Monthly Archives: January 2017

Passionate about helping other refugee women

When we heard about events to mark the International Women’s Day organized by Action Africa Help International (AAH-I), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local partners in Hargeisa, Somaliland, we were curious to know about the significance of the red roses that were given to participants.

“I assisted with the planning of the International Women’s Day and wanted all women, even refugees, returnees and asylum seekers, to stand tall and be proud to be women,” was how Sherehan Abduallah kicked off the conversation when we met her at the Peaceful Coexistence Centre in Hargeisa, Somaliland. “To me the red roses signify the pride of being a woman despite the challenges that come with population displacement.”

Guests holding their red roses at the Internal Women’s Day event in March 2017.

“Collaborating with AAH-I and UNHCR, it took me about three months to work on a programme and identify speakers and entertainment groups, among other aspects of the event. The event celebrated the diverse culture in Hargeisa through speeches, exhibitions and dances. At least five nationalities were represented – Somali, Yemeni, Ethiopian, Iranian and Ugandan.

Sherehan is the focal point for women and children in the UNHCR-recognized Yemeni Committee set up in October 2016 to support Yemeni refugees in Hargeisa. The Committee also has focal points for security, education, health, livelihoods and the youth. A Chairman, Vice-President and Secretary complete the team.

Sherehan also works closely with the AAH-I team at the Peaceful Coexistence Centre (PCC) in Hargeisa. The PCC is under AAH-I’s project, ‘Integrated approach to increase social self-reliance, livelihood opportunities and peaceful coexistence among Persons of Concern (PoC) and refugee hosting communities in Hargeisa, Somaliland.’ The objective of the project is to increase social self-reliance and socio-economic well being of refugees and asylum seekers and refugee-hosting communities/ The project supports diversification of livelihood opportunities and promotes local population receptivity towards refugees.

In her role, she supports mostly refugee women from Yemeni on issues regarding domestic violence, business development and social life. Cases on domestic violence are handled in collaboration with a local NGO, Comprehensive Community-based Rehabilitation Services (CCBRS).

Sherehan, her parents and four siblings ran away from the conflict in Yemen in 2015. She, like the majority of Yemeni refugees in Somaliland, arrived through the port of Berbera and made her way to the capital, Hargeisa. When not playing her role as the focal point for women and children, she enjoys attending weekly social meetings with other refugee women. “We’re a family. We enjoy each other’s successes and support each other in difficult moments. In future, I want to see these women receiving training in nutrition and leadership.”

Rising above tradition and living positively with HIV

Health is a fundamental human right that has to be enjoyed by everyone. For an HIV positive woman, the drive to rise above challenges of living with the virus and live a normal life including bearing children is more challenging.

Mwaale Astrida, 27, sits at the entrance to her home showing a six-month pregnancy while her two-and-a-half year old daughter plays on her laps.

Being married with only one child who was 11 years at the time, Mwaale faced pressure from her family to conceive another child. Unknown to them, she was coming to terms with an HIV positive diagnosis after testing in 2011. “In my tradition, it is not lawful for a married woman to have only one child and the HIV positive status made it worse for me – l reached a point where l felt l was not woman enough to fulfil tradition’s demand of having six children”.

Her family and her in-laws demanded to know why she could not bear a second child, considering the time lapse from her first child. “I almost quit treatment during that time and wished death would visit me as l did not know about the options l had for conceiving when l was HIV positive.”

Mwaale, who comes from Makalu Village in Kawambwa district, Luapula Province of Zambia, said she commenced on Anti Retro Viral Drugs (ARVs) after the HIV test as her CD4 count was very low. “Due to my low immune system, I was never counselled on how to adhere to treatment for my immune system to improve,” she adds.

“However, my life changed for the better when Kalambata Christopher a Community Action Group (CAG) member, under Action Africa Help Zambia (AAH-Z) visited my home during a weekly community follow-up meeting in 2014. He shared with me information on the new invasion of Option B+”.

Kalambata Christopher from the Community Action Group, under Action Africa Help Zambia (AAH-Z), visiting Mwaale at her home

Option B+ is a recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) to initiate all HIV-positive pregnant and breastfeeding women on antiretroviral therapy (ART) for life. It also recommends immediate initiation of all HIV-positive children younger than five on ART. Previously treatment to HIV-positive pregnant and lactating women depended on their HIV viral load levels and did not include a recommendation to remain on treatment for life.

Mwaale visited the health centre for more information before deciding to get pregnant with her second child. She was put on Option B+ during her pregnancy and had no complications during her pregnancy – her CD4 count rose from less than 200 to 1059. After successfully delivering a baby girl called Margaret, the child was tested for HIV at six weeks and tested negative. The test was repeated when the child turned 18 months and again at 30 months. On both occasions the results were negative. Mwaale is now six months pregnant with her third child and on Option B+. She thanks AAH-Z through the CAGs who still visit her home and provide counselling during the pregnancy.

We focus on eliminating new childhood HIV infections and reducing HIV related maternal deaths

AAH-Z is in partnership with Positive Action for Children Fund (PACF) implementing a community-led prevention initiative (COPI) project aimed at eliminating new childhood HIV infections and reducing HIV related maternal deaths. This is being done by addressing loss to elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (eMTCT) follow up through strengthening referral networks, increasing access to treatment for HIV positive mothers and their children during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and strengthening community engagement in eMTCT and maternal child health service delivery and monitoring.

Medical Camp held at Ibba County

(HPF) Ibba organized a 3-day medical camp from the 6th to the 8th of March 2017. The purpose of the camp was to provide community outreach and health screening, as well as promote services offered at Tanamuko and Ibba primary health care facilities.

Services offered during the medical camp included curative consultation for adults and children under five, nutritional screening, basic Laboratory testing, health education, screening of pregnant mothers and immunization.

Nutritional screening at Tanamuko Public Health Care Centre

With the support and participation of Regional Primary Health Care project staff, the Ibba County Health Department, the Health Pooled Fund Lot 23, the Office of the Ibba County Commissioner, partners and volunteers, over 140 community members received consultation, screening and treatment.

AAH South Sudan works in Ibba County supporting the government in the provision of primary health care services to all the government health facilities in the county. The goal is to increase access, use and quality of health services across all levels, particularly for women and children; to strengthen the health system under the stewardship of the County Health Departments; and to increase access to nutrition services, particularly for pregnant women and young children. We work closely with the Ministry of Health to ensure deployment and remuneration of qualified staff and provision of medical supplies. We ensure that children are vaccinated and treated, mothers receive antenatal care and that the public gets the basic package of health and nutrition services.

“With continued medical outreach and sensitization activities, the health outcomes of our communities will inevitably improve, and knowledge of available health channels will be enhanced,” concludes AAH South Sudan Head of Programmes, Richard Ofwono

Colour at Women’s Day celebration in Hargeisa

When Sherehan Abdullah, a refugee from Yemen, thought of giving something back to refugee women from Ethiopia and Yemen, and Somali women in Hargesia, the idea of holding a celebration came to mind. She wanted a day where she would support them to feel special to be women, despite their circumstances.

After days of preparation, a colourful event was held at the Peaceful Co-Existence Centre (PCC), matching global activities to mark the day on 8th March. This was the first time that such an event is held at the PCC. The day’s theme was “Women in a Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”, crafted to be inclusive for all partners, including UNHCR’s goal of supporting women’s right to decent work.

Products made by women were show cased, and punctuated by traditional dances from Yemeni and Ethiopian refugees, amid speeches and poems.

Women at the event received red roses to symbolize the pride of being a woman

Refugees from Ethiopia showcase a traditional dance

AAH-I work in Somaliland strives to ensure that women of concern have access to safe, dignified and empowering work. At least 400 women have been given support in livelihood programmes.