Finding alternative livelihood sources through the support of Save the Children

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Sufia (24) grew up in a camp for displaced people in Somalia. When she was younger, her family was forced to leave their home due to a severe drought. They set up their home the camp and never went back. Life in the camp has been difficult for Sabrin due to lack of access to healthcare, education, employment and water. After she married and had three children in the camp, Sabrin’s husband often struggled to find regularly jobs, and this impacted on their ability to afford food for their children.Sabrin eventually divorced her husband and moved to a different camp where she opened a small shop. The income from the shop was not enough to support her family, so Sabrin applied for a business grant from Save the Children through our income generation programme. With the USD $680 grant, Sabrin expanded the shop.


The programme also provided Sufia with training in business management and basic maths, which helped ensure she knew which items would sell and which products to stock, and how to ensure she was keeping track of loans to customers. Sufia says the shop is now making a profit and she can feed her children, pay for their school fees and save some money in case she needs it for emergencies.In 2021, Somalia is facing yet another drought, which is pushing the number of children and adults who need critical support to 5.9 million – a third of the population[i] and an increase of 700,000 people compared to 2020.

 In the communities where we work, Save the Children is seeing shallow wells drying up, families rationing their water, crops and pastures dying and people moving away from their communities in search of water and food for their livestock. Families who lose their livestock often move to towns or camps, like the one where Sufia lives, to access food and water. However, it’s difficult for them to find jobs to support their families.Alongside our humanitarian response where we’re delivering water to drought-stricken communities, treating malnourished children and providing cash assistance to families, we’re also working with local governments to build the long-term resilience of communities to cope with climate shocks. We’re also helping families like Sufia’s to find alternative sources of income so they can support themselves and survive the multiple crises they face.


Sufia's story in her own words (Quotes):


I have three children aged four, six and seven. I moved away from my home a long time ago when drought hit our community. I was very young when we arrived, and I grew up in the camp and got married in the camp. There were a lot of challenges - a lack of water supply to the camp, we didn’t have access to education, we didn’t have a source of income or livestock or anything we could depend on. Life was very difficult.My husband used to work in the local market as a casual labourer. Sometimes we’d have money to feed the children and sometimes we wouldn’t. This led to a family dispute and now I am divorced from my husband. 


My children used to get sick because I didn’t have enough food to give them. We struggled a lot because my husband left us. My mother helped to support us.My son Said* was sick with malnutrition in July 2020. He was complaining about having a stomach-ache and he lost weight and had a fever. I took him to the (Save the Children supported) stabilisation centre and they weighed him, took his arm measurement and gave him (therapeutic) peanut paste and he recovered well. After the peanut paste his diarrhoea stopped and his weight increased. Then he didn’t need treatment anymore. I moved to the camp I’m in now because an organisation built this shelter for us. For this camp, it still has some challenges, but we have access to education and health facilities, and we also have access to water tanks from a borehole built by Save the Children. I go to the health centre supported by Save the Children if my children are sick and get treatment for them. With the current drought, people are moving away with their livestock (to find water and pasture) and there is no milk to give my children. There’s also a water shortage in our community and the wider community. 

 Once we moved to this camp, I opened a very small shop. My business was very small, and it wasn’t enough to feed my family. Then I was selected for Save the Children’s (income generation) project because my family was vulnerable because we didn’t have a good source of income and the community was aware I didn’t have any support from my family because I am divorced from my husband.


My business plan was to expand the shop so I could feed my family and send my children to school. I also came up with the amount of money I needed to expand the business. The total cost I put into the plan was USD $680. We were trained in business management, basic maths calculations, how to keep a loan book so when it’s the end of the month, we know who owes us money and how much money we have in the shop. The most important training was the business management skills training. It helped me to understand the types of items I should stock in the shop – things that are affordable for the community.  For example, if I buy something expensive and no one buys it, then I lose money because I didn’t look at the needs and income level of the community. 

 The most expensive item is USD $3, which is a packet of Somali tea. People cannot afford the full bag, so I make it into smaller bags and it is cheaper for people to buy. For example, if I buy bags of spaghetti, then I will open them and sell them in smaller bundles to make it cheaper for people to buy and it’s more profitable for me. I make sure the items in the shop meet the basic needs of the community.If I give a loan to someone, I make sure they pay it back before I give them another loan. I also know what is going to make me a profit and I only sell these items.

 She business now makes more profit than it used to. I can buy food for my children, pay their school fees, and save some money in case my children get sick and I need to take them to hospital. Previously, I was relying on other people. Now I can do my own thing and support my children. It’s not about relying on my husband. I feel positive because people can see I am supporting my children and my mother. If I didn’t have the business, my family would be facing many difficulties. Without a job and a husband, things would be very difficult.

 Since I have been able to build the business with the support of Save the Children, I would now like to take it to the next level. I would like more support to make it even bigger and to stock items such as rice and flour.Education is key to the future and it’s the most important thing. It’s better for them to be in school and not wondering around the camp. The space is clean and it’s a safe place for them to be there. I hope for a better future. I’m hoping the business will continue to grow and improve and I hope my children can lead a better life than the one we lead now. 


Background / Project information


As the drought in Somalia intensifies, Save the Children is seeing shallow wells drying up, families rationing their water, crops, pastures and livestock dying and people moving away from their communities in search of water and food. In some locations, the price of water has skyrocketed. Those who cannot afford to pay for water are forced to use unprotected water sources, putting them at risk of deadly diseases such as cholera. It’s predicted that up to 2.7 million children and adults will not have enough food to eat and will face hunger and a further 2.9 million people will struggle to provide quality food for their families if they do not receive urgent humanitarian assistance.

Save the Children continues to prioritise the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalised children and is ramping up its humanitarian response in 2021 to meet children’s immediate needs.We’re providing water for drought-stricken communities, screening children for malnutrition and providing those at risk with therapeutic food, providing emergency healthcare for pastoralist and hard-to-reach communities, delivering cash and voucher assistance to families facing economic and food stress to reduce their need to leave their homes and setting up water trucking and feeding programmes at schools to encourage children to stay in school.  We’re building the resilience of communities to cope with the climate crisis, including establishing early warning systems, supporting in the development of alternative and more sustainable livelihood options. We’re also training community members on the efficient management of natural resources and supporting the construction and repair of public facilities (such as boreholes) and health systems, to ensure people have improved access to services both in the long-term and during periods of crisis.

[i] According to the World Bank, the population of Somalia in 2019 was 15.4 million. Data access on 4 March 2021: