Women and Water: Serkalem

Water helps women like Serkalem escape extreme poverty.


Serkalem smiles amidst her small, fenced plot of kale, beets, and onion adjacent to her small, tin-roofed house. Strapped to her back, a tiny granddaughter rides the waves of her constant bending to tend her crops. How is a woman so young a grandmother? She laughs in delight at the question. In addition to this little one on her back, she says, she has grown grandchildren. “I was married as a child,” she explains.

Serkalem puts her relative youth to work as a gardener and a businesswoman. In addition to selling some of her crops at the local market, she processes peppers into a highly sought after spicy powder. She purchases the peppers when the price is low and adds value by grinding them and enhancing them with home-grown spices. She stores the powder until the price goes up, then resells the powder for a profit. This is her fourth year in the business.

Serkalem has lived in Adaba, an Ethiopian town of approximately 20,000 people, for nearly fifteen years. One of the biggest advantages of urban life is access to a nearby source of clean water. She explains,

“I used to live in a rural area and fetch dirty water from the river. I had to carry big clay jars with water for my family. Now I get water from a distribution point nearby. It would be really difficult to do business if I did not have water close to me.”

While Serkalem is well settled in the town, she thinks that rural women potentially enjoy a business advantage — if they have access to water.

“If they could have clean water nearby, they could absolutely do a business like mine. They could save all those hours that they spend getting water every day and use that time to garden and grow kale, garlic, beets, onions, and cabbage — those things would be in high demand in urban areas. In the countryside they have more land, so if they have time and water to garden, they could profit.”

Could Serkalem handle all the competition that would generate? Serkalem can’t even imagine withholding the blessing of water from anyone — particularly women still living in the surrounding villages. After all, she is one of them — a hardworking woman coaxing a living from the Ethiopian soil.

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