I chose leather processing because it requires my mind more than my body, says Tarekegn, an Ethiopian TVET College student living with a disability

I chose leather processing because it requires my mind more than my body, says Tarekegn, an Ethiopian TVET College student living with a disability

Tarekegn Zaza never had a job and a jobless life was never easy for 20-year-old man. From the remote district Damot Fulasa in Wolaita Zone of Southern Ethiopia, Tarekegn didn’t have the opportunity to attend university; soon he was struggling to find a way to make a living. So when Tarekegn heard about a new training opportunity for small joint businesses, he decided to try it.

Tarekegn joined a short-term leather processing class at TVET College in Sodo supported by People in Need and Czech Development Agency. If you are a person with a disability here, you are considered incapable of doing anything at all. It was demotivating even to try to survive with that stigma,” says Tarekegn, who has had problems with his legs since he contracted polio as an infant.

“I chose leather processing because it requires my mind more than my body,” Tarekegn explains. Tarekegn and his classmates have learned to produce bags, belts, and wallets. Next, they want to learn how to make shoes, an advanced leatherworking skill. The class plans to start a small joint business together; they have already saved 45,000 Ethiopian birr.

Better skills thanks to better system

The college in Wolayta Sodo town, in southern Ethiopia, previously lacked proper machinery to teach leather production. “Now the school is equipped with certain machines that can help students learn the skills of making leather-made goods,” vice Dean Enku Abebe describes the support from People in Need and Czech Development Agency.

Students can choose three months or one-year course and part of it consists entrepreneurship training. Many students start business soon after they complete training, some in joint business ventures.

Since the project implemented by People In Need and funded by the Czech development Agency started supporting the college, and opened the leatherworking department, more students are trained and already starting small and medium businesses. “Everyone is welcome if they want to advance their skills or work on our machineries. Our door is always open,” says Enku Abebe.

PIN and the Czech development agency supported the college in Wolayta Sodo, as well as another college in the town of Dilla, equipping them with needed machinery, providing trainings to new teachers and making the colleges accessible for people with disabilities.

Through this support, 258 students completed training including women (48%) and people with disabilities (7%).

Business “incubators” for graduated students

Not far from the college, we pass a number of small shops with leather goods like bags and shoes hanging in their windows. Abera Zewde welcomes us in to one. Despite earning a college certificate in electrical engineering 30-year-old Abera was unemployed before he took the opportunity to train at Wolayata Sodo Town College and started his leather-making business.

Abera introduces a young woman in the shop as a current trainee from the college. During her practical training here, the teachers will follow up and evaluate her skills.

After Abera designs the pieces, one of his former classmates cuts the leather. Another colleague will stitch the piece, and in the final stage it will be retouched and polished in preparation for sale. “Our designs are really original,” Abera says proudly, pointing out how his shop stands out in the neighborhood.

Two months after opening, they’re getting few customers. Abera is confident in his marketing abilities, but wants to undertake more advanced training to improve the business side of things. For now, Abera and his team are working hard to compete on the market, but he’s dreaming big. The team plans to keep enlarging their business and their share of the market.  

Author: Zemene Yohannes, PIN Ethiopia Communication Officer