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Simpsons help Ethiopian women break the cycle of poverty

Simpsons help Ethiopian women break the cycle of poverty

By Dan Steinberg

Every day before dawn thousands of Ethiopian women trek 10 miles up the slopes of Entoto Mountain, rising about 2,000 feet in elevation. They collect eucalyptus branches and leaves and carry the 80-pound bundles down the mountain to sell in the markets of Addis Ababa for $1.

Known as fuel-wood carriers, the women earn barely enough to survive, though they are often the sole support of their families. 

Americans don’t know much about the fuel-wood carriers, but this hidden population caught the attention of Pam Traylor Simpson ’69 and Ron Simpson ’69. Pam made her first trip to Ethiopia in 2009, and has returned 14 times. The Simpsons and their daughter established a foundation, Connected in Hope, which builds the capacity of women and families, empowering them to rise above poverty. 

“A sustainable income is a family’s first step out of poverty,” said Pam, who earned a doctorate degree in education at Virginia Tech after graduating from Otterbein. “The complexities of generational poverty, however, require a holistic approach that includes predictable incomes, educational opportunities and access to basic health care. Connected in Hope’s holistic model goes beyond charity, giving families the tools and support they need to succeed.  But change for women who have little, if any, education and believe they have no alternative is slow.”

Change has been the hallmark of the Simpsons’ lives. Pam majored in elementary education and enjoyed her sisters in Tau Epsilon Mu while on campus. Ron was a member of Kings. The couple moved to South Carolina where Pam taught gifted and talented students while Ron worked for the Department of Energy. Pam and Ron retired on the same day in 2007.

Pam’s first travel to Ethiopia in 2009 with her daughter, Ryane Murnane, was to pick up Ryane’s son, Joseph, in an international adoption.

“We fell in love with the country and the people,” Pam said. “It’s the kind of experience you can’t be a part of and not come away changed. We wanted to find a way to honor Joseph’s birth culture, to give back and make a difference.”

On a return trip in 2010, Pam met a group of women who had been fuel-wood carriers, but were also weavers. Conversations with the women led Pam and her daughter to found Connected in Hope, a licensed non-governmental organization or NGO, which is neither a charity nor government entity. Pam describes it as a social enterprise. The organization is registered as a 501c3 in North Carolina.

“Connected in Hope has grown in five years,” Pam said. “We have 82 children in our preschool and kindergarten program and 25 more are enrolled in after-school activities. More than 80 women earn sustainable incomes producing leather goods, scarves hand woven of Ethiopian cotton, baskets and other items. We provide designs and ideas that will sell in western markets.

“We pay for the raw materials, buy the finished products, and sell them online, at trunk shows and through retail partners. One hundred percent of the profits from sales are reinvested in programs for the women and their families. Despite our progress, much remains to be done. We are aware of the depth and breadth of need in the community that still exists,” Pam said.

“We work with talented, caring women who want to break the cycle of poverty,” Pam said. “Our goal is to support sustainable change through jobs and education, rather than aid.”

To learn more, make purchase or contribute to Connected in Hope, visit the website at http://www.connectedinhope.org and follow Connected in Hope on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Read other alumni stories and learn more about ‘hidden lives’ of the Otterbein community in the latest Fall edition of Towers Magazine.