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Somalis in Kenya have little to eat but plenty of warmth, kindness and trust

21 Oct 2011

We met Abdiya Mohammoud Osman, 74, at the designated shop where she was redeeming the Ksh 2000 (US $20) voucher she received as part of the support we are offering to 450 older people affected by the recent horn of Africa drought.

Abdiya is one of the 200 older people who will receive the voucher for the next three months in Hasabitto/Morotheley. At the time of my visit all the beneficiaries had collected their September ration while some had just begun redeeming for October.Abdiya Mohammoud Osman, 74 is a beneficiary of our food voucher programme

Abdiya is a mother of seven and a grandmother to nine children. She had already calculated what she was going to take so she easily started asking Ismael, the shopkeeper to give her the food she wanted. She asked for various quantities of rice, sugar, tea leaves, maize flour, pastas and salt.

For her eight grandchildren, between the ages of 9 and 17, she said this food will be enough for 10-14 days. She was accompanied by her daughter who came with her young child to help carry the food.

We wanted to talk to her further, so we were taken to a backyard where a small number of goats and sheep were kept in an enclosed place where they are being fed as there is nothing out there to graze. No wonder they all looked healthy!

A system and community based on trust

Abdiya said her two sons, whose children she is looking after, have been away for more than seven months across the river to Malkamari near Ethiopia where they have gone to get water for their animals. She is now the sole provider for the children, four of which go to school.

While talking to us, a phone rings and Abdiya pulls it out from under her arm and walked away to answer the phone. Dagane, my colleague from Rural Agency for Community Development and Assistance (RACIDA), HelpAge's partner organisation that is implementing the voucher programme, overheard and told me that she talked about the weather and about a lamb that was eaten by a dog.

After all everyone is talking about the clouds in anticipation of the rain which had started to drizzle. Abdiya and many others like her are hoping that this will be the time they will be reunited with their children whose absence may end if they are guaranteed of water and pasture for their animals. Her grandchildren will also have their fathers back.

After she finished the conversation she rejoined us. She said it was one of her sons calling from Malkamari to ask her to borrow money as they are expected to pay for the watering of animals by the communities.

In anticipation of rain

When I asked her where she will borrow the money from Abdiya said: “I will go to one of the shopkeepers and borrow. If it rains my sons will come back and sell some of their animals to raise the money to pay the loan, so I will borrow from the shops around”. I asked if they will sign papers to prove the loan. I was told that no paper work is involved. It is all about trust.

Dagane who is a Kenyan Somali said: “In our community there is a lot of trust no one can deny having borrowed and if at all anything like this happens the elders will resolve it”.

Mohammed Hassen Sheikh who is the community mobiliser and supports RACIDA’s activities in Morothelye/Ashabitto as a volunteer, whose father’s shop we were sitting in, pointed at something wrapped in a paper bag hanging from the roof.

He said that his father who was silently sitting throughout our conversation with Abdiya had received a weighing scale and Ksh 10,000 (US $100) which he kept for someone for 11 years. Hassen said the owner never came back to claim the property and his father has hanged it to show that he has a responsibility to keep it until the owner comes. The Ksh 10,000 is also kept safely. He did not use it at all because if he did he needed to calculate interest and pay whenever the owner comes. He concluded saying that “this is included in my father’s will and we will honour it even after his death”.

It was so fascinating to see the level of trust and honesty the older man displayed and one wonders how much of this is upheld by the younger generation.

“You are our visitor and you do not pay"

The rain indeed started and we had to hurriedly say good bye to Abdiya. The rain which has come after more than two years will bring respite to the many families who will be reunited with their sons that have been away with their animals and who knows how much money that has been borrowed will be paid back this time.

I left remembering what Ismael the shopkeeper said that since the voucher was introduced, the rate of borrowing has gone down, a clear indication that many survived through borrowing.

Not only was I able to observe the progress of the project, I learnt a lot about the strong values and principles of the Somali community whose hospitality, warmth and friendship I was touched by. Even in the villages we were always offered tea and when I offered to pay, I was told: “You are our visitor and you do not pay."

  • HelpAge Kenya and RACIDA carry out the food voucher scheme which is funded by HelpAge Germany.
  • To donate money to help older people affected by the East Africa crisis please give through the appeal by our sister organisation Age UK. Thank you very much.


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Amleset Tewodros
Country: Tanzania
Job title: Country Programme Director, Tanzania

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.