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Interview with Tigist and Hiamanot Damtew
June 28, 2010

TD: My name is Tigist Damtew, and I am a jewelry designer.
HD: And name is Haimanot, and I am a jewelry designer and trainer.
HD &TH: We are 23 years old, and we’ve had our business for 4 or 5 years.
TD: We learned jewelry design through the Gemini Trust.

What does the Gemini Trust do here in Ethiopia?
HD: A long time ago, in Ethiopia, no one liked twins. Most Ethiopians don’t have much money, so if you have two twins, it’s very difficult. That’s why the Gemini Trust was started. We’ve only heard that twins in Ethiopia have problems. We avoided any problems because we got help as soon as we were born. It was very lucky.
TD: My mom gave birth to us in Black Lion Hospital. Dr. Carmela Green Abate, founder of the Gemini Trust, was working with Black Lion Hospital helping out poor people who had twins. My mom and dad didn’t have much money when we were born. They both got jobs working at the Gemini Trust, so Gemini helped us a lot. They provided payment for our school, exercise book, pen and pencil every year. They also give us free classes if we have free time after school.

I hear your dad can’t tell you apart.
TD & HD: No, he can’t.
TD: He calls us both “Haimanot.”
HD: Sometimes “Tigist.”
TD: Most of the time he says “Haimanot.”

How did you start your business?
HD: We started making jewelry about 5 years ago at Gemini Trust. We went to English language classes there. One of the volunteers who taught English asked us if we want to train in jewelry design. So, she taught us how to make jewelry. We started work with Gemini Trust at the NGO (nongovernmental organization) bazaar where the income generating programs of different NGOs can sell their goods. Gemini Trust gave us a small space, and we sell there at the monthly bazaar. That’s how we started.
TD: Then, with the help of Deborah Zinn, our friend from Australia, we become members of the Ethiopian Women’s’ Export Association. We export our jewelry to Australia, the USA, and other places. We’ve been to some trade fairs also, like in Burkina Faso.
HD: That fair was called SIAO Trade Fair for West Africa. When we went there, we sold a lot of our stuff. We meet a lot of people from different African countries and saw some of their work. It was great.

So, what’s it like working together?
TD: It’s very nice.
HD: It’s great. We like our job.
TD: Say, if I have one design, I will do that and she will do another thing. But if she wants to make my design, she can do it, too.
HD: Also, if I finish early, I will help her. We make a plan and say, “You will do this and I will do this.” So, if she finish before, she will help me.

What does your family think of your business?
HD: At first, our mom didn’t like it because we studied banking and insurance. She thought that we had to work at a bank. But, eventually, she liked what we were doing.
TD: Jewelry businesses in Ethiopia, they don’t make a lot of money. So, she thought we wouldn’t be successful. She thought it would be better for us to work in a bank. She changed her mind because she saw us working hard. We were making good things.
Did your banking education help you at all with your business?
HD: Yea. Like, with how to save money, how to spend money, all that. It helped a lot.

What’s the hardest part about running your business?
TD: Marketing was difficult because our English needs work. We needed more experience in how to keep in contact with customers.
HD: At the bazaars, we have no problem. We just talk to them there, but to work on the internet, it’s a little bit difficult for us because we have to write all the emails. We are getting better though.
I remember you talked before about bead supplies are difficult, too.
TG: Yes. For example, if we put one design on a website and a customer orders 50, we can’t do it because it’s hard to get the beads in Ethiopia. Our friends have to find the beads from different places, like Australia.
HD: The only thing you can find in Ethiopia are metal beads. For glass beads, friend help us by bringing them when they come to Ethiopia. We depend on our network to get our business done, for selling and bead supply as well.

How did you get into doing trainings?
TD: Our friend, Deborah Zinn whom I mentioned earlier, she asked us if we wanted to do training for other people. We said okay, and she taught us how. Now we do trainings every week at Trampled Rose.
HD: Trampled Rose helps women who have fistula surgery. Fistula is a big issue here, especially for rural women. Some women need many surgeries, so they are in the capital Addis Ababa for a long time. And some women don’t want to go back to their homelands because their husband divorced them. Their parents don’t want them back, either. Trampled Rose is a shelter where the women can stay. Becky Kiser, the owner of Trampled Rose, helps the women out with job training. They are learning hair dressing and jewelry making. Sometimes they make baskets and sell those at the bazaar as well. So, me and Tigist, we train them. We’ve been training them in how to make jewelry for three years now. Sometimes, we help them find markets, also. They export with us in USA and Australia. Most of the time they work in paper beads, so it’s very beautiful.
TD: We’ve also done trainings with the International Labor Organization [ILO]. Last year, we did a five week training for low income people form each kibele [neighborhood] in Addis.
HD: We taught them how to make recycled jewelry, from bottle tops and old phone cards and paper.

What do you hope will happen with your business? What are the next steps?
HD: Now, we would like to open a workshop where we can make our jewelry and also invite customers. We started with a small business, and every year it grows. Maybe we will have a nice workshop next year.
TD: Also, we can hire some people there and help them, too.
HD: We can hire 2 or 3, maybe up to a dozen women, especially the women from Trampled Rose.
TD: Because now we have many customers in different places. They call us to go see them every time they want to buy jewelry from us. It’s a lot of work to visit with the customers and make all the jewelry. It would be nice if we have our workshop and have other people to help out.

A few weeks after giving this interview, Tigist and Hiamanot rented a small condominium and founded their workshop.

Many thanks to Deborah Zinn of IFESH for facilitating this photo story.

Tigist and Haimanot Damtew are young entrepreneurs who run T&H Designs, a growing jewelry design and training business. It's unusual for young women to own a business in Ethiopia, but Tigist and Haimanot's biggest advantage could have been their greatest downfall; they are twins. According to the Gemini Trust, Ethiopia sees twice as many twin births as Europe. One third of those twin babies don't reach their first birthday, making for an infant mortality rate four times higher than Ethiopia's general population. Tigist and Haimanot lucked out by receiving support from the Gemini Trust as soon as they were born. They are best friends and trusting business partners who have worked together to develop their business.