, she discovered opening a school for many was more of making money than educating the kids. She was determined to change that by starting her own school that affords quality education. She was a high school senior at the time and all she needed to start a kindergarten (KG) was to finish high school and go through a year of certification program. She had no money but the unshakable faith — anything she wants, she could get it.  She knew at an early age, the universe would conspire on her behalf. She also had one very important asset — a supportive mother.  She kept her wish a secret however, for when she was 15, she wanted to alleviate a critical transportation problem in her community “Gerji” by owning a “Gari”, a horse drawn carriage. As she was going about to raise the capital she needed to be a “Gari” operator, she was discouraged by many for above all she was a girl…a woman, heaven forbid to think such devilish thought, a wrath she received from her community. So, she chose to keep her plan a secret lest her girlhood gets in the way.

Muday knew all she had was an idea but believed that was everything needed to become a successful being… a sound idea and a determination to execute. She asked a relative that had a stash of money for her startup capital to be paid with a handsome interest no doubt but the wind carried her idea and someone got a hold of it. Muday found a silent partner willing to put the fund.

July she rented a place, August she completed high school, September she opened her school to 80 eager kids. They paid 70  Birr a month each but there were quite a few who asked for subsidy and got it…that ranged anywhere from 20 to 40 birr.

But Muday is the ultimate social entrepreneur;she pursues poverty alleviation goals with entrepreneurial zeal, business methods and the courage to innovate and overcome traditional practices. A social entrepreneur, similar to a business entrepreneur, builds strong and sustainable organizations, which are either set up as not-for-profits or companies but their main focus is not profit. Muday’s, school named “Fresh and Green Academy” started as a private for profit endeavor but fate had it she wasn’t going to have this private school as a private business for long.

She couldn’t  turn blind eye to those in the lower stratum of life…She knew in order to help a single poor mother improve life for her and her children is to take care of her kids. Muday would ask those mothers she found on the street to leave their kids in the school compound where they could have three meals in a protected environment, free education and uniform; the mother would be free to work or make the few birr for her daily bread. She reasoned if I do that, eventually things will look better for the poor.  Now thinking she has a business what’s to take a few more poor kids for free, right? Wrong.  The news got out that Muday was taking those poverty stricken children from the streets into her bosom.

Many were afraid for their children might contract the disease which the possibility was real. Those who could afford to pay the full price to sustain and subsidize the rest gave Muday an ultimatum. “Us or them”! When they saw that Muday wasn’t going to throw those kids back out to the street again, they chose for her and left.   That wasn’t a problem at all but the problem was she encountered most mothers with children on the street begging or selling their body to make ends meet. The over majority of them were HIV carriers.  That meant she needed to take care of these patients’ medical expense as well.

Faced with this unexpected crisis how to maintain the business and take care of the kids left with her with no money to support any of them, she came up with brilliant idea and started a poultry business  that did well giving the hopeless hope but the officials told her Kids and poultry don’t mix. Because of lack of capital, she had the business in the same compound. She had to shut that business down.

Being an innovative that she is, she went farther from the city a few kilometers and started vegetable and dairy farm.  She sells butter, milk and cheese from the dairy farm and the vegetables feed her large family. Her income from these two businesses brings 200,000 Birr a month and her expense is about 300,000 a month. The fixed expenses are rent, salary, and utility bills. The rest she manages and keeps the establishment of close to 400 people happy and well feed physically and emotionally.

She started her venture 14 years ago and she is sustaining this school and more single handedly.

So who is Muday?

Muday is a person of an unwavering belief in the innate capacity of all people to contribute meaningfully to economic and social development and possesses a passion to make that happen.

Those observers of Muday’s paths think what makes Muday stand out is when she started she was a young local girl from a small suburb of Addis, a high school graduate certified as a KG teacher like so many others who were pursuing their first teaching role. However like everyone else, Muday saw a problem on her doorstep but unlike the others she did not just ignore and put it on the list of ‘too hard’. She actually did something about it. Like a true social entrepreneur, she employs a practical but innovative stance to a social problem, often using market principles and forces, coupled with dogged determination, that allows her to break away from constraints imposed by ideology and pushes them to take risks that others would not dare.  Armed with a healthy impatience, Muday could not sit back and wait for change to happen; she decided to be the change driver.

She was not rich; she did not have backing from anyone in authority. She just had friends and family to help. Muday does not use great overtures or try to engage in philosophical debates about the worthiness of ‘making a difference’ or ‘giving something back’. She just wants to help, help the kids and help the mothers to have a better life and she does this through effective use of key leadership skills; respect of others, collaboration with others, setting a vision, being pragmatic, trusting others, being humble and just good honest hard work.

Her Accomplishments:

Muday’s plan when she started the school was not to stop at KG but to build a nation equipped in a strong foundation of sound education. Today Muday’s school has expanded to grade 6. Muday built the school a grade a year. The school has carried over those who started at the KG level.  The short trial to send the kids to government schools proved not as successful for more than 50% of those kids dropped out.  She then decided to stick to her previous plan and expand the school up to grade 8. Her future plan is to even build a high school. The school of 170 students offers quality education. Moral Education is part of the curriculum for morally sound future generation. On a placard conspicuous to all visitors, students and staff, is the school’s guiding principle: Forgiveness, Cleanliness, Excellence, Obedience, Friendship, Kindness, Justice, Unity, Love.

Muday has other 50 students outside the existing compound and she pays for their living and education expenses. These students are enrolled in higher grades. It is also a strategy she employs to reach a wider community.  A few of these kids are graduating this year to go on to pursue a college education. Four have graduated from college this year. So Muday’s family has earned its first college graduates in 2014—14 years after Muday started her journey of being a contributing citizen herself.

The major impediment to support the students was what to do with the care takers: single mothers, aunts or grandmothers (most of the kids have become orphans due to the virus).  Through the Mothers Cooperative, Muday is giving back the women the pride they have lost. Many of the women there came from villages to Addis with little or no education and, also being illiterate, fell into a world of prostitution. They are now given skills in handicrafts and taught about basic life skills. They also help out and are given a daily purpose being cooks, gardeners and general assistants at the Muday Association.

The first order of business to help these women be self sufficient is to rent a small place enough to accommodate the child and the care taker and settle them off the street. Those who are sick and need medical attention will be settled near the city at a higher rental but those who can walk farther (some walk an hour and a half to reach the compound) are settled farther out for affordable rent.

Then they are enrolled in an ongoing training in weaving and other arts and crafts works, cooking and cleaning. This is an income generation scheme. The product from weaving is sold at a store in the compound and the mothers get a portion of the profit. After taking care of their basic needs they save 50 birr each month. They are also taught the culture of Iqub, from which they save up to 400 birr each time they collect Iqub. These women’s activities are closely monitored till they develop the culture of discipline. Most need the money for prolonged medical care and Muday has to supplement quite often. These women feel empowered and learning that their live is under their control. They see a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s what Muday has shown them and supports them to be self sufficient and not looking for handout.

These women also are taught a sense of responsibility helping each other especially the very sick ones. Out of 150 women under her organization, 90% are HIV positive; 40-50 women are bedridden and these women take turns to nurse the very sick. All affected women and children are given free antiretroviral (ARV) medication, the one factor that can change HIV+ status from a death sentence into a manageable disease. She also has elderly women under her care.

What makes Muday’s mission unique is that she is helping the unwanted and those shunned by society. They are taught appreciation for hard work and the discipline to change their lives. The change with these women is visible, they learn to live together and be respectful of each other. They have changed their street language and are being trained in good communication skills and conflict resolution, to resolve their difference in a respectful way.

Muday is married and has 12 kids; two biological and ten adopted. She lives in the compound where the school is located. She has to make these sacrifices– which she does not consider as sacrifices but part of her daily responsibility—to make ends meet for the underprivileged.

Muday says she gets her desire to help and make the world a better place  came from her mother who in her own right is a community leader and supporter of those in need. Her mother has sent many to school paying all their expenses sometimes even borrowing from friends if she is short of money. This mother/role model is a staunch supporter; today she lives with Muday and supports her raising Muday’s children. She believes in giving gratitude, giving thanks to the Creator who she believes has paved the way to do what she does; she feels by giving thanks, God sends her many angels on her way; angles as her mother, volunteers or her staff members regardless of very little pay who have been with her from the beginning. They all believe her vision is theirs. As a true leader, her ability to influence is unsurpassed. She is a leader who accomplishes her vision through others. That is how she sustains her small but humble operation—through her human capital!

To sustain a school for 170 children up to grade 6th, feeding them nutritious food three times a day, clothing them and taking care of their medical care is testimony to her resilience and determination to leave a legacy that would sustain itself for a long time to come.

Her skills in mobilizing volunteers, sponsors, merchants to give supplies on credit, cooperating with the city officials, (even though the latter is more of a burden than support for they bring to her any help asked of them by the community) add to the success of her venture. The school sits on 1500 sq.m and a training center for the mothers next door on 500 sq. meters.

While running this dynamic operation, Muday received her BA from Unity College in Business management. She says, she had to have the degree but in reality, she says life had taught her more than any school could.

Because rent has become a major portion of the expense (30,000 birr a month) she had asked to get help from the Kebele, for a piece of land but she was told she had to have an NGO license. Against her wish for she believes the only sustainable business is through the market system, she registered her NGO “Muday Bego Adragot Mahiber”. To her surprise the help from the Kebele is yet to materialize.   She has not been using her NGO status which means she gets her financial support from some volunteer sponsors and her farm business and the small income from the weaving project.

When her staff is asked why they stick with her for many years, they share common beliefs: We learn from her; we support her vision for it is ours;  her strength and tenacity and being a person of action, her greatest strength in welcoming challenges with poise and composure are all lessons for personal empowerment they claim.

When asked how this organization is different from any other they have experienced, they say this place is not bureaucratic. They feel they are encouraged to come up with their own ideas and implement it. They are encouraged to be creative and owning the project; they feel valued and appreciated. They feel they mean something to their community and that their opinion counts.

Another woman staff who has been a member of this organization for eight years described Muday as Bold, Bold, Bold! She gives hope, she inspires and she motivates the woman concluded.

Value: respecting all creeds! Every day before these women leave for the day they give gratitude taking turns using a language they feel more connected to the Creator. They practice different religion but they all come together to worship according to their faith but everyone respectfully accompany another which is a wonderful ritual that fosters acceptance and celebration of what we are– our differences as well as similarities. As Muday’s Baha’i practice calls for spirituality above all this ritual attests to humanity and its affinity to life.

Muday’s dream is to expand this school and its high standard for the less privileged; “a private education for a public money” one may surmise. Her wealth is the kids she says. She is hopeful they will turn out to be citizens that this nation will be proud of. She plans to resume her poultry business at a larger scale and create jobs for many.

Muday is more than a woman who cares for the poor; to her community she is much more! She serves as a marriage counselor and a business consultant. Many come to her to solve domestic disputes and to test their business plans. She is generous with her time and no money exchanged for her services but most happy clients support the school as much as they could.

Her wish for Ethiopia is to see those educated choosing to say home rather than flee their country for whatever reason. She would like to see absolute poverty eradicated. She says it’s not in the Creator’s wish to be this miserable. Her concern is the divided view that is intensifying in the many nationalities and religion that could affect this nation’s unity.

She says justice must be provided to all citizens. Muday’s greatest challenge is the widespread of rape cases both girls and little boys and the blind eye the community turns to this social malaise. “We each must work revamping the education system and revolutionize our old ways of doing business as usual”.

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