“Pregnant and mother of five, I gave up everything to flee conflict”
UNICEF and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) support displaced families through a humanitarian cash transfer program.
Zerfie Tigabu, 35, is raising her five children alone since July 2021 when, under threat of conflict and seven months pregnant, she was forced to abandon everything to come to Debark town.
“Around July (2021) we learned that armed groups were coming towards our village,” recalls Zerfie. “I was seven months pregnant and I was very afraid for my life and the lives of my children, so my husband told me that we had to flee. We got into a crowded car and drove to Debark and stayed at a school for 3 months.”
Like Zerfie, an estimated 138,000 people have been displaced in the northern Gondar region alone due to conflict in North Ethiopia. In order to cope with this influx, the Ethiopian government initially decided to requisition schools to accommodate the displaced families. A few months later, the Debark Kulich Meda camp was built. Today, it hosts nearly 5,000 people, mainly women, children and vulnerable people.
“The first few weeks were very difficult, mainly because of food shortages and the cold temperatures,” continues Zerfie. “I was also worried about my pregnancy because I had to stop prenatal consultations when I arrived in Debark. Fortunately, social workers came to my aid and I finally gave birth to twins in September, shortly before we moved to the camp.”
“The first few weeks were very difficult, mainly because of food shortages and the cold temperatures”
With the government's lead, humanitarian aid was quickly organized to assist the thousands of displaced people in the North Gondar area. UNICEF, in collaboration with the Bureau of Women, Children and Social Affairs (BoWCSA), is now leading the humanitarian assistance programme, which includes the deployment of 12 community social workers to identify and assist the most vulnerable people with regular health check-ups and distribution of basic necessities.
“The community social workers visit us at most every 3 days. They make sure that everything is going well, that the children are healthy and that we don't lack anything. When this is the case, they bring us provisions. Thanks to UNICEF, I also received 12,000 Birr (about USD$240) in my bank account. The social workers explained to me that with this money I could now manage my priorities and expenses and that I would receive this amount every 3 months. Clothes for the children, diapers and towels for the newborns... it helps me a lot in my daily life. Without it, I don't know how I would do it.”
There is evidence that in the long term, cash transfers often build household resilience, enabling the family to better respond to future shocks and reduce vulnerability to future crises. The humanitarian cash transfer programme supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and implemented by UNICEF aims to meet the immediate needs of nearly 17,000 displaced people in the Debark area, including helping to cover basic food and non-food costs (e.g., clothing, blankets, food, clean water, etc.).
“When the groups came to my village they looted everything,” concludes Zerfie. “I think we will stay here for a long time. My children are safe, they have a chance to learn and grow up in peace until better days.”