“I don’t want my children to be talking to WFP in 25 years”

How food and cash from the European Union provide life-saving regular support to Somali refugees in Ethiopia until they can get back on track

Edward Johnson
Jan 17, 2020 · 4 min read
Hinda and Sumaya. Photo: WFP/Edward Johnson

Hinda was born in eastern Ethiopia 25 years ago to Somali parents. Violence in Somalia prompted them to seek shelter across the border. Hinda has never stepped foot inside Somalia. She’s never left Somali region where her parents settled. She’s an animated woman with an answer for everything and grins every time she looks into the eyes of her eight-month daughter Sumaya.

But when I ask her about her ambitions and hopes for Sumaya, she pauses, looks down and says:“I want to go home, but I don’t know where that is.”

I met Hinda sheltering from the noon sun at one of two distribution points in Kebribayah refugee camp. Established in 1991, it’s the oldest camp in Ethiopia and is home to 15,000 refugees, mostly Somali. She’s been receiving food assistance from the World Food Programme (WFP) for as long as she can remember. It has become a source of stability and familiarity in her life.

Noticing that she hadn’t got any food with her yet she was at the back of a distribution centre, I ask her why she was there. She explains that her allocated day was tomorrow but she attended today because the centre is a social hub for mothers in the camp.

Sumaya clings to her mother as Hinda explains: “I grew up on WFP food, and now her family is doing the same. I hope it’s not forever — I don’t want my children to be talking to WFP in 24 years.”

The entrance to the distribution centre and a description of European Commission cash and food entitlements. Photos: WFP/Edward Johnson

With parental responsibilities and no options for employment, depending on food assistance is Hinda’s only real option to survive. She’s more than grateful but clarified that her ambition is that one day she’ll be independent, free from relying on food assistance, and so will her children.

In collaboration with Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs in Kebribayah, WFP distributes a combination of cash, salt, oil, pulses and corn-soya blend each month, all provided thanks to generous contributions from the European Union’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations department (ECHO).

In 2019, ECHO contributed US$13 million to WFP to cover a range of food assistance activities including cash and food support to refugees in Ethiopia.

ECHO provides 245 Birr per person per month. Photo: WFP/Edward Johnson

The cash component is designed to supplement core food items. Each eligible refugee receives 245 Birr (US$7.50) per month to be spent on enhancing the diversity of their diet. Hinda says her cash priorities are “rice, spaghetti and sugar.”

Ethiopia has the second-largest refugee population in Africa, hosting over 900,000 registered refugees from Eritrea, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan.

WFP uses a multi-faceted approach to tackle hunger through innovative resilience-focused activities that will eventually help people to help themselves. But the goal of zero hunger in Ethiopia is ambitious and requires an emergency response to alleviate the most basic food needs first.

Without regular monthly support, families such as Hinda’s would be forced to make difficult and sometimes dangerous decisions about how to source food.

Refugees in Kebribayah live in basic shelters with few belongings. Photos: WFP/Edward Johnson

Hinda lives ten minutes walk from the distribution centre. Her home is constructed of branches, dried mud and a roof of stitched cloth and plastic. The two rooms — a bedroom for the family of six and a kitchen — are dark and spartan. Outside, her kitchen utensils dry under the scorching sun. The simplicity reflects her outlook; she doesn’t want or need much; her wants are for a better, independent future.

Not a lot changes in Kebribayah. Life is repetitive and predictable, but for many like Hinda, the very stability afforded by consistent monthly food and cash distributions is vital. It gives her hope that there is something to look forward to tomorrow.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme