Hundreds of women in South Sudan are transforming their lives with valuable new vocational skills learned through a social and economic empowerment training program supported by the World Food Programme and Women for Women International. The participants say they have been able to achieve things they’d never thought possible after learning techniques for sustainable agriculture and how to build savings by setting up village savings and loans associations.
YEI, South Sudan – Cabbages gave Doruka Moriba Elinoma a new lease on life.
The 58-year-old mother of eight started growing and selling the vegetables last year on a small plot of land near Yei, about 160 kilometers southwest of South Sudan’s capital, Juba. She says the new income she earns has changed her family’s lives.
The idea for the farm had come to her during a year-long training – sponsored by Women for Women International, in partnership with WFP – where she learned techniques to improve crop production and farming as a business.
She talked to her husband, Luate Elinoma, about the idea of growing crops both for immediate consumption and for sale, and they agreed to work together on the venture. Members of their family pooled their resources into a patch of land to enable her start-up a farming business.
She used some of the seeds she received from the training, and planted her first crop while she was still enrolled in the programme, so she could start using the new skills she was learning in real time.
The result is a farming plot where they grow cabbages, eggplants, tomatoes and onions. From less than a hectare of land, Moriba Elinoma earned 11,260 South Sudanese pounds by selling her first crop – worth around US$1,400 at the time. She’s on her fourth crop now, and has now become a wholesale vendor of vegetables, supplying markets around Yei.
Doruka Moriba Elinoba and her relative working on their cabbage patch. Photo: WFP/Francis Odor
“The training opened my eyes to see and do what I had never thought of,” Moriba Elinoma said. “I have used part of the profits I have made to construct a house, and I have bought chickens and goats to rear for future use.”
Since 2014, WFP has been working with WfWI to provide cash for training in Yei County to help people in the area build better long-term food security and work toward zero hunger. The training from WfWI gives people the skills to increase their agricultural yields and develop income generating activities, and the cash from WFP helps women afford to participate in the year-long programme and still feed their families in the meantime.
The participants receive a monthly stipend of about US$10 in exchange for the time they spend acquiring a variety of life skills to improve their crop production, learn basic numeracy and gain business skills, as well as obtain information on hygiene, health care, nutrition, gender-based violence, family planning and women’s empowerment. They also learn to build networks and create groups that allow them to pool financial resources and support their families in rural areas.
“Our objective is not just cash transfers, but rather to enable people to move from one point to another,” said Tiwonge Machiwenyika, the head of WFP’s cash-based transfers team in South Sudan. “We want to see people come through learn a new skill and then have an impact in their communities and [on their] household food security.”
Saving for the future
WFP and Women for Women International are also helping women’s groups set up savings and loans associations to enable them create their own source of credit and savings, which will help them expand their businesses and improve food security.
Jackie Diki chairs the Tomeka women’s savings and loans group in the village of Lasu, about 30 kilometers from Yei. During the training programme, she saved money from the stipend she received from WFP and invested it with the savings association.
“I have changed my grass thatched roof to one with iron sheeting,” Diki said. “Before the training I used worry about how I would survive because I am widow. After the training there is no worries, I have support from members of the group. I am living free!
Jackie Diki talks about the future while visiting the farm being established by her savings association. Photo: WFP/George Fominyen
Her group is investing its collective profits to open a farm where they plan to grow maize, groundnuts (peanuts) and beans for sale. The current piece of land they are using is provided by one of the members. In the future they will ask their community leaders to provide them with a plot.
“If we work very hard, we will be great women in our community. Women must work. They cannot stay with hands folded,” Diki added as the members visited the farm plot.
Veronica Awate at the Tomeka farm. Photo: WFP/George Fominyen
"I have used the knowledge from this training. Life has changed," says Veronica Awate, a member of the Tomeka savings group who has been supporting a group of orphans since her own child died. "I am strong now, financially, and I can pay the tuition for all the children staying with me."
More than 2,800 women have undertaken the life-skill training programme since 2014. The latest group of trainees graduated in April at a ceremony in Lasu, where about 200 women and 50 men received their certificates.
While the programme initially trained only women, WFP and its partner WfWI have begun to involve men in the training programme in order to encourage them to support and partner with women. They take all the modules with emphasis on evolving gender roles, family planning, economic empowerment and partnering with women for development.
“Men and women of South Sudan should encourage women to be educated so that they can see the light and transform the world,” said Luate Elinoma, who supported his wife’s initiatives. “Since Moriba joined that programme, she has become a strong and influential woman both for the family and the community, advising her fellow women to use the skills and knowledge to transform their lives for the better.”
Based on the success of the project, WFP and WfWI in partnership are expanding the programme to include refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo who live in a settlement close to Yei.