International Women's Day: Four women, four mothers
Fatumah, Ayesha, Hamdi and Ardi are all women living in the Somali region of Ethiopia. Poverty-stricken, marginalised and suffering under extreme weather conditions, the Somali region is a hard place to survive, especially for rural people.
Being women, they have added pressures such as childbirth, sick children and putting food on the table, making them particularly vulnerable in times of emergency, like the recent drought in the Horn of Africa. That is why all four women are being assisted in one way or the other by SOS Children in Gode.
Ayesha is a member of an irrigation group working with SOS Children's Family Strengthening Programme in Gode. A widow with eight children, the youngest five years old, Ayesha has always found it difficult to provide food for her children, but she does know how to grow vegetables because she used to live in a rural area before she moved to Gode town. Today, it is her turn to receive water from the Shebelle River for her maize plot and she is preparing the soil, making it ready to receive a hefty soaking.
The water comes from the river about two km away and, using a small pump provided by SOS Children, is pumped into manmade channels leading to 48 plots on 30 hectares of land. Using a series of gates within the channels, each plot receives water every 15 days. When the water arrives at Ayesha's plot she has to be there to ensure that it does not sit in one space but is spread throughout. It's hard work under a blazing sun, but for Ayesha the fruits of her labour will not only feed her children, but will also provide an income when she sells off the surplus.
Meanwhile, Fatumah, who is nine months pregnant, is making her way to the SOS Medical Centre Gode for an antenatal examination. Fatumah lives about 10km from the centre but has a donkey cart, which has enabled her and her husband to make the journey today. This is her tenth pregnancy although she has only four living children, because five have died in infancy or early childhood.
As a beneficiary of the SOS Emergency Relief Programme (ERP) in Gode, Fatumah is entitled to free treatment and drugs at the medical centre. The SOS Children ERP was started in September 2011 to assist vulnerable families affected by drought.
According to the midwife, the baby is doing well and its head is down ready for delivery, which could be any day now. Fatumah, however, has anaemia, and has been given folic acid tablets to boost her iron levels. She has also been told to eat a more balanced diet, including vegetables, which - considering that the drought ended only in October - is not so easy.
Still at the SOS Medical Centre, Hamdi can be found in the cool of the shady courtyard waiting, with her two-year-old daughter Yusra, to see a doctor. Even though Hamdi arrived at the medical centre in the morning she has not been seen by 3.30 pm. The centre is popular with women like Hamdi because services here are free for women and children and only a token charge (a mandatory government tax) is made for drugs.
Yusra has a cough, ear discharge, a skin rash and a fever and Hamdi is having a hard time comforting her. The child is crying constantly - the cry of a child who cannot help herself and can only cling to her mother for consolation.
At around the same time, about one km away, Ardi is doing her family clothes washing with some of the precious water that she fetched from the Shebelle earlier that day. Ardi has six children, no husband and no job, and, like Fatumah, is a beneficiary of the SOS Children ERP in Gode. Now in the recovery stage, the programme has provided donkey carts to the most vulnerable families so that they can get back on their feet and begin to make a small income.
Ardi makes her income by using the cart to collect water and then selling it on as she moves around the vicinity. While her children, aged between five and twelve, are at school in the morning, Ardi is able to do this. In the afternoon, she does her household chores as she cares for her youngest children, while her oldest, Rahmo, 12, and her younger brother, go back to the river to fetch more water for selling and for their own family use.
Since receiving the donkey cart Ardi's life, and the lives of her children, have changed for the better. Apart from having extra water and making an income to feed her children, she is also able to buy essential school materials for them, without which her children could be sent home from school. The donkey cart has provided that step up to making a difference.
Feeding their children and providing for their futures
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Back at the SOS Medical Centre Hamdi finally gets to see a doctor who examines Yusra and sends her for tests at the centre laboratory. The results show that Yusra does not have malaria and her white blood cell count - an indicator of infection - is normal. The doctor suspects that she has a very bad cold and prescribes drops for her ears, ferrous drops to treat the anaemia and a cream for the skin rash.
By 5.30, just as Hamdi and Yusra are leaving the SOS Medical Centre to walk back into town, Fatumah is nearly home, weary from her journey, and ready to begin the process of feeding her children. After a long day in the fields Ayesha is also preparing food for children, and, having finished her washing, Ardi is doing the same.
While International Women's Day comes and goes, Fatumah, Ardi, Ayesha and Hamdi will continue with the arduous job of keeping their children alive and well. Women the world over, meanwhile, will celebrate the lives of mothers like these, who endeavour to give their children a chance in life. And SOS Children will continue to play its part, through family strengthening, emergency relief and medical services, so that, little by little, each woman can experience a small improvement today that will have an equal or greater beneficial effect on their children in the future.