By Alicia Torbay
Hawa Mohammed Robleh and 200 other women crowd into the Djibouti office of the local Non-Governmental Organization Solidarité Féminine (Sisterhood) to collect a food voucher from the World Food Programme (WFP).
The women fill forms with their name and the size of their families before picking up their voucher from a WFP staff member. While waiting for her turn, she steps out of the noisy hall and starts talking about her life and her children.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager,” she says. “The first time was back in 2000, and I kept coming since.”
Solidarité Féminine in Djibouti city has taught her how to sew and cook and trained her and many other women about childcare and nutrition. Her 8-year-old daughter, Issra, even takes French classes at its office to help with school.
Building for their futures
Solidarité Féminine is a NGO founded in 1995 to combat HIV/AIDS. With psychosocial workers and the other volunteers, it provides psychological support and nutrition and health information to women and their families.
During the COVID-19 lockdown in Djibouti city, the NGO brought money to families at home who couldn’t come to the office to collect their assistance.
Madina Maldiha, the treasurer, has worked as a volunteer with the NGO for over 20 years.
She says that during the lockdown, it brought money to its beneficiaries directly since restrictions imposed by the government prevented them from going to the office of Solidarité Féminine to pick up the vouchers themselves.
“A lot of these women work as street vendors. When the pandemic hit and we had to stay indoors, they lost their jobs,” Madina said.
Hawa for example works as a cleaning lady, and wasn’t able to go to work during the lockdown so relied heavily on the help from Solidarité Féminine and WFP to support her 6 children, who range between 1 and 16 years old.
With initial funding from the Government of Canada, WFP cash vouchers were at first only distributed in Djibouti for December 2020, providing 200 women with 10,000 DJF (US$56). On average, each household consists of five people, meaning WFP supported a total of 1,000 people that month.
A new contribution from the European Union, however, then allowed WFP to keep providing the vouchers to the women from January to September 2021.
WFP also encourages women to enroll into the Ministry of Social Affairs and Solidaritié’s social register to receive social assistance from the government.
Face masks and better nutrition
Madina talked about the masks they had been sewing and distributing to the women to protect themselves from the COVID-19. In addition, Solidarité Féminine gave out sim cards and phone credits to help women affected by HIV/AIDS get in touch with their doctors and a psychologist if needed.
Madina also provides nutrition training to the women by talking about different food types and highlighting their importance in a healthy diet.
Women and children living with HIV/AIDS can also have sessions to help them discuss about their lives and challenges and support each other.
“It is very hard emotionally to help those vulnerable women. When I hear their stories, living with AIDS/HIV or other diseases, my own problems feel very small in comparison,” says Madina, before getting back to work with them.