Aster Tesfaye is a returnee from Saudi Arabia and one of the beneficiaries of Coca-Cola kiosks. She went to Saudi Arabia through a contract with an agency at the age of 18. She chose that path to support her low-income family including her mother, two children, younger brother, and three cousins.
“Seeing my single mom struggle was very hard. I had no choice but to go look for a better life. I even had to lie about my age at the time since I was not at the legal age which was 21.” said Aster.
Aster stayed for six years in Saudi Arabia. However, she was forced to return due to a conflict that erupted in the country.
She returned to Ethiopia in 2016. Soon after her arrival, her mother passed away. Even so, she still had to support her 11 and 9-year-old children and her extended family. As a result, she decided to go back and try her luck in Qatar, but she didn’t succeed. Yet, she never gave up and tried again to head to Dubai, which was not successful as well due to the Covid pandemic.
After her return six years ago, Aster obtained certificates in hairdressing and cooking through opportunities provided by various NGOs as a returnee, but she was unable to find work and could not open her own business due to financial constraints, which kept her in the struggle.
“We do receive various pieces of training for various skills, but the real struggle is making a living out of those skills or starting our own business because of financial obstacles,” said Aster.
Taking on these kinds of gaps and the need for intervention into consideration, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa-Ethiopia (CCBA-Ethiopia) signed a Memorandum of Understanding in April 2021 with the Job Creation Commission (the now Minister of Labour and Skill) for a project worth 20 million Birr. The project aims to support women returnees by providing skillset training and construction of Coke kiosks across the country as part of its economic inclusion initiative.
Following the signing of the MOU, CCBA-Ethiopia conducted skill set training and started the construction of 150 kiosks for 600 women in 11 cities in different parts of Ethiopia. Currently, 75 kiosks have been installed in seven cities benefiting and handed over to 200 beneficiaries.
Aster was one of the trainees enrolled by CCBA-Ethiopia and received short-term training. She was then given a kiosk along with other three returnees. Currently, she and her coworkers use the kiosk to sell fast food and drinks.
“We are no longer unemployed; we have daily income. I am no longer concerned about what to feed my family,” said Aster.
According to Chaltu Geletu, another returnee, and beneficiary of the project who went to Saudi Arabia illegally and got deported.
“We were forgotten, and no one gave any attention or a chance to change our lives until we were approached by CCBA-Ethiopia,” she said. “I left my children to head to Saudi Arabia where I had suffered. I came back arrested and empty hand.”
She implied “after CCBA-Ethiopia trained us and delivered the kiosks as promised, it gave us hope and saved us from going back. It’s our own business, we can grow it in any way we choose. Shortly, we can expand our business and become a source of employment for others.” She added.
According to Daryl Wilson, Managing Director of CCBA-Ethiopia, “CCBA believes in doing business the right way which is why the company works toward solutions that benefit us all and aim to create greater shared opportunity for the business and the communities we serve across the value-chain through different projects that are inclusive as well as empowering.”
CCBA-Ethiopia has the vision of empowering women and helping them overcome their problems. To mention a few, we also have the Entoto project, which benefited 263 women by building six kiosks where they could sell Coca-Cola products and other items.
Additionally, CCBA-Ethiopia collaborated with PETCO and created a job opportunity for women who made their living by selling fuel wood to collect and sell PET bottles in Entoto Park.
Nigus Alemu, Legal Counsel and Public Affairs, Communication, and Sustainability Director at CCBA-Ethiopia said “CCBA has always believed in uplifting its community, which led to one of the main pillars of our sustainability initiatives being support for women and youth.”
“Almost all our sustainability projects put women at the center. When we planned to execute this project, we hoped to provide 600 women returnees from Arab countries with a sustainable income,” he added.
The reaming 75 kiosks are well under construction and will be handed over to beneficiaries once completed.