A shop of her own

By estevens
“We were taught how to purchase and sell - how to make a profit and when you gain,” says Kawther Ahmed Oshar. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam America

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On one of the hot, dusty streets of Abu Shouk camp in Darfur, there is a little shop. Its shelter is simple—a roof of woven reeds supported at one end by a mud-brick wall and propped up on the other by two gnarled and weathered sticks of wood. Kawther Ahmed Oshar sits in the shadow with a child on her lap, surrounded by sacks of laundry detergent, little bags of nuts and seeds, a small pyramid of millet, and a jar of brightly colored candies on a stick. A fragrant stack of bundled hay lies nearby.

More than money: skills

Oshar is a mother of four who fled the war-torn town of Tawila in 2003 to the safety of this camp. But here in Abu Shouk, there is never enough. Camp residents, who are hard-pressed to find any employment, struggle to provide their families with basics like medical care, a balanced diet, and education for children. She sometimes used to find work as a casual laborer in the nearby town of El Fasher, but the pay was short, the hours were long, and the promise for the future was more of the same.

That was then; this is now. Oshar’s little shop is earning her three to four times what she made as a laborer. Her success is partly thanks to a grant from the Darfur Recovery and Reconstruction Agency (DRA), an Oxfam partner in Darfur. In May, DRA provided her with 300 Sudanese pounds (around $120) to buy her first items for sale. But they offered more than money.

When people are uprooted from their homes, explains Oxfam livelihoods specialist Adam Bushara, to make a decent living they may need to acquire an entirely new kind of knowledge. “Building skills is what we are most interested in.”

And DRA couldn’t agree more. Before issuing grants to start new businesses, the agency provides training in business management.

“We were taught how to purchase and sell—how to make a profit and when you gain,” says Oshar, who clearly absorbed key lessons. Asked how she decides what to sell in her shop, she answers confidently, “it depends on market demand. I did an analysis and found that the money I could make from millet was more than I could make from firewood.”

Food, education, and a bit of financial security

With her new skills and income, Oshar’s life as a parent has been transformed. When she worked as a laborer, she says, “It was hard to take care of my children during the day.” Now, she cares for her younger two while she works in the shop and is able to provide a mid-morning meal to her school-aged children.

“Now I am able to buy vegetables and meat for my family—if not every day, then every other day. Before, I wasn’t able to pay school fees; now I can. I used to be worried about money and about my family,” says Oshar. “Now I’m much better. I don’t have this feeling any longer.”