UNICEF programme gives Somali women triumph over constant adversity
By Elshadai Negash
“I used to sell tomatoes and spices in a stall out in the open,” says the 45-year old, who has been a widow since her husband died more than ten years ago. “It was very difficult to spend hours in the sun and I did not make enough money to support my eight children. But now I have this shop and it allows me to feed and school them as well as stay in the shade.”
Her shop was made possible thanks to a social cash transfer scheme introduced by UNICEF in the region in 2010. The scheme identifies vulnerable mothers like Aden and provides them with a grant of ETB 1,000 (USD 52) and a revolving loan of ETB 4,000 (USD 209) to help them setup or expand a small business. The beneficiaries are then given a dress period of three months to setup their business and pay back ETB 83 (USD 4.33) per month over four years. The money paid back by the beneficiaries will then be loaned to other beneficiaries who can then setup their own business.
Social cash transfer programmes and their results are nothing new in Ethiopia as the programme has been in place for more than five years. However, implementing the programme in Somali, a region which is constantly subjected to numerous shocks and stress mainly drought, human and livestock diseases, poor infrastructure, and conflict; has proven particularly challenging for the region’s Bureau of Labour and Social Affairs (BOLSA) and partners like UNICEF.
One of the four Developing Regional States (DRS) in Ethiopia along with Benishangul-Gumz, Afar, and Gambellla, access to essential services is low and the region is characterized by a high level of food insecurity and vulnerable livelihoods. In 2009 for instance, about 40.6 % of the rural population needed humanitarian assistance.
Such continued adversity severely hinders parents’ ability to fulfill obligations to their children. The rights of children in the region to physical, cognitive, and social growth continues to be impeded in early childhood by chronic malnutrition and lack of proper care and support for Orphan and Vulnerable children.
“Last year, nineteen women were identified and were provided with the revolving loan,” says Fardossa Ali, a social worker in Awbarre district who has worked on the programme since December 2011. “Three women did not yet start paying back. Two mothers died in a flood, another lost her son in that same flood and spent all the money she had saved to pay for the funeral.”
But the sixteen are now paying back their loan every month, while ten of them have improved their lives and moved up to what Ali calls “well-off” status. “They don’t worry about feeding their family and send all their children to school,” she says. “They are able to pay for the school uniform of their children and keep their households neat and clean.”
Some like Aden have done even better. “I have expanded my business,” she says. “I use part of the shop room as rental space and now have more variety of items in my shop. My vision is to grow and do even better in business.”
A glance at items in her shop gives one a good idea of how close Awbarre is located to Somaliland. The shop is stocked with bottled water, mobile top-up cards, various types of sodas, and biscuits all imported from Somaliland. She also sells traditional toothbrush sticks, one of the most popular items in her shop. “It sells better than ‘modern’ tooth paste,” she says showing off brands like Colgate and Aquafresh. “People here like it a lot.”
Aden has even more reasons to be happy during the visit to her shop with her eldest child Hamze Ahmed Abdulahi home to spend his school breaks with his mother. “Our life is certainly better than a few years ago,” testifies the 21-year who is a sophomore at the Ambo University where he studies Natural Resource Management. “My mother sends me about ETB 300 (USD 16) per month. I don’t have to worry about food or buying books or stationary for my studies. My brothers and sisters also go to school and I believe that the future is bright for our family.”