Umtoma and classmates attending a literacy class. [Copyright: WFP/Amor Almagro]
Umtoma Ahmad Mohammed is a Sudanese mother of five who married young and spent much of her life caring for her children. Umtoma has not spent a day in primary school. Now, she and her 15-year-old daughter are learning how to read and write. The two women are also learning how to make fuel-efficient stoves and fuel fire briquettes as well as gardening.
Shagra, NORTH DARFUR – Umtoma’s day starts at the crack of dawn. The 40-year-old mother gets up to pray, prepare breakfast for her family and get her younger daughters ready for school as her husband and two sons leave for the farm.
When the morning chores are over, Umtoma and her daughter Nahla head off to the Shagra Women Centre where they attend women’s literacy classes five times a week.
“I want to learn how to read and write so I can read the Qur’an (Islam’s Holy Book) and help my girls with their homework,” she says.
Like thousands of women in Sudan, Umtoma never attended school. A 2010 World Bank report puts female adult literacy rate in Sudan at almost 61 percent, and Darfur has the lowest literacy rate in the country.
In addition to attending literacy classes, Umtoma and Nahla take part in vocational training activities the centre provides with WFP support. For a monthly food ration, the two women learn how to make fuel-efficient stoves and fuel fire briquettes as well as plant trees and tend to them at the centre’s nursery. The food ration serves as an incentive for families to let their women members participate in the training.
“Everything happens here,” explained Nadia Ibrahim Mohammed, the Head of Shagra Women’s Association that runs the centre. “The fuel-efficient stoves help them save the money they would otherwise spend on buying firewood and they can also sell them in the local market for 5 Sudanese pounds each, giving them a small income that they can use to meet their families’ needs.” The Shagra Women’s Association has 400 women members from Shagra and neighbouring communities.
The women have also planted hundreds of gum arabic trees across the vast land surrounding the centre. The trees, now five feet tall, will produce in a few years gum arabic, one of Sudan’s biggest exports.
In addition to the Shagra Training Centre, WFP has also established 32 other Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy (SAFE) centres in North Darfur that have trained some 200,000 women on making and maintaining fuel-efficient stoves and making the briquettes.
In 2013, through food-for-assets programme, WFP plans to set up an additional 45 SAFE centres to support over 100,000 households across North Darfur.