Tag Archives: Somaliland

It’s Giving More Than A Dam – Community Projects In Somaliland

Fresh soil sprays over my head and makes its way into the crevices of my camera. I am standing in the heart of what is soon to be a massive dam – and it appears that the entire community is out to dig.

We are in a remote village of Somaliland – one of 30 villages where World Concern has recently implemented cash-for-work and cash-for-livestock programs. And by the look of the community’s willingness to cooperate and the sheer amount of physical labor taking place, the new program seems to be going on well.

“After the men shovel the dam, I help carry the sand out of the dam and put it in a large pile,” Sahra, a middle-aged woman dressed in a maroon hijab, explains.

In Somaliland, male and female labor roles tend to be separate and defined – women cook and gather water while men deal with livestock – but here, in this oversized dirt pit, everyone is working together. Taking in my environment I watch men, women, youth, elderly, and even disabled folk hard at work. I see a woman who had to be at least 75-years-old and ask her to hold up her tool and pose for the camera. Without hesitation, she proudly looks at me as a huge gaped smile spreads across her face.

Later, taking a moment’s rest from the equatorial sun, inside of Sahra’s one room home, she tells me, “The work we are doing with World Concern is going well. We have built a large sand dam – we have worked 15 days every month for three months.”

Finding paid work in the remote villages of Somaliland is unlike any other job hunt – essentially, the market doesn’t exist. Thus, this cash-for-work and livestock program is a real game changer, and the community knows it.

Sahra and her children inside their home.

Sahra and her children inside their home.

“I am happy to do any work,” Sahra said. “Sometimes I sell a goat for money, but otherwise I don’t have a job outside of the home to do.”

Sahra is not alone. The majority of her community survives by participating in petty trade (such as selling flour, tea, and sugar) and rearing livestock. Though a single goat may bring enough money for a small family to survive for period of time, it is not a sustainable income.

Getting To Work

Men work together to carry dirt out of the dam.

Men work together to carry dirt out of the dam.

World Concern is currently partnering with 30 villages in Somaliland. Working with local leaders, they identify the most vulnerable households within each community. These households are then given the opportunity to work in return for cash or livestock. This is a two-fold project – 1) households are given jobs that enable them to better provide for their families and 2) World Concern teaches them how to be better stewards of their land and prevent future disasters.

This is a win-win.

“Before World Concern came, we did not have the proper materials or knowledge to prevent flooding,” Sahra explained. “This work is good because we are benefiting by stopping our floods, catching water, and gaining livestock as a payment.”

A woman rests above the dam.

A woman rests above the dam.

32-year-old Yasin, a member of the World Concern household identification committee, also shared his perspective on this new job opportunity, “There are many impoverished households in this community. Many are without an income.”

Yasin doing his part.

Yasin doing his part.

Taking a break from shoveling, he continued, “Along with other projects, we have learned to build dams for the animals. These dams will provide them with drinking water and more grass will grow for them to eat.”

When I asked him why it’s so important that they build such a large dam, Yasin told me, “In the past, floods would frequently ruin the things inside people’s homes and kill their livestock. This happened many times.”

After hearing this, I started to wonder if the dam was actually too small.Frequent floods?! Ruined homes!? But, according to the locals, the dams they have built are already serving their purpose in preventing disasters.

“Even after World Concern leaves,” said Yasin “we plan to continue with this work because it is good and we have been given many examples.”

A program that brings a diversity of community members together as a single, strong body – to build dams that will prevent potential disasters, catch clean water, feed their animals, and earn them an income? I’m sold.

Looking out from the dam. Yes - remote in the truest sense of the word.

Looking out from the dam. Yes – remote in the truest sense of the word.

We Are Connected

“And the real name of our connection to this everywhere different and differently named earth is “work.” We are connected by work even to the places where we don’t work, for all places are connected…”        – Wendell Berry

If you happen to have read two or three of my blog posts and newsletters, you may have picked up on my frequent Wendell Berry name-drops. Basically, I think he’s the bee’s knees.   [While writing this post, I discovered that he and I share a birthday…all the more reason to like the man.]

An outspoken poet, author, and activist, Berry inspires and challenges humanity’s response to environmental and social justice issues. He is most infamous for his stances on environmental degradation and the importance of community.

In the polluted, expansive, and bustling city that is Nairobi, it is more often than not that I feel disconnected from nature and the land. Yet, removed from side-walks, exhaust fumes, and sky-scrapers, it is obvious that every surrounding detail is intertwined: Cows graze on freshly sprouted grass from recent rains; people collect water from deep wells and water-pans filled by these same rains, using it to hydrate themselves and boil their tea; trees are cut down in copious quantities and made into balls of charcoal, later used to boil the collected water for that same tea.

Navigating my way through Nairobi, I often wonder, “There must be a balance, some way for us to feel connected to the earth, no matter our surroundings.”

If, as stated by Berry, “all places are connected,” shouldn’t humanity be compelled to be good stewards of every inhabited place?

The following photo essay tells the story of land – it’s integral role and unmistakable connection to the people and places in which World Concern works.

The pictures and quotes serve as reminders that stewardship and care of land is not optional, for in giving to the land we humble ourselves to the one who created it all.

“Good work is always modestly scaled, for it cannot ignore either the nature of individual places or the differences between places, and it always involves a sort of religious humility, for not everything is known.” “…the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” “Good work can be defined only in particularity, for it must be defined a little differently for every one of the places and every one of the workers on the earth.”IMG_8887

“…it is clear by now that we cannot exempt one place from our ruin of another. The name of our proper connection to the earth is “good work,” for good work involves much giving of honor. It honors the source of its materials; it honors the place where it is done; it honors the art by which it is done; it honors the thing that it makes and the user of the made thing.”

A Man and His Camels // A Series of Eyewitness Accounts [Part II]

The following is a brief Eye Witness Account [Part II] as shared by Saleban – a father and camel herder in Faraguul, Somaliland. 

I am uncomfortable.

The UV rays are direct, piercing through my thin cotton shirt. I immediately feel fatigued and sunburned. I’ve been sitting in the Faraguul afternoon sun for a total of 25 minutes.

While I had been sitting inside an air conditioned vehicle, 40-year-old Saleban had been walking for 3 hours, alongside his 30-strong herd of camels, to reach our meeting point. After using a tethered rope attached to a weathered plastic jerry can to draw countless litres of water, he finished rehydrating his long-necked beasts and proceed on the redundant 3 hour journey home.

Saleban does this every day.3 - Faraguul, school wat, well_999_288-138

Faraguul is a rural village located in the Sanaag region of Somaliland, the self-declared independent state of Somalia.

The climate can best be described as a semi-desert; Its flat, arid land stretches seemingly endless distances. Stoic trees can be found sparsely scattered between Somali homes and small variety shops.  A dried river bed divides the tiny village from a number of shallow wells, whose salty water is consumed by the antiseptic tongues of hundreds of camels and the lips of parched goats.

Though Faraguul is divided by a ‘river’, it is more a hallucination of what could be; the land is frequently plagued by devastating droughts.

“I travel this far because this is the nearest water source for my camels,” explains Saleban, his lanky figure leathered from a lifetime spent in the desert sun. “The journey makes me feel tired.”

Recently, World Concern partnered with the Faraguul community to rehabilitate 4 of their shallow wells.

“Before, the wells were made of wood,” says Saleban. “They were not covered so the water was very dirty. Even my animals didn’t like the taste, so they would only drink a little.”

A shallow well pre-rehabilitation.

A shallow well pre-rehabilitation.

I can’t even begin to imagine the exhaustion of walking six hours every day to water animals that refused to drink.

“Now the wells are better,” Saleban continues.  “They are properly covered and made of quality materials. My animals drink a lot of water.”

Though the number of hours Saleban spends walking in the scorching sun has not decreased, there are still tangible improvements. With healthier animals, Saleban is encouraged, in energy and spirit to provide for his family of ten.

Saleban's son cools off in the noonday heat.

Saleban’s son cools off in the noonday heat.

According to recent reports, only one in three people have access to safe drinking water.

Though progress is being made, 2.9 million Somalis are currently living in a state of humanitarian crisis. Like South Sudan, the situation in Somalia rarely makes headline news, but the severity of the crisis remains very real.

Let’s not forget our dear brothers and sisters. Stay informed:

  • 2.9 million Somalis are in humanitarian crisis
  • 50,000 children are severely malnourished
  • Women in Somalia face the second highest risk of maternal death in the world and babies are at the highest risk of dying on the day of their birth
  • 1.1 million people are displaced within their own country
  • Polio has returned, with 193 cases recorded in the last year
  • Just 30% of the population has access to clean drinking water
  • Fewer 1 in 4 people have access to adequate sanitation facilities
  • 1 in 7 children are acutely malnourished

Further reading:
Somali Children ‘at death’s Door’
Somalia risks “catastrophe” as warning signs echo 2011 famine – agencies

Strapping on collected water for the journey ahead.

Preparing collected water for the journey ahead.

Strapping on collected water for the journey ahead.

Recently rehabilitated shallow well.

Recently rehabilitated shallow well.

 

“We Can Now Taste Our Land.” // Fadumo Farming in Somaliland

Last week, while romping through seemingly untouched acres of northern Ugandan bush, an Ecuadorian priest and I kicked our feet through fresh red soil earth and two-foot tall swaying grasses.

It was late afternoon and the muted orange sun hung low on the horizon. I’ve said it once before and I’ll say it again, there is nothing like an African sunset – more specifically, a Ugandan sunset.

As we trudged over anthills and leaped across dried riverbeds, the priest spewed unintentional wisdom from his weathered lips; wisdom that can only come from knowing a before and an after.

“If we would just listen to the earth, it could teach us a few things,” he said, toying with a dried piece of grass.

As we continued walking, examining rocks and tasting salty earth in the form of water pouring from an abandoned pump, the priest continued:

“We really don’t have to do much. In fact, our problem is that we are doing too much already,” he shared. “The land would produce on its own if we would harm it less and love it more simply.”

Picking up my mud-encrusted skirt I turned to walk back to the car, where we’d left our friends roasting local vegetables to celebrate the Easter holiday.

——————————————————————————————————–

Fadumo, 45-year-old wife, grandmother, mother, tea-shop owner, goat meat chef, and now farmer.

Fadumo. 45-year-old wife, grandmother, mother, tea-shop owner, goat meat chef, and recent farmer.

Backtrack one month to Ceel Ade [pronounced ‘Ehl-Ahdeh‘], Somaliland.

“We can now taste our land,” Fadumo explains.

We sit on the dirt floor of her home – a dome-shaped hut patched together with sticks, dried mud, emptied flour sacks, and tattered canvas bags – faded and brown from the wear and tear of Ceel Ade’s arid climate. Fadumo, her seven children, grandchildren, and in-laws all sleep, eat, and live on this small plot of land.

Home.

Home.

But Fadumo does not see the land as small. Forced to flee Ceel Ade during a previous famine, Fadumo and her family lived in an IDP (Internally Displaced Person) camps for over 15 years.

Pointing to the earth, she confidently states, “This is my motherland. Ceel Ade is better than the camp.”

Traditionally pastoralists, the Ceel Ade community is persistently suffering from droughts and famines that plague its arid land.

And for a people whose livelihood, as well as much of their personal value, is heavily determined by their goats, camels, and cattle – the consequences of a drought are truly extreme.

Recently, World Concern partnered with the community to build a number of shallow wells and rehabilitate berkads (a traditional Somali water catchment system). Reducing the effects of the predictably yearly droughts, water is now less of a concern for the people of Ceel Ade.

Fadumo's son shows off his multi-tasking skills - running while carrying water.

Fadumo’s son shows off his multi-tasking skills – running while carrying water.

Accessible, clean water is significant. Okay, more like HUGE. But Fadumo can’t seem to stop talking to me about farming. She’s infatuated.

With the help of World Concern training and tools – Ceel Ade has rapidly transformed into an agro-pastoralist community.

“We are very glad to be able to produce food from our land,” Fadumo shares with great joy – the curious kind of joy that comes from learning something new.

In the last five months, Ceel Ade has grown from a community of zero farmers to over 75. It is notable that multiple locals made sure to point that this is the first time they have ever seen a woman farm. 

A meeting of Ceel Ade farmers.

A meeting of Ceel Ade farmers.

Fadumo shares stories of old and farming anew.

Later, lightly tip-toeing over her newly budding soil, Fadumo says, “When I saw the people in our community growing farms, I requested for seeds. My neighbors taught me what they had learned from World Concern and now I am growing watermelon, carrots, maize, and many other things.”

Fadumo crouches down to run her fingers across a lush head of cabbage. My eyes trail off to the seemingly endless desert serving has her backdrop. The contrast is almost unbelievable and I do not blame Fadumo for never knowing that such cracked, dusty land could harvest such bountiful produce.

“We are thankful for World Concern because they have helped our community to make farms,” she tells me. “Before we did not know that our land had a good taste, but now we know it is good.”

Like others, Fadumo plans to eat and sell her farm’s produce, using the money to pay for her seven children’s school fees and improve the structure of her home.

Fadumo + 2 of her 7 children.

Fadumo + 2 of her 7 children.

And with the genuinely selfless attitude that encapsulates every Somali I’ve met, Fadumo explains, “Yes, it is my goal to eat and sell and give food to my neighbor who has none.”

As the land has shared with her, so she wants to share with others.

My mind trails off to the Ecuadorian priest on that late humid afternoon, “If we would just listen to the earth , it could teach us a few things.”

 

“Its water is soft like milk.” // Opportunity in Isolation

On the outskirts of Gawsawayne, a village that is itself located on the fringes, Amina Daar squats on the dirt floor of her Somali home, chatting with a neighbor.

Born and raised in the village’s minority clan, Amina is accustomed to life in isolation.

“I have always been in the minority clan,” shares Amina. “And because of this, no one can respect me.”

Along with seven other households, 40-year-old Amina and her 12 children are cut off from most all of the village resources and livelihoods.

“There is no water or food. There are no job opportunities,” she pragmatically explains.

Amina, twice widowed (tragically losing her first husband to conflict and her second to hepatitis), is her family’s sole provider. And following abruptly quitting her job as Gawsawayne’s lead circumciser, “It was a job, but it was bad”, she has been without a steady source of income.

Aside from belonging to the minority clan, life in Gawsawayne is challenging on its own.

Amina walks toward her home - one of seven in her minority community.

Amina walks toward her home – one of seven in the minority community.

Gawsawayne is a rural village located in the Sanag region of Somaliland. The climate can best be described as a semi-desert. Its flat, arid land stretches vast distances, as far as the naked eye can see. Stoic trees are found sparsely scattered between Somali homes and small variety shops.

Due to its drastic seasons, either rainy (read: flooding) or dry (read: drought), even the village’s majority clan can barely access enough clean water; they survive on the water collected in a few berkads (rainwater catchment systems) and shallow wells.

Amina drinks water gathered from the dirty, stinky shallow well.

Amina drinks water gathered from the dirty, stinky shallow well.

Amina, on the other hand, is not allowed access to these water sources. Thus, she walks two hours every day (four hours roundtrip) to gather water from a dirty, dirty (seriously, it’s so dirty) well.

“The water from the shallow well is not clean. It even has a bad smell. Its water makes us sick. And the couple of jerry cans I am able to carry are not enough to provide for all of the people in my family.”

For years, Amina’s clan has practiced traditional methods of medicine in an attempt to heal their ever-present stomach ailments.

“We take a stick with fire and burn dots on the skin around the stomach and liver – this helps to ease the pain and rid us of the sickness,” she explains.

Ironically, peering out of Amina’s doorway, the blaring noonday sun can be seen reflecting off of the metal slopes of a nearby berkad. Unfortunately, though it is in such close proximity, this berkad has been out of service for years – its life-giving source now an idle village landmark.

Amina stands in front of the recently rehabilitated berkad.

Amina stands in front of the recently rehabilitated berkad.

After discussing with Gawsawayne’s village elders, World Concern and the majority clan agreed to rehabilitate this now dilapidated piece of metal. Recognizing the need, the elders thought it best to give Amina and her community a beneficial resource as well as another means of income.

With anticipation, Amina illustrates, “When the rains come, the rehabilitated berkad will fill with water. The community has decided that it will be my job to sell this water to other people so that I can make money to feed my family and maintain the berkad.”

Not only will the rehabilitated berkad provide Amina and her family with funds, it will also significantly improve their overall well-being.

“YES,” Amina loudly proclaims, “this berkad will improve our health – we can use it for drinking and washing clothes! I will have more energy every day because I won’t be spending hours collecting water.”

Still stooped on the dirt floor, gazing out of her hut’s humble doorway, in a dream-like state Amina proudly aspires, “When I get enough money I plan to open a small shop…start my own business.”

As is deeply rooted in the Somali culture, whatever one has belongs to the entire community (in a short ten days, I witnessed this beautiful conviction lived out in a genuine manner). Amina’s neighbors, her community and family, will equally benefit from the refurbished berkad.

Still day-dreaming, Amina continues to describe her berkad.

“Its water is like soft milk.”