Learning new skills in South Darfur

Through UNDP’s Strengthening Livelihoods Security for Peace and Recovery in Darfur Project, internally displaced women learned leatherwork, building on local practices to create practical, high-quality and lucrative in-demand products such as wallets, baskets, shoes, bags and decorative items.

Aisha Khatir painfully recounts the ordeal she went through 16 years ago when the Darfur conflict reached her home. After her village in South Darfur was destroyed, she and her eight children had no choice but to flee.

Together, they trekked 240 kilometres to safety in South Darfur’s capital Nyala. “I had to leave my husband and stepson behind,” she says. She would later find out they had both been killed.

Settling in a camp for the internally displaced, Aisha had limited options to support her family. Turning to one of few available, she eked out a living of less than US$1 day collecting raw materials such as broken stones for construction to sell to workers at nearby markets.

In Aisha’s camp, the 47,300 people temporarily calling it home are mostly middle-aged women and their children.

Many have lost their family’s main income earner.

Creating opportunities for these women is vital in Darfur, where opportunities are already limited and inter-communal tensions can occur.

Aisha (front left) and her eight children fled the conflict in their South Darfur village 16 years ago; they settled in a camp for the internally displaced.

UNDP’s Strengthening Livelihoods Security for Peace and Recovery in Darfur Project supports these aspirations, providing training and farming and farming-related marketing skills.

Since 2016, drawing on support from the international community, the project has assisted 20,000 households 53 percent female) and established intercommunal groups like producers associations, saving and lending associations, and cooperatives, to improve collaborative work and community recovery.

For a group of 400 women from Aisha’s camp and others nearby, the opportunity came in the form of leatherwork training, building on local practices to create practical, high-quality and lucrative in-demand products such as wallets, baskets, shoes, bags and decorative items.

Improving existing skills for those with experience, and teaching new skills to newcomers, the project brought in Sudanese textile experts and craftspeople to increase the quality, volume, strength and market value of the products — with immediate impact.

The more than 20,000 families such as Aisha’s have increased their annual incomes by 256 percent in just two years, from an average of USD$758 in 2015 to an average of USD$1,946 by the end of 2018.

Improving existing skills for those with experience, and teaching new skills to newcomers, the project brought in Sudanese textile experts and craftspeople to increase the quality, volume, strength and market value of the products — with immediate impact.

“Instead of 50 SDGs, I now make 200 SDGs a day (USD$4),” said Aisha. “I managed to send two of my children to school, something I could not have dreamed of doing a couple of years ago.”

Having bonded through training, displaced women from Aisha’s camp joined others from nearby host communities to form a 50-strong leathermaking group known as Kullana Sawa (“We are all together”) one of four in the camp — providing an opportunity to connect and create.

Awatif Abdelrahman Yousif, head of the group, said it has given many a chance to strengthen ties, pool funds, support each other, unify to address past trauma, and for many, build vital social networks

The project, which is generously supported by the Swiss Development Cooperation, additional funding from the United Nations through the UNAMID SLF Transition Mechanism, is set to reach more than 15,000 families in the next three years.

“Securing peace without stable, safe and prosperous communities is a challenging prospect,” says Jean François Golay, the Swiss Chargé D’affaires to Sudan, “by promoting durable solutions and restoring livelihoods like these, we support at-risk communities, and work towards the peace Darfur so strongly deserves.”

Not only are the social impacts significant, but at an economic level, the group has delivered similar benefits and impact.

Unsurprisingly, word of Kullana Sawa’s quality products has spread quickly — landing them a contract to produce 6,000 schoolbags for children in the area and creating a new source of income.

Reflecting on the change in her situation over the last two years, Aisha said, “life here in general is still difficult, but at least it’s much better than before.”

Word of Kullana Sawa’s quality products has spread quickly — landing them a contract to produce 6,000 schoolbags for children in the area and creating a new source of income.

Story and photos by: UNDP Sudan/Will Seal