KERIA ALI on the feats of a Mercato Merchant

“I wish to help girls at school specially at university and help them not to involve in actions that dehumanize them. I believe it is poverty which forces women to involve in undesirable way of life to earn their living.”

Born in Addis Ababa, Keria Ali spent her formative years in the country side with her grandmother. At the age of 13, her grandmother wanting Keria to attend school and begin living with her immediate family, returned her to Addis Ababa. “Starved of education and aspiring to be educated quickly,” Keria was enrolled into both night and day school. Her enthusiasm for learning manifested in high scores and recognitions for her educational achievements as early as the 5th grade. Although Keria continued her education all the way through high-school, she notes that she began working with her father and two brothers at the age of 15. A few years later, however, her father would pass away, leaving her as the eldest of her siblings to shoulder greater responsibilities within the house. “Following my father’s death, there was a fear that the family would split since my father had two wives and ten children. However, I helped the family stay together by serving everybody impartially,” shares Keria of the burden of responsibility assumed at a young age. With a large family to cater to and the primary breadwinner passed on, Keria followed her father’s footsteps and became a merchant to support the large family.

“I believe in giving, because I am not the source of all this wealth. It was my father who gave me the initial means.”

The success of her endeavors as a merchant enabled her to buy land and construct houses for all her siblings, guaranteeing their wellbeing. Keria adds that she also bought cars and opened up a shop for each one of them to enable them to lead their lives independently. Once Keria was discharged of her family responsibilities, she decided to have a family of her own, marrying and raising five children. Keria now is a trader of consumable items in general and also runs a soap factory in partnership with others. Although she’s currently engaged in the trade of these items, she’s interested in agro-processing and potentially opening a flour factory.

Keria is passionate about seeing independent women and particularly encouraging young women and girls to engage in actions that would uplift them. Towards this end, she aspires to support under-privileged students undertake their studies without worrying about anything. Additionally, Keria sees a lot of potential in the manufacturing sector for the development of the country and says she often likes taking her brothers to visit different factories to impress upon them the interest to engage in manufacturing activities. This has resulted in one of her brothers opening up an oil factory, with another engaged in the family soap factory business. However, this aspiration is not only for the men in her family. Keria is said to have supported many women launch businesses and it is a dream of hers for more women to engage in business and lead their own independent lives. Relatedly, she also dreams for Ethiopia to be a place where girls can walk freely in their communities without the fear of harassment on the streets nor of sexual assault in various spaces. Although she dreams of this, she recognizes that she hasn’t done anything towards that yet and looks to explore with her children how to have her company become a vehicle for the cause.

“have brought numerous women from the countryside to work with me and their lives have not been changed. There are even some who are not better off than me after I coached and trained them.”

Keria is committed to creating jobs for unemployed women, making sure that jobs she creates is interesting and fits their capability so they will continue with their work. She shares that whenever she employs house help, she has an objective of changing their lives. Relatedly, she usually ends up finding them work outside of the house and involves them in the business.

As a champion of women’s independence, Keria shares that one of the challenges she experiences is related to some men not accepting her with the perspective that she is only their competitor and because she is succeeding in her trade. She shares, “men around me think that they are better than women and feel unhappy because of my success. There are also people in the community who do not feel comfortable when I bring people into the business and then help them start their own business.” However, Keria also acknowledges that enabling others to do great work can better be enhanced if she gives priority to herself. Her shortcoming in this regard she says should not be replicated by other women as she has spent her life only focused on others. Nevertheless, her goodwill and community engagement has had the community designate a place within Mercato after her name, located within the infamous ‘Bomb Tera’ section of the market.

“No woman should be dependent.”

Testimonials

“Keria for me is a role model, hardworking, positive, a good sister and mother. She likes to help other women. She even had me move from Jimma to Addis Ababa because she insisted she wanted to help me. I even changed my mind of moving abroad because of her. She coaches and trains people by letting them work in her shop till they adequately master the business. Keria is also an advocate for women’s equality. A simple example of this is that she attended her father’s funeral. As it is known in Muslim tradition, women do not go to burials. Yet, Keria insisted that such a rule is not written in the Quran and convinced the men around her.” ~ Fatie Jelsebo (Colleague)

“Keria is a hardworking woman who gives priority for others. She likes others to succeed and in fact helped me to come to Addis Ababa without any plan. She has helped lots of women to be involved in business. In particular, she made lots of women from Goji and SNNPR to become successful business women. As a place for others to learn business, she extends credit and sells at lower prices for women so that they can make a profit and become successful.” ~ Denkie Melese (Friend)