What's His Motivation?

If you haven't met him, please meet our Founder & CEO, Henok Berhanu. One of the most common questions we get about Carry 117 is,

"Why does Henok care so much for at-risk women? What's his motivation?"

It's a great question. And an important one. So we asked him! Here is what he said:

Why are you passionate for at-risk women?

"Well the reason is, I was raised by a 16-year-old, single mother, who didn't have the opportunity to go to school. I know firsthand the struggles single moms go through when trying to raise young children. I remember feeling helpless. My mom sacrificed more than anybody should ever have to. But she was strong, and determined, and she fought to raise me well. She is my hero. Honestly, I didn’t ever want to watch another woman have to go through what my mom went through to raise me. I really wanted to do something to help. I know I can't help every woman, but I can help a few."

Did you always have a passion for this?

"Not exactly. Although my mom always tells the story to my friends that growing up I would never eat my lunch at school because I would always give it to someone who was hungry. She got so mad at me because I was so skinny. So I guess I have always had a heart to help people in need, but I didn't ever dream I would do something with that passion. Actually after I graduated from Addis Ababa University with a Business and Economics degree, my father who worked for Ethiopian Airlines, had a well-paying, stable job lined up for me at the airlines... but I didn't want to work for the airlines."

Were you raised in Korah?

"I actually wasn't. I was raised in a different part of the city. I found out about Korah through my first job post college. We employed at-risk women… including single mothers & widows. Unfortunately, the government ended up closing down this non-profit, which meant over 80 women lost their jobs. They went back to being hungry and eating from the trash dump. It was heartbreaking. I actually avoided Korah for a year after that because it was so difficult for me to see the women struggling."

What made you start Carry 117? 

"I would get calls from some of the ladies who had lost their job at the previous organization asking if I knew of a job, or sometimes telling me they didn’t have any food and they were back to eating out of the trash dump. A few times they called to tell me their kids had to drop out of school. It tore me apart because I knew what an opportunity to work could do for those kids, and even though I know it wasn't my job to save them or fix them, I still felt responsible to help. So after a year of working through my fears of starting an organization with the possibility of failure, I decided it was worth the risk. I had a friend named Shim who was a professional sewer so I got together with him and started talking about what it would take for him to leave his own business and partner with me to teach women how to sew. I am so thankful he loved the vision and jumped on board, we couldn't do it without him."

How do you know Carry 117 is successful?

"When we set out to help, we knew not everyone we hired would be with us for the long haul. We knew that we would be entrusted with each employee for a season, some longer than others. Our mindset has been to be good stewards of the time we have to influence and love this woman and her children or family with the time we have. To date, we have helped 16 women and men, and attached to those 16 women are 30+ children or family members. But that's not the only way we measure. I also know we are successful because I see the women are able to fully support their families through the fruits of their own labor. I see that they each have a savings account now. I see we are selling more and more bags. I see their sewing skills increasing.  I see they have all reached a healthier body weight (am I allowed to say that? It's a good thing in our culture). But the things that speak loudest of success aren't necessarily numbers, it's more of the emotional progress. What I mean is, I see the ladies are more confident and proud of themselves. I see they interact differently with the people around them because they now feel they have something to offer - that's a picture of dignity to me. One of my favorites is watching the ladies teach a new employee, or a #117Trip team member (Carry 117 mission trips) how to cut, measure, or sew. These are the things I can't measure with a number, yet they are the strongest evidence of success in this organization."

What's been the most difficult thing so far? 

"I have to just pick one thing (laughs)? It's more complicated yet more basic than I originally thought. Yes, we teach them to sew, but before that we teach them to read numbers, how to measure, how to hold scissors, cut fabric, show up on time to work. It takes so long to onboard the ladies, and it requires a lot of patience. I consider myself a patient guy, but sometimes I just run out of patience. It's tiring.

And the other things is, it's hard for me to balance it being a ministry but also it's a business. I am in this to provide women with an opportunity to provide for their family, but I am also in this to help women change their own lives. And I feel like my role in that is just to love them and coach them and encourage them. But then when I think about it from the business side, it's been hard to know when to push, when to draw a line, what is too much, what is not enough. I feel like I am constantly reminding myself that my role is to provide a hand up-- an opportunity, not a hand-out --enabling them to stay where they are and just receive help without earning it. It's a tension I am learning to manage. I also am learning what tough love is." 

What's been the most rewarding thing so far? 

"Well I love to see the progress the ladies have made in their sewing skills. But more importantly, I love seeing the confidence that's been growing and the dignity being restored. One of my favorite things is when I see the ladies getting to teach new employees how to do something. They are so proud of the skills they have now. These women who once thought of themselves as trash, now see themselves as treasures. Also, going into this I knew we would be able to help these ladies, but I didn't really expect how much it would change me in the process. I also never expected to learn that what we are doing over here in the small village of Korah, Ethiopia, to have any influence on anybody across the world. That's been shocking to me in the best way."

What is the best way people can support Carry 117? 

"Please continue to pray for us, share our story, buy our bags, help us find places to sell our product!"

Is there anything else you want to share?

"I would love to thank a few people, and organizations who have really been partners and encouragements to us. Sheryl Daija with Mobile Marketing Association, Joe and Ali Freudenthal with Freudenthal Home Health,  Tommy and Kendra Crabtree with Harvest Ethiopia, Keith and Jessica Kotrla with Steadfast Mission, Kristen Welch with Fair-Trade-Friday,  Joe Paschal with LifePoint Church, Melody Workman with Cultivate Women at Sandals Church, Jeff with Man Up and Gothe many mission teams who have come to visit Carry 117 and hear our story (Out of the Ashes, iPourLife, Go Be Love, Man Up and Go, America World Adoption Agency, Carry 117 Trips), the entire USA volunteer staff, and to all the shops across the world selling our product, and the thousands of people who have purchased a bag. Thank you from the bottom my heart."

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