Kenya: Women refugees sow seeds of hope to reap a better future (IPS)

| February 2, 2015

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Leah Abdulilahi is a refugee from Somalia. Mrs. Abdulilahi has lived in the sprawling Dadaab settlement in Kenya’s North Eastern Province for the past three years. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp, and is about 100 kilometres from the border with Somalia.

The civil war in Somalia began in 1991. Nearly 25 years later, according to the UN Refugee Agency, there are nearly 350,000 registered refugees in the Dadaab refugee camps. Half of these are women.

Mrs. Abdulilahi is considered a “new arrival.” She has no source of income, and her family depends on rations distributed by the World Food Programme.

The weather is harsh, and most residents of the camp are poor. Women sometimes sell part of their food ration – maize, wheat, beans, soya, pulses or cooking oil – to buy fruit and vegetables or school supplies, or to pay for their children’s school fees.

But it’s not just hunger and nutrition that the women worry about. Idil Absiye is a Peace and Security Specialist with UN Women Kenya. She explains, “The lack of opportunities is a contributing factor to sexual and gender-based violence at the camp.”

UN Women is a United Nations agency that works closely with the Kenya Red Cross Society on a livelihood project in a part of the camp known as Ifo 2. The project also provides counselling to survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Gertrude Lebu is a counsellor at the Gender-Based Violence Centre. She says that up to 15 cases are reported on an average day.

According to the Kenya Red Cross Society, rape is particularly prevalent in Ifo 2. Mrs. Abdulilahi and her family live in that part of the camp. She says: “We are afraid to go fetch firewood in the forest. Bandits also attack us in our own homesteads and rape us. If I had the money, I would just buy firewood and I wouldn’t have to go or send my daughter to the forest.”

The livelihood project is training Mrs. Abdulilahi and 300 other women on business management and horticulture. It supports them to start businesses to help sustain their families. She says, “I want to open a shop. With the profit I make, I will buy clothes, vegetables and fruits for my children.”

Mrs. Abdulilahi brings her five-month-old child along to the project’s business management workshop, while her four other children wait at home. Around her, women listen attentively. The 25-year-old asks question after question, eager to learn more.

Higala Mohammed was a farmer in Somalia. She is optimistic about the impact of the trainings. She has planted a small vegetable garden next to her makeshift tent. She grows barere, a traditional Somalian vegetable. She explains, “We need all the nutrients we can get here.”

Beneath the scalding sun that parches the landscape of northeastern Kenya, several women dig the dry, dusty land with rakes and sticks. They work, thinking only of the time when they will harvest their crops.

It’s rare to find income-generating activities in the camp, especially farming. Providing for their families means everything for mothers like Mrs. Abdulilahi. If these mothers could provide for themselves and their families, they would not have to fight with their husbands over food, money for school fees and other basic needs.

Mrs. Abdulilahi is hopeful about the future. She says, “I want to work and support my family, even when I return home someday — and I will open a bigger shop.”

To read the full article on which this story was based, Braving Dust storms, Women Plant Seeds of Hope, go to: