Colour Me Capable: In Somalia, WFP Enables Women To Learn New Skills

Published on 10 December 2013

Women learning to tie dye cloth at the GDA centre in Bossaso. Copyright: WFP/Laila Ali.

One of the World Food Programme’s main priorities is to strengthen communities so that individuals can support themselves and their families. Through its Food-for-Training activities, WFP provides food rations to encourage community members to participate in training that teaches practical vocational skills, such as literacy or tailoring. In Bossaso, in northern Somalia, women are learning how to tie dye cloth and make woven goods – skills that will stand them in good stead as they seek to rebuild their lives after fleeing their homes elsewhere because of conflict.  

BOSSASO – In a courtyard at the GDA centre in the port town of Bossaso, women ululate and sing as they pull brilliant pieces of cloth out of a boiling cauldron, then rinse them and hang them on a clothes line to dry. 

Despite the gruelling afternoon heat in this corner of Puntland, there is a buzz of energy and a feeling of easy camaraderie among the women, who will make dresses and other items from the tie-dyed cloth. After the course, they hope to be able to use their new skills to start small businesses and support themselves and their families. 

The GDA centre is one of many vocational training projects that are supported, in part, by the World Food Programme (WFP), under its Food-for-Training initiative in Somalia. 

WFP distributes monthly food rations or food vouchers for families when an individual enrolls in literacy or vocational skills courses. 

 “Most of the women here are internally displaced persons (IDPs), who have fled from violence in other parts of Somalia. Many are widowed and have no means of supporting their families. They are learning a number of skills, including tailoring and making handicrafts, which will enable them to gain employment or be self-employed,” said Sadia Abdisalam, the manager of the centre. 

“Everything you see on display has been made by these women,” she added, waving towards the woven baskets and other items on display throughout the busy, chatter-filled centre. 

“After completing the course, some of the ladies have stayed on to become teachers while others set up their own small businesses,” she said.  

Empowering the most vulnerable

The food assistance received by the women on the course acts as a temporary safety net while they learn new skills that will make them self-reliant. 

“WFP is supporting 12,842 individuals in 76 centres that offer different kinds of training, including literacy and numeracy courses, in the 19 districts of Puntland,” said Rumbidzai Chitombi, WFP’s programme officer in Bossaso. 

According to Chitombi, many of the students enrolled in these centres have never been to school before and never benefitted from any kind of structured learning. 

“The concept behind Food for Training is to empower the most vulnerable people and give them income-generating skills. Most of the people who attend the centres that WFP supports are from poor families and would not otherwise have the opportunity to learn these skills,” she said.   

Siraad Sharif lives in theAbsame B IDP camp in Bossaso. She enrolled at the GDA centre when other women from the camp told her the classes were free.

“I have nothing here [in Bossaso]. I am like a refugee and I have to start anew. I am learning how to make tie-dye dresses so that I’ll be able to start a small business and, god willing, be able to provide for my children. We are thankful for this opportunity,” she said

The GDA centre has been operational since 2011. The items produced by the women, including beakers, wall ornaments and tie-dye dresses, are very popular and receive good prices, said Abdisalam.

“After the sales, profit is shared among the students on a rotational basis: each month, one participant will get a lump sum. That way, the money received is substantial enough for families to invest in other things, or in business,” she said.    

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about the author

Laila Ali

Spokesperson / Public Information Officer

Laila is a former journalist now based in Kenya. She has reported for Al Jazeera English, Sky news, and the Guardian.