Somalilandsun – In a part of the world long plagued by conflict, drought and instability, Somalia’s Somaliland region is a bright spot. Located in the north-west of the country, the region is undergoing profound social transformation. Through the Integrated Community Development Programme (ICDP) – financed by IFAD, the Belgian Fund for Food Security and the OPEC Fund for International Development – rural people are learning to read and write, taking loans, starting businesses and improving their lives and communities.
The transformation in this rural area is social as well as economic. Women and men are perceiving their gender roles in new ways, which is opening up opportunities hitherto unthinkable.
The women’s Savings and Credit Groups (SCGs), a core element of ICDP, have been one of the major drivers of change. ICDP funds have provided loans and allowed some 800 members of 53 SCGs, all led by women, to be trained in various income-generating activities.
The literacy classes and loans have had a major impact – and not just on women. The ability to read and write, along with access to credit, have transformed lives and productivity. The experience has made the women realize that through unity, solidarity and mutual support, they can change their own and others’ destinies. “My tea shop is not only my job, it is what I live for,” says Ayan Qalif Jama, who received an initial loan of US$500 from her local women’s SCG in the ICDP area.
“Thanks to the loan from the SCG,” she adds, “I have built a house for my family. I saved 3,000 shillings to allow my twin sister to go to a technical school in Hargeisa, and I’m paying the school fees also for my younger brothers.”
Embracing the whole community
The programmes in Somaliland has shown, as well, that gender empowerment can only happen with the participation of both women and men.
Abdul Ahmed Mohamed Yusuf is one of ICDP’s more unusual success stories. The long wait from one harvest to the next meant that Abdul didn’t have enough food to put on the table. This led him to take the unexpected step of joining his local women’s SCG in Taysa.
“Learning how to read and write helped me identify the activity I wanted to invest in,” recalls Abdul, a 40-year-old farmer and single father of seven. “I walked around my village looking for ideas and services I could offer.” One day, he stumbled across the idea he was looking for: a grain mill.
“I saw one in Gabiley, about 15 km away from our village, and immediately realized it was the right thing to go for,” explains Abdul. “I counted how many farmers left my village to go to Gabiley to grind their grains and how much it cost them. This was the right thing to do if I wanted to guarantee my family a daily income.”
A business is born
But that was only half the story. Next, Abdul had to convince the 60 members of the SCG to buy into his idea and lend him the money. “At first the women were extremely sceptical. I tried to explain to them that they would also benefit from the investment and that I would repay my loan [at a rate of] two dollars per day,” he says.
In the end, Abdul’s pitch proved successful. He was able to purchase the mill at a cost of US$11,000.
Having the women from the SCG on his side allowed Abdul to gain the support of the entire community. The land on which he built the storage facility for his mill and a temporary shack to store his equipment were donated to him. Within a year, Abdul – true to his word – paid off his entire loan without any hitches.
A grateful Abdul praised ICDP’s impact on his life: “Thanks to IFAD’s and ICDP’s support of the Taysa community, I have had the opportunity to overcome poverty and build a better future for my children.”
Abdul’s idea has benefitted the entire community and subsequently has been chosen as a model for replication. Not only are his charges cheaper than his competitors’, but because he is local, no-one need travel a long distance any longer to mill their grain.
Ayan Qalif Jama’s tea shop has also been the start of something bigger, not just for her but for those around her. From a small beginning, her activity is transforming the lives of several people.
Three years ago, when Ayan’s family lost all their livestock to drought, the 27-year-old decided to set up her own tea shop. “Before the programme, I could not afford our daily meals – it was like a luxury for us,” she explains, proudly showing off her small premises made from corrugated metal. “Now our meals are regular and my family is happy.”
Having paid off her initial loan, Ayan applied for a second, with which she has invested in livestock. Each animal she rears and sells enables her to buy three more.
But it’s not just about making money. With the increased earnings, Ayan has been able to quadruple her savings to almost US$50 per month.
The SCGs have certainly changed lives and opened up opportunities. With a total of over US$230,000 and a current loans portfolio exceeding US$77,000, the groups established under ICDP allow members to focus their income-generating activities on the community, thus revitalising the local economy.
As a result, SCGs have come to be recognised as a community institutions in Somaliland. So much so that the Dhubato community’s SCG has decided to widen its eligibility criteria to include loans for investment in productive activities. This paves the way for the men to establish their own SCG. By offering their own savings as a loan, the Dhubato women are leading by example and encouraging their men to do the same.