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Finding her way through drought

Ethiopia, May 16, 2013

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Fatumo Ahmed wakes up at dawn everyday to begin collecting milk from her camels in antique wooden containers. It’s a way of life she learned from her nomadic parents and now supports her nine children. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Camel milk, full of protein and nutrients, can last one month without refrigeration. It’s a main source of nourishment for families who live here in Bombas, a remote village near the border with Somalia. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    In addition to feeding their families, dairy producers like Fatumo walk for miles to sell the milk at small roadside stands. The prices they can get here are minimal, though, and only cover some basic food staples like rice and tomatoes. Fatumo had to sell other livestock to meet all her family’s needs. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    When the drought hit in 2011, even this meager source of income disappeared. Fatumo and her family had to leave their home in search of water and food for their animals. Milk was scarce and she worried about how to feed her children. Ten of her camels died that summer. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Back in Bombas, conditions have started to improve. But rains are still unpredictable and it is crucial for Fatumo to keep her remaining camels healthy so she has enough milk to sell. Mercy Corps is providing medicine and veterinary care to help the animals stay productive. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    While taste testing the milk used to be the only method of quality control, Fatumo has learned about better hygiene and storage methods from Mercy Corps trainings. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    On scattered and widespread homesteads, the producers can get wrapped in the long days of hard work that are required to care for their animals and families. But Fatumo has been a leader in developing the local milk cooperative where they can share the new knowledge and resources. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    With a better quality product, Fatumo and her cooperative now take milk to a collection center that Mercy Corps built in the village. Here, our teams connected the producers with market vendors who can pay higher prices for bigger quantities. Daily sales tripled last year. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    The center is increasing incomes for all 52 women and one man in Fatumo’s milk cooperative. Their joy was palpable during the visit, as they broke into spontaneous song and dance, using empty milk containers as drums. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    Fatumo, strong and bold, is making education a priority for her children. She can afford to send a few of them to school and ensure a healthy, productive life for her family. Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps  </span>
    “I expect a better future, better education and a better life for my children. Thanks to you.” Photo: Joni Kabana for Mercy Corps

It's been more than two years since the rains didn't fall in southeastern Ethiopia. The land dried up across the entire Horn of Africa region — the worst drought in 60 years. More than 12 million people were plunged into a desperate hunger crisis that still grinds on.

But today there are some signs of recovery. Pastures, previously cracked and barren, are slowly sprouting new growth. Animals can graze and grow stronger, can again support the families who rely on them for milk and food — for life.

We have been working in rural Ethiopia to make sure farmers and herding families have the resources they need to build back stronger — heal their livestock, replenish their food stores, and earn more from the market — so they can cope better with conditions in this drought-prone area.

Photographer Joni Kabana spent a day with one of them — feisty Fatumo Ahmed, who relies on her camels to support her family.

Listen to Fatumo and her fellow milk producers singing at Mercy Corps’ local collection center: