Hodan is a mother with overwhelming passion and an appetite for success. Since her husband died in a car accident in 2008, Hodan has been providing for two families – her own five children and five grandchildren orphaned after her son and his wife passed away.
She earns a living from a grocery stall, a retail shop, and restaurant she runs next to a busy road in Berbera, Somaliland’s coastal city.
Hodan attracts many customers to her shop with her confidence, jovial personality and hearty laugh. She affectionately chats with them, mostly women, as they carefully select what they need from the array of fresh tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and green peppers. Some customers just sit around Hodan on plastic chairs to keep her company and admire her business acumen.
Occasionally, Hodan gives attention to her youngest son who is often looking for a cuddle and a little fun or stops to listen to her two older daughters when they consult with her.
The climate in Berbera is hot and humid with summer temperatures rising to over 40 degrees centigrade. Hodan recently bought a deep freezer to enable her to sell ice cream.
“I divide what I earn into two,” says Hodan. “One part is for myself and my family, and the other for my son’s family. The children are all going to school; primary school tuition is free but we pay small charges like 50, 10, or 20, (USD) for the miscellaneous expenses like broken chairs, ceremony processing fees, and when there is not enough salary (for teachers). I am happy that we do not have any major problems; The children have food to eat, clothes to wear, and they are happy. We are in a good place,” she says.
Hodan’s 10 children are between four and 16 years old. Her two-roomed house cannot accommodate the entire family, and so her grandchildren live with her unemployed sister in another part of the city.
According to the World Bank, Somaliland is the fourth poorest country in the world, and one in two children does not go to school due to poverty, drought, food insecurity or inequality. It is therefore a major accomplishment for Hodan to have managed to put all her children in school.
One year ago
Life was not this fruitful for Hodan when the grocery stall was her only source of income. She worked for long hours, from dawn to dusk every day, but sales were slow and she could barely meet the needs of her large family.
She took the decision to keep some children in school while others stayed at home. “My children ate once or twice a day depending on the income we got. Feeding them was hard,” explains Hodan. “I have a special needs child whose needs I could not meet.
“The youngest child was irritable and had to be watched all the time. All these problems affected me and I felt frustrated,” says Hodan as she looks down and holds her head in her arms. “What would you do if you were in that situation?”
The situation improved for Hodan last year when she enlisted in the SOS Children’s Villages family strengthening programme. She gained access to revolving funds used to start income generating activities, or to boost existing ones. Caregivers in the programme attend a series of trainings in livelihood development, record keeping, financial management, parenting, decision-making and problem solving to empower budding entrepreneurs.
This support is the lift Hodan needed to improve her household income, and to bring stability to her home. She borrowed 500 USD and used the money to diversify her sources of income to include the shop and restaurant.
“It is this money that has boosted us to this level,” says Hodan. “SOS supported me during difficult times in my life and I managed to overcome challenges that I could not on my own. I will continue to grow because I am optimistic that I can expand beyond this. I anticipate that in the next two years, the business will be bigger and better.”
Hodan says she also used part of the money to construct an extra room in her home. When she pays this loan, she can borrow another 500 USD or more depending on how her business is doing and her ability to pay.
Khadija*, 16, is Hodan’s eldest daughter and her mother’s right hand. She recently graduated from a vocational training school where she gained skills in henna beautification, make-up and hair styling, sponsored by the family strengthening programme. At the back of her hands are some intricate henna floral designs she drew herself.
“I help my mother open the shop in the morning, I help to make lunch which is the busiest time of the day, and when she is away, I am in charge of the business,” says Khadija “It makes me very happy to see my mother succeed and I am happy to be part of this success. My mother raised us from a young age by herself and we have reached here because of her.”
Khadija is yet to complete primary school; she dropped out last year in protest for being asked to repeat class seven. But after many conversations with her mother, Khadija has realized she needs to be educated.
“The biggest challenge for girls in Berbera is lack of education, and girls face a lot of domestic abuse when they stay at home. I decided to stay with my mother because I would not benefit marrying a young boy my age. He would likely beat me and take me away from my mother before I have a chance to help her fully. I dream of owning a big beauty business to enable me support my mother so she no longer has to work.”
During the day, curious customers walk into the restaurant for lunch and begin to take their seats on the low wooden chairs.
The eatery is an open space with wooden pillars supporting the iron sheet roof. The kitchen is at the furthest corner. “I will serve rice, spaghetti, and tea today,” says Hodan. “Tomorrow I will serve macaroni and what we call Sabayad (Somali pancakes); I will also prepare a sauce to serve with the other foods. At night, we cook kidney beans we call garow and fara’ad. I cook different foods every day.”
Hodan says the pressure and frustration of providing for her large family opened her eyes to another income possibility of food deliveries to construction sites, and selling goods out of her car. “I thought, what could I use to carry things to sell and also ride home? I thought of buying a car,” she explains. Hodan saved up money from her daily sales of 200 US dollars, and then approached a relative to help raise enough to buy an old car.
“I learned to drive by simply riding in it for three days. On the fourth day, I drove it on the highway, and took ice cream to schools to sell to students. You know, it has served me well and met my needs.”
Hodan has worked hard to keep her family safe and together, and she is now thriving in her community. When asked about the future, she lifts her hands up animatedly to show the grandness of her dream.
“I want to scale up the business, and buy a new car with a bigger trunk that I can put more some stuff in to sell. I want the children to continue with their education until they graduate to the highest level. I want them to become successful, ably solve their challenges, work and even open a restaurant. I will teach them how to do it. I hope to continue working for them for the rest of my life.”
Names changed to protect privacy
Text by Anne Kahura