Murjaan Aweys sits uncomfortably across from us in a small shop, reclining on a chair and sipping carefully spiced ginger tea, one swig after another. The ray from the sunlight was flickering through the holes from his metal-wrought shop. His calm mien was occasionally disrupted by the loud sounds of his hammering of tin cans, straightening them to be deftly used with wire mesh to make mouse/rat traps. Murjaan, an internally displaced person from Rabi Suge site in Kaxda district, is earning a living selling mouse/rat traps made from the tin cans and wire mesh. His small shop is inundated with traps piled and propped slothfully over each other, taking most of the space in his shop, ostensibly forcing him to bend his spindly legs to fit in the little space.
“I make these rat traps to sell to people in the town,” he started, showing off one palatable trap, a sample, which had 3 rats cooped up in it, whimpering and wondering blithely in fright. They milled about apprehensively in a depressing frenzy. He would then placate them with food to calm them down. “I require two things when I want to make these traps. I go around with my children collecting tin cans and I also buy the wire mesh. These two things are what I need to make the traps you see here,” he said, pointing to a large pile of mouse traps. His dexterity was unparalleled and gratifying.
Murjaan Aweys was one of the 450 cash for work beneficiaries, employed to conduct site maintenance activities in his camp. The 4-month exercise kicked off in August 2020 across 15 sites in Kaxda and Deynille district. Before the activities began, he was eking out living carrying things for people at the market. According to him, some days he would frantically go home with nothing. On a good day and by sheer stroke of luck, he would bring something home to his family, waiting for the next day to repeat the same flustering rigmarole. He did not give up.
“Before it was really bad, there was no work and it was frustrating because I have a wife and 4 children to feed and they were all depending on me.” Murjaan adds that after being enrolled in the cash for work program implemented by NoFYL, he began putting aside the money he was receiving from the monthly incentive of $50, albeit in small amounts.
“The idea to start this business began when I joined in the camp cleaning exercise. I knew the money I was getting at the end of each month was not enough even for my family leave alone to start a business but thank God the site maintenance activities was planned and carried out very well.” He says that the site maintenance activities took place in the morning and after finishing, he would hastily go to the market to look for work.
This, according to him, helped him a lot because he was able to save money from the monthly stipend.
“I was saving some money from the cash for work and I still kept working at the market because I have people depending on me. After the end of the four months, I started my small shop and bought some few tools like hammer, nails and wire mesh. Sometimes people don’t throw away the tins after they use the milk so I am forced to buy the empty tin cans.” He explained.
Murjaan says that business was rather slow when he started and it reached a nadir. His work was contingent on the availability of people in the market. At the beginning of 2021, business began to pick up and he was doing well enough to support his young family of four. He would sometimes hire outside help employing other IDPs, ostensibly to help him beat the burgeoning demand. “Business is growing because everyone has seen how good these traps are. Sometimes people call me asking for them, so I make 50 or 60 traps every week for my customers and also for selling in Afgoye on Market days. When the orders are many, I employ people to help me because I believe Allah blessed me so that I can bless other people.” He explained, as he continued with his work. His attention is painstaking as he dabbles innately in making the traps. One could tell this was his forte.
After the traps are complete and ready, he sells them between $2.5 and $3. On market days, he pays $2 to transport the ready-made traps to the market. On this days, he say, is when he sells a lot of the traps and make most money.
“I am doing what I love and I earn from it. 2021 is a good year for me; it came with a lot of rats. The rats changed my life. Can you believe that?” he said. It came out half question, half statement. “I hope the rats don’t stop. I hope they terrorize every household because that would mean more business for me,” He continued, gloating and regaling with great panache and exuberance, this time laughing loudly at his plausible explanation, exposing a pair of massive jowls. You couldn’t tell if he was joking or not from his whacky facade.
He says the nature of his work gave rise to his infamous nickname “rat man”. At first, he didn’t like the ignominy that came with the branding and reacted instinctively to it with a deprecating shrug. But as business grew, he grew with it and this attracted many customers.
“Can you imagine walking around doing your work and then hearing people call you a rat man?” He asked, spreading his mouth in a gaping yawn. “I came to like the name because many people knew me by that name and I think this has brought many customers to me. I can’t complain.”
Murjaan was thankful to NoFYL for the opportunity that he says has changed not only his life but has benefitted many people in his camp. The site maintenance activity has also improved the drainage system, waste management and accessibility in the 15-selected sites.
“I am grateful to NoFYL for the opportunity because they changed my life. Now I am able to support my family. By employing other people to help me with my work, I am also helping them to support their family.”
In all the 15 sites, the beneficiaries agreed to conduct site maintenance activities every Thursday voluntarily. This will ensure the camps remain clean and in good condition even after the completion of the exercise.
“Our camp is clean now because we don’t throw garbage anywhere, we dispose them carefully in one place and we bury it. Sometimes we burn the garbage. These days if it rains, we welcome it because the drainage has improved,” Murjaan added, and then made a request: “Please continue to support us, many people in this camp have skills but they don’t have money to start business. I hope to give more opportunities to other people in this camp if the rats keep coming,” he blurted out again, collapsing into gales of laughter.
This kind of intervention addresses not only the most urgent needs of the displaced persons but also empowers them to attain self-sustenance and consequently change their lives for better.