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Sep 3, 2019

Access to daycare for working mothers in Ethiopia

Emebet, 45, shares her story
Emebet, 45, shares her story

Tirungo struggled to find work while caring for her young child. In the same city, Emebet struggled to keep her affordable daycare afloat. Both women knew there had to be a better way, but overcoming both economic and social challenges seemed overwhelming, if not impossible.

Challenges for working mothers in Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is one of the largest cities in Africa. Its population is growing quickly, exceeding more than 4.6 million people in 2019. Thousands of Ethiopians are flocking to the capital in search of a better life and, particularly, better jobs.

Despite the growth and wealth of Addis Ababa, there are a significant number of people being left behind, specifically mothers. Traditionally in Ethiopia, mothers are not meant to work — they're expected to stay home and raise their children. This discrimination stems from traditions that date back centuries, leading to many mothers who want to work being disadvantaged within the workforce of Addis Ababa.

Even once they find work, getting affordable and accessible childcare is yet another hurdle to overcome. Emebet saw this struggle first hand among mothers in her community. “Daycare is very expensive. Poor people can’t afford daycare — most Ethiopians can’t afford daycare,” Emebet says.

 A different type of daycare

Emebet is an Addis Ababa native and a mother who knows just how hard it can be to work and care for children. That’s why she left her job as a social worker and decided to start her own daycare, Sitota Daycare. “Sitota” means gift in Amharic.

Emebet started Sitota Daycare in 2018 after borrowing a loan from the government for more than 100,000 birr, equivalent to roughly $3,000 — a huge sum of money for the average Ethiopian. Emebet risked everything she had to start Sitota Daycare — the first affordable daycare service in her community. Despite meeting all the government requirements to open it, Emebet struggled to keep Sitota Daycare open.

Because she was providing affordable daycare to working mothers in her community, Emebet was not making a profit and failed to pay rent for one year. As the situation worsened, Emebet lost hope in ever achieving success.

Keeping the daycare dream alive

Emebet urgently needed help. The LI-WAY program approached her just in time. (Mercy Corps is one of the implementing partners of the LI-WAY program.)

LI-WAY was interested in learning more about Sitota Daycare because it was not only the sole daycare in the community, but also because it offered an affordable option. Emebet explained that there were hundreds of mothers struggling to find work because of this need.

“I didn’t want materials to make my daycare look nice. I don’t want to become rich,” Emebet declares. “I wanted subsidies to allow the working women in my community to bring their children here at a low cost.”

After completing an assessment and better understanding the need for affordable childcare services, the LI-WAY program committed to supporting Emebet through subsidizing childcare for mothers who need it most.

“As soon as the LI-WAY program said they could provide subsidized payments, I called back the mothers that had initially come to my daycare but could not afford the monthly payment. I asked them if they were still interested. They all came running,” recalls Emebet.

Starting over in Addis Ababa

Tirungo is one of those nannies. She’s been a part of the Sitota Daycare family for three months. She’s also able to keep her two-year-old daughter Dana at the daycare for a subsidized monthly payment of 200 birr per month, about $6 — a fraction of the cost that Emebet could previously offer without the support of the LI-WAY program.

The job opportunity arrived when she needed it most.

Tirungo returned to Addis from Dubai, where she was abused and imprisoned while working as a domestic worker. When Tirungo finally moved back to Addis Ababa, now with a child, she was unemployed for a year, as she had no place to keep her daughter while working.

“I looked for work for one year but no one would hire me with my child on my back,” Tirungo recalls. “As I was crying because I couldn’t find work, a neighbor told me about Sitota Daycare. I came and Emebet let my daughter in despite the daycare being full. I found a job that same afternoon that my daughter started staying at the daycare.”

Tirungo now works as a part-time laundry woman in the morning and as a nanny at Sitota Daycare in the afternoon. With her income, Tirungo says she is able to pay for rent and save money for her daughter’s future.

“God willing, in the future, I hope to one day open a daycare like Sitota Daycare in other parts of the city,” says Tirungo. “Now I realize how important daycares are for working mothers in Ethiopia.”

Looking ahead

Despite the success of Sitota Daycare through the support of the LI-WAY program, there are still difficulties ahead.

“Some challenges that we face at the daycare is the lack of diapers,” Emebet says. “Diapers are very expensive — about 800 birr per day.” That is more than what most of these mothers make in a month.

“This is too expensive for mothers. We are using traditional diapers right now, but are struggling to maintain this.”

But despite these challenges, Emebet is hopeful for the future of daycares in Ethiopia.

“I want this daycare to continue to spread,” Emebet says. “I want other mothers to open more daycares in the future.”

Mercy Corps Ethiopia team member Tihitena, left
Mercy Corps Ethiopia team member Tihitena, left
Tirungo, 27 and her daughter
Tirungo, 27 and her daughter


Jul 22, 2019

A generation transformed by conflict in Syria

Syrian youth have spent more than half of their lives amidst conflict, violence and shattered dreams. All adolescents want to be heard, listened to, and taken seriously, but it’s even more critical for these young people. They’ve been forced to grow up too fast, and many have lived entire lifetimes before even turning 19 years old.

Mercy Corps talked with Syrian adolescents, ages 14 to 19 years old, to gain a deeper understanding of the conflict from their perspective. We think listening to the complexities of their experiences provides some of the best insight into the humanitarian interventions they actually need.

Growing up fast in conflict

Syrian youth’s experiences of trauma and loss affects every aspect of their lives, from the roles they take on in their families to the dreams they’ve given up.

“Our lives became normal and less than normal, we don’t find what we used to find before, like school and playing,” says one girl.

Some two-thirds of children in Syria have lost a loved one, had their house damaged, or suffered conflict-related injuries. “My brother and I are breadwinners and this is a recent change because my father passed away,” says one boy.

Youth are forced to face adult responsibilities out of necessity.

Though they also describe great pride at stepping up to support their families and contributing to their communities, they felt an overwhelming burden of having to grow up so fast and figure out how to make a living.

“Most of my time is spent at work,” says one boy. “My young age makes me feel that I am carrying burdens larger than my capacity. I feel proud for supporting my family but it is very daunting for me, for my income is small and I wish to be studying.”

A different kind of education

Before the outbreak of conflict in 2011, Syrian youth were among the most educated in the Middle East region, with Syria having achieved near universal primary education enrollment at 97 percent, a secondary school completion rate of 74 percent and over 93 percent literacy rates for both females and males.

Conflict changed all that. Today almost one-third of all school-aged children in Syria (aged 5 to 17 years) are out of school, with an additional 1.3 million at risk of dropping out.

Young people often shared with us the Arabic saying that “education is man’s weapon.” Syrians value education highly, but as a result of the war, a focus on family has eclipsed that.

“War changed a lot for us, we used to be able to study, now our responsibilities grew and we have to work to help our parents,” says one girl.

The need to step into new family roles meant neglecting their educational needs and now, years later, most feel it’s too late to catch up. Instead, needing to gain professional skills is their priority.

An overwhelming sense of loss is palpable in their responses. “My emotions have changed towards sadness because of all the displacement of my friends and relatives,” says one boy. “I am thinking of things larger than my age. I have my feeling my future is gone because of this war.”

Redefining purpose to strengthen resilience

Yet many of these young people still see their future being in Syria.

“My identity is Syria,” says one boy. “I should live in my country and bear everything that is happening until this bad situation ends. Syria is my homeland.”

Most of the young people we spoke with are proud to be Syrian, despite the war, and didn’t have immediate plans to leave.

Others passionately shared that the atrocities they’ve witnessed and experienced have made them feel less Syrian. Specifically, how forced displacement has created the idea that being Syrian means being a refugee, neither welcome in other countries or able to live decently in their own homeland.

“Sometimes I wish that I was not Syrian and have not seen what has happened in Syria,” says one boy.

For some young women, many already married with children, working has increased their agency and equality within their relationships. “I love being old and helping my husband with what he wants and with money to spend on our daughters,” says one young woman. “I hope I find a (full-time) job so I can make my daughters happy.”

Young Syrians that have accepted and embraced their new roles have redefined purpose in their lives, strengthening their resilience. This sense of purpose is deeply connected to and inspired by how they feel about family and their homeland. “I wish to have a trade that benefits me, allows me to teach society through it, and also helps my parents,” says one girl.

Mercy Corps sees Syrian youth as their own advocates — as transformative change agents critical to the fabric of Syria who are capable of speaking for themselves.

These interviews were a unique opportunity to capture their voices and experiences. In response, we are committed to working toward meeting their shared needs.

How you can help

  • Continue your support. Every single contribution helps us provide even more support to Syrian youth.
  • Tell your friends. Share this story or go to our Facebook page to spread the word about our work with communities around the world. 
  • Start a campaign. You can turn knowledge into action by setting up a personal fundraising page and asking your friends and family to contribute to our efforts to help families survive, recover and rebuild. 


Jun 4, 2019

How one woman is rebuilding after Boko Haram

PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps

Jummai’s daily routine starts with feeding her children. From there, she knits and works on whatever project she has on her hands that day — currently, a blue and yellow hat for a one-month-old infant. Then, she feeds her children before going back to knitting. She knits to make extra money for her family.

This was not always her daily routine.

Jummai is a mother of seven children whose ages range from 8 to 33-years-old. She’s also a widow. After losing her husband, she took on multiple jobs to feed her children. Farming, distributing water, selling firewood, among others.

As the sole caretaker for her family, Jummai struggled to make ends meet. She was often forced to have her children make the long trek for water every morning, making them late for school. For a while, this was her daily routine.

Then Boko Haram infiltrated nearby villages, sporadically and frequently attacking her village of Biu, Nigeria along with others. Life as Jummai knew it came to a sudden, unimaginable halt.

“I thought I was dead and gone,” she says, recalling the day they first arrived.

Some days during Boko Haram’s occupation of her village, running simple errands like going to the store to get food were impossible for Jummai.

“[The insurgence] affected us so much. I lost [my 15-year-old son] and many in my village were killed. It was difficult to eat and survive at that time,” Jummai says. “We couldn’t sleep or go out to look for food. It was like a nightmare.”

When she was able to buy food, she had to buy it on credit. The occupation drastically inhibited her ability to work since she couldn’t tend to her family farm or knit — leaving her completely unable to make any kind of living. Her children became malnourished from going days at a time without food.

When the crisis was at its worst, Mercy Corps delivered Jummai emergency food assistance that lasted her and her family two months.

She received a livelihood grant after the Boko Haram crisis ended as a part of our early recovery efforts, which she used to buy knitting needles, yarn and other supplies to open her first business.

Boko Haram’s last attack on Jummai’s village was near the end of 2017. Throughout 2018 and the beginning of this year, Jummai has been working on opening another business. One that will provide sustainable income for her family and the community for years to come.

She persuaded the local Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA), a Mercy Corps-supported group that provides funding, banking and financial literacy services, which she chairs, to invest in the proposed business. They did.

The livestock business provides food, milk and financial security to Jummai, the VLSA and other community members. Jummai employs community members to tend to the livestock in the cattle lot and bring them water, while she counts the cattle every morning and night and ensures that everything is going the way it should.

Both of her businesses, knitting and raising livestock, took off. Jummai now has the ability to provide for her family and save to make bigger purchases in the future — something she could not have done before.

“Before, I couldn’t save money, but now I feel better that I can save,” Jummai says.

The money Jummai has saved has transformed her life. Through the VSLA, she’s created new friendships and connections in her community. Her businesses bring her consistent income and the ability to save money while giving her children the things they needed to flourish.

Her community is thriving now. The devastation brought by Boko Haram is long out of the hearts and minds of Jummai and her friends, family and neighbors.

“In fact, since the arrival of Mercy Corps things have been so good that we have almost forgotten that Boko Haram ever existed,” Jummai says.

Today, Jummai spends her days tending to livestock, knitting and taking care of her children. They are no longer late to school, thanks to a clean water point Mercy Corps installed closer to her home. Jummai has high hopes for her children as well as herself, wanting to see them complete their schooling and her business continue to flourish.

“Now that I am happy, I would like to see my children educated, to be prosperous, and I would also like to live in prosperity myself,” Jummai says.

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PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
PHOTO: Ezra Millstein/Mercy Corps
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