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From grass to grace: Xaawo’s inspiring Journey of Resilience & Self-Reliance through Cash for Work Program

Xaawo’s life took a drastic turn when her husband abandoned the family, leaving her as the sole provider for their children – three girls and two boys, ranging from 1 to 17 years old. With her husband’s departure, the burden of supporting her large family fell entirely on her shoulders.

“I lived on debt and had no support from anyone including my former husband. We had to skip some of the meals,” says Xaawo, a 33-year-old woman from Jundullahi camp in Deynille. She resorted to washing clothes for other people, cleaning houses, cooking, and carrying water for people. Every menial job you can think of, Xaawo has done it. She’s even taken on the traditionally male-dominated job of carrying heavy goods for people at Mogadishu’s biggest market – Bakaara market – just to earn a living to support her family of eight. This is despite the jeers and derisive looks she get from both men & women in the market. Despite her efforts, the income from the menial jobs was meager and inconsistent. The reason behind her separation from her husband was primarily economic. She disclosed that her husband made the decision to abandon his responsibilities of supporting their children, including refusing to pay for their education. This financial strain and neglect ultimately led to their separation.

I had no choice but to provide for my children when their father left; I have to be the father & mother to my children,” she said, her flawless demeanor masked the hidden despair. “Whenever I went to look for work at the market, it was challenging because everyone doubted a woman could handle heavy lifting,” she explained. “But I proved them wrong,” she said with a vivacious grin. However, the job came with risks, as she frequently faced harassment from male workers who believed she should be at home tending to her children. Despite these tribulations, Xaawo’s determination never faltered. Their skepticism only fueled her resolve.

One morning as she was preparing to attend to her menial job, she saw our Camp Coordination & Camp Management team conducting cash for work awareness campaigns at her displacement camp. This ignited a spark of hope within her. She participated in the campaign session and was later selected for the program after she met all the required criteria.

When I joined the cash for work program, I knew this could change my life,” she says. “It had always been my dream to become a self-reliant woman,” she added. However, with no means to support herself, her literary aspirations seemed like an unattainable dream.

The four-month Cash-for-Work program was implemented by NoFYL in Deynille with funding from Somalia Humanitarian Fund (SHF) and aimed at improving living conditions in the sites while uplifting the economic status of individuals participating in the exercise. A total of 600 IDPs from across 40 sites benefitted from the initiative.

As a participant of the site maintenance activity in her site, Xaawo and others were engaged to collect garbage, ensure camps are cleaned, bushes are cleared, paths created between households and pits dug for proper waste management. With unwavering determination, Xaawo set aside her monthly earnings from the program. Her goal was clear: to open a small business. However, this decision was not without its challenges as she had to balance providing for her family’s immediate needs with saving for her long-term business aspirations.

Photo: Xaawo (Left) engaging in site maintenance activities at her Camp.

The program flexible schedule, which involved working four days a week, proved to be a blessing. It enabled me to supplement my income with odd jobs, ensuring my family’s basic needs were met, while also allowing me to save the monthly incentives I received.”

 Within a remarkable three-month span, Xaawo’s dream took shape. She successfully started a small business selling essential food items. The shelves, once empty and waiting, now boasted a variety of goods from vegetables to staple foods. The income generated from the small businesses became a lifeline for her family. It meant more than just putting food on the table; it meant being able to afford medicine for the children when needed and pay school fees. This stability in income is a stark contrast to the uncertainty she faced before joining the program.

I no longer have to worry about leaving my children at home all day to search for work and returning home late,” she said. “I am deeply grateful to NoFYL for this opportunity. It changed my life and that of my family.”  She now plans to expand her business to include shoes and clothing. Moreover, her inspiring story motivated several other women in the camp to utilize their cash for work earnings to establish their own small businesses, thereby supporting their families and achieving greater financial stability.

But Xaawo’s story doesn’t end there. Empowered by the program, she now extends a helping hand to others in need, a selfless gesture that was once out of reach for her and her family. Her shop, once a mere aspirtion, now stood as a symbol of hope and resilience for the entire community.

The program’s far-reaching benefits ripple through the entire community, improving living conditions and lifting people out of poverty, fostering stability, and paves the way for empowerment and self-reliance. From struggling to make ends meet to running her own shop, Xaawo’s inspiring journey is a testament to the profound impact the program had on her life and that of her community.

Photo: Xaawo together with her children when we visited her at her displacement camp in Deynille

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