Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity

by Mercy Corps
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Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
Help Mercy Corps Turn Crisis Into Opportunity
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


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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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Even in the shade, the heat is stifling. It wraps 43-year-old Oriana like a heavy blanket, adding to the weight of her circumstances. Her 15-year-old daughter, Joelbi, lies in a make-do hammock nearby; a group of other young boys and girls — all unrelated, all under 16 — lounge on the ground and trees around her.

One of the boys points to Oriana. That is everyone’s mom, he says.

With warmth but great sadness, Oriana gestures to the bridge and the trash and the parentless Venezuelan kids who’ve found safety with her. None of this was part of the plan.

It wasn’t long ago that Oriana had a steady job at a hospital in Venezuela, her home country. She had a house and was able to support her two children, Joelbi and her 16-year-old son, Yohan.  

When people arrive in Colombia, they often beg until they have enough money to buy coffee, bread, candies or other small items they can sell on the street. They are lucky if they earn between $2 and $5 a day, which they use to scrape by or to send back to Venezuela. For those who do get informal jobs, they are subject to low pay, long hours and exploitation.

“We did not come here to be parasites,” says one Venezuelan migrant in Riohacha. “All we want is to be given the same rights and protections as Colombians. We want to work, but with dignity.”  

Mercy Corps has expanded its existing operations in Colombia to meet the urgent needs of Venezuelan refugees and Colombians affected by Venezuelan migrations. We've already helped more than 7,700 people since last year. 

We are providing emergency cash via prepaid debit cards to help approximately 7,000 people in 10 municipalities in Cesar and La Guajira departments, including the cities of Riohacha, Maicao and Valledupar. 

Between June and September 2018, we helped more than 2,000 Venezuelans get medicine by paying for prescriptions at local pharmacies in Riohacha, La Guajira. For hospital inpatients, in addition to paying for prescriptions, we provided items such as diapers and hygiene supplies.

In Putumayo, Cauca and Antioquia, where we already work to help vulnerable Colombians displaced by armed conflict meet their urgent needs, we are also providing emergency cash to help Venezuelan families living there. We’ve already assisted more than 1,800 Venezuelans (more than 460 families) across these three departments.  

The humanitarian crisis is now the worst in the Western Hemisphere, with more than 3 million people displaced in the region. More people may flee in the coming months as conditions in the country worsen. The UN estimates there will be 5.3 million Venezuelan refugees and migrants by the end of 2019.

As the situation worsens, Mercy Corps is committed to helping vulnerable Venezuelan refugees who are unsure of what the future holds. Our response is only just beginning.

Your help will allow us to do even more to support these families as they cope with the tragedy of losing their homes and livelihoods. 

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Noella visits with Banyere, one of the women in her social mobilization group. ALL PHOTOS: Elizabeth Dalziel for Mercy Corps

Around the world, clean drinking water is a matter of life and death.

In DRC, these life-and-death circumstances are exacerbated by other risks: violence, conflict and weak infrastructure that further threaten the most vulnerable.

That includes children under the age of 5. Lack of access to clean water, sanitation facilities and hygiene practices are the main causes of diarrhea, which is the second most common cause of mortality for young children there.

We’re working directly in communities to help change that. And women like Noella, pictured above, are instrumental in making that change.

Water Challenges in the DRC

Long-standing insecurity and violence in DRC are forcing desperate people from their homes in search of peace. Families are fleeing their traditional rural and farming areas for towns and cities where they feel safer.

Around 4.5 million people are displaced within the country. This past year, the violent situation has only worsened. This increased level of displacement — coupled with mismanagement and lack of funding for water for more people — has led to a shortage of clean water in Goma and Bukavu in eastern DRC.

In many places, when water isn’t available, it often takes hours of walking to reach a water source. And there are no guarantees that it’s clean. When water is available locally, long lines to reach the taps or wells are likely.

That’s why we’re there, in the communities that need us most, improving access to and education about water for the most vulnerable citizens of Goma and Bukavu.

Imporving the Health of Communities in the DRC

Groups of about 15 women meet all over Goma in DRC to discuss how to keep their children healthy. Noella leads this one.

Noella, a social mobilizer volunteer for Mercy Corps and mother of three, is working in Goma to provide that water education. She’s been volunteering with us for two years to reduce the number of deaths of children under the age of 5.

“[Mercy Corps training] is very important because I have seen some changes in my family in the past year,” she says. “Through the Mercy Corps training, we know how to treat water and how to get clean water. And we know different ways of keeping the place clean and we have seen some changes in the way children were easily getting affected or falling sick. Since I’m getting that training I’ve seen a reduction in the sickness of children.”

In 2016, when she started, there were more than 343 cases of children suffering from diarrhea and about 22 deaths among them. Since then, with the work of care groups like hers, the diarrhea rate in children under the age of 5 has been reduced from 10 percent in 2017 to an impressive 2 percent in July of this year.

Each volunteer who is part of Noella’s group has another 15 women that they share their learnings with.

There are approximately 3,200 volunteers in Goma and each person has 15 people in their group, totalling approximately 45,000 women across Goma.

Noella fetches water at a pump that Mercy Corps installed near her home in Goma.

“All the lessons that you've been teaching us are very important, [like] how you've taught us to wash [our] hands before starting activities like cooking,” says Banyere to Noella, who has been teaching her. “The lessons that you have been teaching us [are] bringing us peace because if there is an outbreak of cholera, if we're following the teaching of Mercy Corps we [won’t] be affected with the cholera.”

Noella showed us some of the hygiene methods she learned from our trainings, which she now shares with others: using a water container with a lid, using soap, washing plates and putting clean dishes in a new basket, discouraging using a cloth to dry dishes, and using three buckets for washing and rinsing.

Noella also visited a clinic for children with malnutrition and participates in other social mobilization activities with volunteers and local Mercy Corps team members, like showing educational films to other community members.

These activities reach additional people, mostly pregnant women and women with children under 5, who do not participate directly in Mercy Corps’ women’s groups.

“[It’s important] to learn and share with our neighbors in regards to protecting our children who are under 5 years,” says Zawadi Cecile, 36, another program participant. “It is important so that they do not fall sick because of the stress it causes, and it costs additional money.”

And that’s the value of empowering people directly affected by crises. Noella may be just one volunteer, but she is part of a larger movement that’s making waves across her community.

How you can help

Silvie Bienda, a program officer in DRC, left, walks alongside Noella as she heads to the pump to fetch water.

This year, we’ve doubled our humanitarian response in the Democratic Republic of Congo. We plan to help more than half a million Congolese over the next year, making Mercy Corps one of the largest organizations working in the country.

Help us make our work go even further by donating today.

Get your gift matched. Many employers match their employees' donations, doubling your impact. Check our website to see if your donation through GlobalGiving can be matched by your employer.

Tell your friends. Share this story or visit us on Facebook and Twitter to read more stories like this one.

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More wildfires, hot days and extended droughts.

As climate change continues to exacerbate these problems, along with hunger and conflict, young people  - especially those living in the world's poorest countries — will bear the brunt of the impact.

Climate change compounds already fraught situations like economic instability and refugee crises. Whether it comes in the form of unbearable heat waves, harsh winters, or extreme weather, climate change undermines humanitarian efforts and creates new challenges for organizations and communities to address.

That's why we're a part of young people’s communities, working together to address their needs today while making them more resilient for what's ahead. We can’t prevent disasters and conflicts from happening, but we can ensure that young people have the tools they need to prepare for and recover from them.

Find out how we’re partnering with young people around the world to help them cope with the effects of climate change, and learn more about how you can help.

At 23 years old, Ida is the youngest female farmer in her small town of Terara, Indonesia. It’s a trade she inherited from her parents and two older brothers. Unfortunately, she also inherited shorter rainy seasons and longer dry seasons — consequences of climate change that her parents never had to face.

By 2050, total rainfall in Indonesia is expected to increase on average by nearly 10 percent from April through June, but decrease by 10 to 25 percent from July through September. As Ida gets older, she will need new to develop new farming techniques to help her adapt to a changing climate in order to continue making money for her family.

That’s why we're helping Ida's farmer group by providing training on effective farming practices, which will help them produce more and better crops, even as weather patterns become more unpredictable. As the treasurer of her farmer group, Ida is becoming one of the most trusted members in her community. As she gets older, she’ll continue to strengthen her community as she builds her farming and bookkeeping skills. Her leadership and expertise will be critical as weather conditions continue to deteriorate.

Every year, during the hunger gap, people in Niger begin to run low on food from last year’s harvest while still awaiting their upcoming harvest. These hunger gaps continue to grow in severity as climate change decreases crop yields and increases the length of time that people go hungry. Families are forced to eat only one meal per day or even less, with devastating results: More than four in 10 children under 5 years old have stunted growth. These outcomes will intensify without interventions that improve food production.

That's where the goat comes in. We gave Fatsuma, 14, two goats, which she’ll keep until the goats have kids. She’ll keep the kids and then pass their mothers on to another member of her girls safe space group. That ripple effect means young people like her are more insulated from the worst of the hunger gap. Goats are a critical part of life in Niger, providing milk and a source of income in times of need. For Fatsuma and others like her, goats will also help them gain independence and develop their own livelihoods.

Nepal is no stranger to natural disasters. Where Sushma, 24, lives was one of the areas most affected by the 2015 earthquakes; one of them leveled her home. In the immediate aftermath, we provided emergency supplies and cash. Bu our Nepal recovery work has been ongoing as natural disasters like landslides and flooding continue to threaten the country.

Some scientists believe that climate change is affecting earth’s structure, triggering earthquakes and other geological disasters, which means they will happen with increasing frequency and intensity as sea levels rise and rain patterns change. Earthquakes and landslides, already a common occurrence in Nepal, will be even more frequent.

Our ongoing efforts in Nepal provide livelihood and financial literacy trainings, and family dialogue workshops, which help women and men work together to become more resilient — before and after disasters. “I didn't know much [after the earthquake], but I took the trainings, and I realized that if I work hard I can actually do something myself,” Sushma says.

Young people will witness even more dramatic shifts in the climate as they get older. Without support, they risk losing their livelihoods, their communities, and even their lives. We must help prepare them now, before it is too late.

Together we can make sure that young people have the training and resources they need to be more resilient. As a member of the global Mercy Corps community, you are part of the solution and you help make this work possible. Thank you for your ongoing support! 

Photos by Sean Sheridan and Ezra Millstein

Ida in Terara, Indonesia
Ida in Terara, Indonesia
Fatsuma in Niger
Fatsuma in Niger


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