A heart-to-heart with a strong woman leader: Feven Yimer, Education Program Manager for Nuru Ethiopia
Feven Yimer is the Education Program Manager for Nuru Ethiopia. She has a Masters in Sociology from Indra Gandhi National Open University and a Bachelors of Education in Biology from Debube University, Dilla College of Teacher Education and Health Sciences. Prior to joining Nuru Ethiopia, Feven worked as a subject teacher at multiple schools for six years in Addis Ababa. Similarly, she has worked as an English Language instructor for Turkish nationals since 2008. Her most recent experience before joining Nuru Ethiopia is working as a business partner at Emas Advert.
Here are excerpts from her recent interview with Kevin Nascimento, Education and Healthcare Program Specialist, Ethiopia.
What motivated you, an urban dweller, to join Nuru Ethiopia, a rural grassroots organization in Zefine?
I joined Nuru Ethiopia for both personal and professional reasons – a quest for a change in life and opportunity. First, the way I had been living in Addis was too routine and at some point you just get bored with that routine life of yours. In Addis you can get everything – food, clothes, etc. – you have better access of life there in town but still life somehow becomes meaningless despite those things. In fact, that doesn’t guarantee you to have all the better things in life. You seek to change that “meaningless-ness” when you recognize it.
Second, I had this realization that I can go beyond what I’ve been. I’ve been a school teacher and have provided the tools for children to change their futures. Somehow though, I felt limited in this job though. Honestly speaking, working in/with Nuru has brought enlightenment in to a new self image which was not easy to imagine.
If you could bring any aspect of Addis Ababa to Zefine, what would it be?
The first thing I would bring would be my family, especially my mother. The busy life which I run into in Addis in a day and the long walks I used to have with my best friend discussing on ideas.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced here at Nuru Ethiopia? The biggest success?
I would rather say the biggest struggle, was bringing what we thought would work in theory into practice and gaining the acceptance of the stakeholders we work with.
Another challenge could be the disconnection between my life in Addis and my life here in Zefine. All those things are tolerable though. If you make the right decision and you tell yourself you are going to face these challenges, it isn’t a problem. It would have been a challenge if I came here unprepared.
I sometimes compare my life with the people who are living in Zefine. I came here for only a short period of time, like 2-3 years. All the challenges that I have told you about, I can escape from. The farmers we work with though, they cannot at this time. My being here in these challenges for these few years as compared to the lives the farmers have lived with those challenges really isn’t anything. For me, this is a life time opportunity to spent this part of my life here with them.
As I look forward though, specifically in my program’s success, it will be to convince the woreda and Zonal Education officials to see the problem facing children here, to involve themselves in our program, and to have them take the initiative and see that this isn’t Nuru’s work, but their own with our support.
Of Nuru Ethiopia’s four impact program managers, three are male. What are the challenges and opportunities associated with being the sole female manager at Nuru Ethiopia?
Sometimes it scares me. Sometimes it feels good. Truly speaking, all the other impact program managers are very nice to me and I have great respect for them. Being in a position of leadership is not easy in itself and that challenge will be greater when you are a female leader. There were challenges at the beginning of the program like gaining acceptance as a female manager. I knew though that it was about the end result. I had to be not a whole new “Feven” but I had to bring lots of new things into my personality which was not easy. It was a fight with myself. It helped though it was so challenging – there were times I really wanted to disappear. But I had to endure those challenges. Still, I have a long way to go to make myself a better leader, the homework has just started.
Now, I see a change in the team. Both in the way that I communicate with the team and the way they communicate with me. I used to have a huge problem in task delegation but not anymore. The reason why it was hard for me to delegate was one, because of my behavior, but two, because I thought, “how can I delegate tasks to these people” – this was out of respect for their experience. The change in me is not complete but in process. Even my own self-perception of myself as a female in this position.
I knew that I never wanted to retreat despite these challenges. I had grit. I wanted to move forward. The beauty of all these challenges is that I will find my true self at the end of it all.
What has surprised you about working with firenjis (foreigners)? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve learned about firenjis?
I think it’s all about cultural and lifestyle differences. Here, the bond is strong whatever it is – family, friendship, or with your colleagues. The things we, as Ethiopians, do is to support one another by all means. This isn’t the case for firenjis. No matter how close you are, you can’t rely on your relationship with firenjis to help cover you up. Based on our experiences, our lifestyle, and how we were raised, this is weird. Firenjis are also very straightforward. Excuses are not taken for granted. In our case, as long as you make a very good excuse, that’ll be considered.
I’ve worked before with firenjis. I’ve worked with Turkish people and their culture is very related to ours. When you go to their home, you must eat something even if you’re full—same as in Ethiopia—everyone in the house will come to greet and welcome you. Other firenjis though, when they enter your home they speak with only the person who they have business with. “Who is your business with? Is it with me or someone else? Make your business with them.”
As for American firenjis, you might find some weird things but you just ignore those things. My PS is not someone I would actually consider American because he is understanding and his lifestyle and culture is a bit the same as Ethiopians. He is eager to try things out and help out. I remember when I was sick, he even brought medicine all the way to my home. This is not American – this is habesha. Other firenjis on the FT are truly American though. At times they can be friendly but then very straightforward. As habesha, if you can’t distinguish between those things, it’s very hard to be friends with that person. Realistic limitations are sometimes nonexistent but you will receive all the direction needed to accomplish those things. Similarly, Americans have no problem holding people accountable to those accomplishments and after all that serious talk, a “Hi, how are you?” will come as if nothing had happened before. As habesha, that’s confusing.
Why do you think the Education Program is a key aspect of ending extreme poverty?
You can take all the programs like Agriculture, Financial Inclusion, and Healthcare—they all want to bring a change in the community. Agriculture wants to increase crop yields. Financial Inclusion wants women to save more money and better business plans for additional income. Healthcare wants to break old habits and attitudes and bring behavior change. All of this is through training to bring a behavior change which is education.
The Agriculture Program trains farmers on best agronomic practices. The Financial Inclusion Program trains women how to save and what they’ll get out of that. Healthcare is the same – through educational messaging. How could you bring that end goal or change while mute? If education is missed from all the programs, let alone the Education Program itself, how will that change come? For me, education is the language to end extreme poverty. We educate the community in all the thematic areas we are working with so that they can be the front fighters of their own challenges.
The children which are receiving the support through our program in their reading ability development will have a more likely chance to stay in school and even go to the next level of education. This in turn will have a greater impact for these children not to share the small plot of land which their parents currently have and become farmers who produce only subsistence amount. Hence, here comes Education bringing a meaningful choice to these children future life with more opportunities than sharing the small plot of land from their parents. A means for development sustainability.
Kevin comes to Nuru after serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana for three years (’11-’14). Of those three years, the first two were spent teaching Biology and Chemistry at the second cycle level in Awiebo-Aiyinase during which he was awarded the National Best Teacher Award – Foreign Service Category by the Office of the President and Ministry of Education. His final year was spent serving a local educational non-profit in Accra, Ghana where he trained teachers and taught students across the nation to participate in national and international events. His efforts helped Ghana remain the only African country to participate in the Scripps Spelling Bee in the U.S. Kevin earned his BA in Cell and Molecular Biology from the State University of New York at Binghamton.Read More Stories of Hope