The Skills to Thrive

Sudan, November 11, 2005

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    A Darfurian woman stands beside several of the fuel-efficient cookstoves she's made after Mercy Corps' training. Photo: Linda Mason Photo:

Hassa Hissa Camp, Darfur — It is graduation day at the Women's Training Center in Hassa Hissa displacement camp, and these women are ready to celebrate.

One by one, 49 women — many with sleeping babies on their backs — collect their certificates, turn to the crowd and squeal "Ai ai ai ai ai ai ai aaaaaaiiiiiiii!" while pumping fists in the air like overjoyed World Cup goal scorers.

Then all together, wrapped in vivid indigo or fuchsia or goldenrod clothing, they sing in four Darfurian dialects, slowing down only to choose the next tune.

Thanks to a Mercy Corps training program, these women are now fully trained in the production and use of fuel-efficient stoves, a skill that saves them time and puts money in their pockets.

The stoves require about half the wood normal stoves do. That means fewer hours collecting firewood, less time in dangerous wooded areas outside of camp, and an income from selling the wood they do gather but no longer need for cooking.

As part of the Mercy Corps training program, the participants produce 150 stoves, keeping one each for themselves and distributing the rest for free to elderly displaced people, who have a near-impossible time collecting the wood they needed to get by.

"Now that I have the stove, I have much more time to spend with my kids," Kultoma says. "I can also make 200 dinars (just under $1) a week selling wood I don't need, which allows me to buy better food for my family."

Next stop: weaving and knitting

Across town at the Hamadia displacement camp, a smaller group of women is having a quieter but no less social time sitting on the floor weaving palm leaves and knitting.

Darfurian music star Mariam Amo is singing on the radio and women happily cluck to each other as their little children doze on their backs or at their feet.

These women have already graduated from Mercy Corps' stove-making course and have moved on to learn additional skills in weaving and knitting. Today they are making colorful floor mats, tabletop trivets, round tablecloths and other housewares.

Bosaina Abdullah Adam, 22, has been in the camp for more than two years; neither she nor her husband has been able to find steady work.

"We need these kinds of products in my home," she says. "Why waste money buying them when I could make them for my family and sell the rest?"

As the humanitarian crisis stabilizes in Darfur, Mercy Corps will continue to shift from meeting the basic needs of displaced people to helping them develop additional livelihoods — like weaving, knitting, and soap-making — and prepare to return home.