Late in 2013, Askiro Faarax was facing an impossible decision, a choice between two futures that both carried immense risk.
She could stay in her village in the southern Somali state of Juba and grapple each day with the threat of attack from the militant group al-Shabaab. Or she could chance a move to the more peaceful city of Kismayo—one stint along the hot tarmac of the treacherous Kismayo/Mogadishu Highway crawling with al-Shabaab militants —and embrace the unknown.
Askiro chose the city of Kismayo, the hope for peace carrying her, her husband, their four young daughters and two young sons the hundred kilometres between old life and new. They were refugees in their own country, but they were alive.
At first the young family seemed to have found the peaceful life they were looking for. Askiro connected with relatives in Kismayo and made a home with them in the neighbourhood of Alanley. The hosts were poor but had enough to share with the new arrivals while they adjusted to urban life. War and upheaval seemed to be behind them.
But the adjustment to urban life didn’t come. Askiro and her husband couldn’t find jobs and the support of her already strained relatives wouldn’t stretch far enough. The struggling couple were forced to beg to get what they needed for their children, an act of selflessness that came at a cost. Askiro stopped being able to breast feed and her infant son died of malnutrition. “I was broken.”
Meanwhile, a peacebuilding and livelihoods programme run by a local organisation called SADO was expanding its work in Kismayo, crossing the city to find those who could benefit from its training projects. When they reached the Alanley district, Askiro stood out as one of the most vulnerable.
Askiro began training with SADO as a tailor, working with pigments, bleaches, ceramic beads and concertina folds to tie dye the soft cloth so popular among women in the city. Change came quickly. Askiro had a purpose but also an income, and with the $60 monthly stipend from SADO Askiro could provide her family with three balanced meals a day, and could send her children to school.
With these vital needs covered, Askiro began to save a little each month. By the time she had completed the programme, and after receiving $300 for graduating successfully, Askiro had enough saved to start her own tie dye production kiosk.
Out of her bitter struggle to survive in the city, Askiro now stands at the centre of life in her urban community. Askiro not only provides clothing for many women in the Alanley district; she has become an employer and an inspiration, passing on her expertise to young girls in the community and giving them work at the kiosk.
With the possibility of a loan from retail shop owners, and with it the chance for expansion, Askiro smiles widely as she thinks about what is to come. The stability that vicious conflict had denied her and her family is now all she can see for their future.