How do African mothers protect their children from starvation when it seems like there are no other options?

Ayan with her son Mohammed* outside of their home in a settlement for people internally displaced in the town of Garadag. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

These inspiring African mothers who are fighting famine and extreme levels of hunger put the needs of their children above their own. 

Right now, millions of families are facing severe food shortages. At the whim of social and environmental factors such as conflict, unstable governments, and climate change, these women in Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan fight to protect what they have left: their children.  

Read about these exceptional mothers and their struggles to meet a goal many moms have for their children – keeping them happy and healthy. 


Photo: Tina Hillier/Oxfam

People in parts of Ethiopia walked three days to get their families to water to survive the worst drought the country has endured in 30 years. Maryama says she is in desperate need of food, water, and medicine for her children.


Bisharo with her one-month-old baby in the Korile temporary settlement, Somali Region, Ethiopia. Photo: Tina Hillier/Oxfam

This baby is not Bisharo’s first. She has five other children. But this one, unlike the others, has no name. In her culture, naming a child requires the slaughtering of a goat. But the drought has robbed the family of almost all its livestock. A naming celebration is out of the question.


Nyabor with her daughter Rebecca in Panyijar County, South Sudan. Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

With her daughter Rebecca running a high fever and vomiting, Nyabor walked an hour to get to the nearest hospital. She was given a medication for upset stomach. Though it is not the right prescription for Rebecca’s ailment, it is the only medication to be found.


Sabaad Mohammud Mussa, 23, with eight-year-old Saeeda, five-year-old Nasra, and three-year-old Mohammad at her temporary home in the Barbayaal Ciyou Settlement in the Sanaag region of Somaliland. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

Sabaad Mohammud Mussa portions out a meal of injera bread, rice, and tea to her three young children, all under the age of eight. This will be the only meal they eat all day, so they will have to make it last. Mussa, who is raising her children on her own at the moment, has enough food to sustain them for four days. After that, she says, she’s not sure what they will do.


Seynes Awil, 30, with five of her eight daughters outside their temporary home in Fadigaab, Somaliland. Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam

Last summer, drought decimated Seynes Awil’s livelihood. Before the drought, she and her husband tended to 400 sheep, 100 camels, and seven donkeys. They fed their eight children—all girls—meat and milk produced by their animals, and earned a living selling meat and animal fat. Now, all of that is finished, she says.


Tabitha and her daughter in Nyal, South Sudan. Her daughter sucks on a “tuok,” a seed that is a last resort for food. Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

“We feed on water lilies, fish, and anything we could find in the river. What we currently need is food, medication and NFIs [non-food items] shall be of great assistance to us. The more time it takes the worse it shall be for us.”

Some of the names in this story have been changed to protect the individuals.

These mothers are among the millions of people on the brink of starvation. Meet a few of the individuals working hard to overcome hunger, and find out how you can help.

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