In a refugee camp 70 kilometres from Ethiopia's southern border with Somalia, there is a dairy cooperative that is run by 20 Somali women, and provides a service to the camp and the local community.
Every morning, 30 year-old Jamila Ali Hassan opens the creaking door of the tin-roofed shop which buys goat, cow and camel milk from local herders. She then tests, pasteurizes and stores the milk in solar-powered refrigerators. "We want self-reliance for ourselves and we want to be able to support our children", she says.
It is not the first time Jamila has sold milk. In Somalia, before conflict forced her family, including her husband and their eight children to flee to Ethiopia in 2010, the couple worked as farmers and pastoralists. "In Somalia, women are the ones who care for the cattle. All my life I have been selling milk, transporting it from our farm all the way to the border. I am happy I found a livelihood here that I am used to," she says.
Women take control
After just a few visits from farmers, Jamila and the other 19 women have enough milk to sell. In a good day, they can earn up to 540 Ethiopian Birr ($26), part of which they plough back into the business. "We save some of the money, use some of it to buy goods and then collect the rest in a pot, as part of our tradition. This pot is then assigned to each one of us by turns," says Nuria Hassen, another member of the cooperative. "This is our way of supporting each other," she adds.
The group pasteurizes the milk by slowly heating it - a process which kills potentially harmful microbes, while conserving its nutritional qualities. "We are known for our quality milk and we would like to keep it that way for our business to prosper," says Nuria, holding up a thermometer that is part of the dairy's milk processing kit. The women have quickly taken ownership of the initiative and together they form a powerful unit. "It is in our culture that the women stick together," says Jamila.
The project "Melkadida" is supported by the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR.
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