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Macaroni for Mohamed
(17 July 2007)
Mohamed and Hawa
The dry red landscape of Mandera in northeast Kenya is a harsh environment. Most people live as nomadic pastoralists, herding livestock from pasture to pasture. Life is tough.

For orphans, life is harder still. Mohamed, aged 11, lives in the outskirts of the town of Mandera. His father used to work as a guard until he fell ill with a swollen stomach. Although he went to hospital many times, he died four months later.

A Widow’s Struggle

It has been six years since his death. Mohamed’s mother, Hawa, was left with four young children and no income.

“I would sell tomatoes in the market,” Hawa recalls, “On a good day I would earn only around 30 Kenyan shillings. If there was no money, we would just eat the tomatoes.”

Hawa could not afford to send her children to school; although she made sure they attended madrassah, the traditional Islamic school.

Mohamed’s paternal uncle would sometimes help by giving them a little money or taking the children to hospital when they were sick. Hawa would buy things on credit from the uncle’s shop, and he would forgive the debt.


Around three years ago Mohamed and his sister Fardowsa joined IR’s Orphan Sponsorship Programme and they were both sponsored by Italian donors.

“With the sponsorship money I can buy my children food and clothes and pay their school fees. I can get what we need on credit, and pay when the next sponsorship payment comes,” said Hawa.

Mohamed, Fardowsa, 13, and brother Ayub, nine, all attend school now, thanks to sponsorship. Suada, six, will join her siblings when she is older.

Hawa, 35, remarried, and now has a ten-month-old baby girl called Maryama. Her new husband has two other wives, and works as a casual labourer, so the sponsorship money is still vital to the family.


Mohamed’s mother wanted him to reach a higher level at madrassah before starting school. He is learning the sixth chapter of the Quran now, after enrolling at school in January 2007.

Mohamed loves his teacher, Ibrahim, who teaches the English alphabet, which Mohamed recites with confidence. “My best friend is Abdi Fateh. He’s my cousin. We write things together, like the ABC!”

Like most boys in Mandera Mohamed enjoys football, and plays goalkeeper. For breakfast he normally has injera (pancakes) and black tea, and at lunch he’ll eat macaroni with stew. For dinner, he has rice or meat with beans. His favourite food is ugali (maize mash) and biscuits. If he could travel to anywhere in the world he would go to Nairobi, Kenya’s capital city.


Hawa’s is ambitious for her children. “I would like them to have good jobs as policemen or schoolteachers or something,” she says.

Mohamed has already made his decision. “I want to be a teacher, at a madrassah or a school,” he says. When he grows up he says he will buy clothes and an imamah (turban) for himself and a kur-yo-haus (‘up-and-down’) dress and a buibui (scarf) for his mother.

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