Yenenesh Gebresilase was born into a large family of nine siblings in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. Her father is a lorry driver and he and her mother fully understand the importance of education and the role it plays in bettering the lives of their nine children. They made sure that all of their children recognised this from a young age and encouraged them all to study hard. While growing up, Yenenesh and her family had a study room and her parents made a lot of sacrifices to send their kids to school.
In Yenenesh’s family there is an unspoken rule where the older children, once qualified, support their younger siblings through third level education. Yenenesh’s older brother supported her through university and now she is helping her youngest sister to pursue her nursing degree in Australia.
Yenenesh’s eldest brother is a doctor which set the bar pretty high for rest of the kids in the family. Yenenesh considers him to be a driving force behind her academic success. She went to the University of Addis Ababa and graduated with a dual degree. Her first degree was in Sociology and Social Administration followed by a degree in Social work. She then went on to finish her post graduation. After that she spent six years working for the Ministry of Water, before coming to work with Vita in 2006 as a Gender Officer. Vita’s mission is to tackle household food and energy insecurity through community-led sustainable agriculture projects, which are scalable and replicable, with a special focus on women as the key enablers of sustainable development. This work mainly involves promoting programmes that benefit female–headed households.
“Rural Ethiopian women carry an enormous burden in the household, where for a variety of reasons ranging from economic migration to the ravages of past civil wars, men can be absent. These women face enormous challenges when trying to establish sustainable livelihoods, and Vita responds to their needs by delivering programmes that address food security and household energy security,” observes Yenenesh. “Society does not usually treat these women equally, and it is my role, through my work with Vita, to ensure that this imbalance is addressed through improved farm practices, inclusion in co-ops, and access to agricultural expertise.”
Yenenesh is convinced that agriculture is the key to liberating poor rural households from poverty which is why she is currently completing her PhD in Crop System Analysis at Wageningen University. In this venture Yenenesh, alongside two fellow Ethiopians, have been fully supported by Vita and its partner Teagasc, the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland.
“It has been both exciting and challenging doing my PhD, as it brought me far from home to study in The Netherlands, but I enjoyed the experience. I even managed to get married between trips earlier this year!” says Yenenesh. “My research has given me great insights, and it will be my privilege to share the results with our team in Ethiopia particularly as I know that what I’ve learned will contribute to better lives for these rural families.”