From Nomadism to a community champion

ann simintaMy name is Ann Siminta, the Standards Compliance Manager in Sher Ethiopia PLC a flower grower and exporter.  I was born in Narok, Kenya, near the world famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve, where the Maasai live a pastoralist lifestyle. My background enables me understand nomadism only too well, as well as the painful struggles of the girl child who is often disempowered due to lack of access to basic education. This foundation really played a big part in shaping my interest in community development and more so, championing for an equal seat at the table for the woman.

Growing up in a nomadic community, it is unheard of to educate the girl child. I must say, I am among the lucky few Maasai women who got an education at the time. After completing my studies, I embarked on a job hunt and l was fortunate to get an opportunity with Sher Kenya in Naivasha. The company later relocated its operations to Ethiopia. My performance in my duties while in Kenya did not go unnoticed and that was the reason I was among eight other Kenyans selected to set up shop in Ethiopia.

Sher Ethiopia PLC was then established in the Oromia Region, South of Addis Ababa, the country’s capital in a place known as Ziway in 2005.

After moving to Ethiopia my passion for supporting and improving the livelihoods women did not wither, even more, I advocated for programs that supported women and these are reflected in the investments that the company has made and also which Fairtrade Premium has greatly supported.

Evolution of Ziway town

At the time, Ziway was a little-known locality with the economic activities being fishing from Lake Ziway and small-scale vegetable farming, very small-scale I must emphasise. It could not even be considered as a town because for example  to access basic amenities like health and schooling, the community members had to travel 100km radius, either to Modjo the nearest town or to Hawassa town.

Sher Ethiopia started by constructing a Kindergarten and to date, it has grown up to high school level and we have 5,500 students. We also constructed the Sher Hospital which has referral facilities. The organisation has really improved the lifestyle of the community and more so, the impact of Fairtrade Premium has been phenomenal, to say the least.

Sher, being the biggest flower farm in the country, attracted employees from everywhere in the country. Little-known Ziway burgeoned to become a big town. Buildings sprung attracting banks, dispensaries, rental housing and other amenities, to accommodate the growing population in the area. This contributed greatly to the economic growth of the town and the state as a whole.

Community members in this area, who previously depended on the state for food, could now earn a regular income, as they were employed on the farm. The Fairtrade Premium has also provided more employment opportunities for them since some investment has been made towards accounting and computer training targeting post –high school students.

We are continually growing and as we add more offices, we need accountants; the ones educated through our system are always given the first priority. When they leave Sher for other jobs in the country that makes us delighted, as we celebrate growth. To date, we have trained over 400 people.

The Fairtrade Premium funds have also contributed to setting up a beauty college. This has further opened doors of employment for young women.

Environmental Protection

Sher Ethiopia neighbours Lake Ziway which is the main source of water for domestic and agricultural use. We have developed an elaborate waste management system. We collect water from the fertigation unit and our stores and none of it is disposed to the lake, we re-use through our constructed wetland system, which enabled us to treat the waste water effluent.

On the 10th of February 2017, the state’s public health department did a fish analysis and from the results, the fish from the wetland system were better than those from the lake.

Serving the Fairtrade – ECAN Board

Serving on the Board of Fairtrade in Eastern Africa, enlightened me on the many amazing projects enabled by Fairtrade Premium in Ethiopia and the East and Central Africa region. Coffee for example, which is cultural in Ethiopia, has through Fairtrade certification developed rural communities all over.

Fairtrade has already made a difference in Ethiopia we have seen a big change. Electrification, road construction, schools support and purchase of trucks for transporting coffee are among the many projects financed by Fairtrade Premium for Sidama Coffee for example. We are working with the authorities to improve the regulatory framework in support of the registration of Fairtrade Premium Committee in the Hired Labour set-up.

Women empowerment

DSC_0682When Sher Ethiopia came to Ziway, sexual harassment was prevalent. The reports were so high and this endangered the lives of the women.

We started a Gender Committee to sensitize the community. Fairtrade, Ethiopia Horticultural Producers Exporters Association (EHPEA), Kulich, Marie Stopes, and Mulu work Site (World Learning), plus the Government through Women and Children Affairs came together to support in the initial trainings. Within the Sher workplace, The Gender Committee is empowered to follow up and investigates whenever they receive sexual harassment reports.

Through the committee, we have organised cervical cancer screening with support from Grounds for Health an organization based in USA. This was in collaboration with Marie Stopes Ethiopia. This has improved the reproductive health of our people. Most women who were screened, early cancer signs were detected and many have been cured.

We have introduced HIV awareness programs in Sher hospital and at our workplace.. Subsequently over the years, we have noticed a reduction of infections by 40%.

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Ann has been working in Ethiopia since 2008. She speaks Amharic very well and she proudly calls Ethiopia home.