Aaden*, 23, of Somaliland stands out as a shining example of how a new skill can be the difference between poverty and prosperity.
He learned how to make contemporary furniture and other building elements, like windows and doors, tables and shelves, out of aluminium. The stylish look of aluminium has made them a popular choice for architects designing modern buildings in Berbera, Somaliland, where Aaden lives with his six siblings and mother.
The income Aaden generates has completely transformed the life of his family.
“Our standard of living has greatly improved. Before I learned how to do this job, my whole family lived squeezed in a one small room,” says Aaden, the eldest of seven children. “We did not have a latrine and had to share the one in the neighbourhood. Today, my family is comfortable in a three-room house and we have our own latrine. My younger brothers and sisters are in school, and these days food is not a problem,” he adds.
Just three years ago, Aaden was desperate. In Somaliland, a country with one of the world’s highest youth unemployment rate (about 60%), he had few opportunities. After completing secondary school, there were no opportunities for him to make a decent living. He wanted more out of life but his family could not afford to send him to university.
“I contemplated joining a local gang to earn a living that could support my mother; she was really struggling to provide for the family. This is what young people my age do when there is nothing else,” he says.
Aaden lost his father, the family’s main breadwinner, unexpectedly when he was 12 years old. His uncle who worked at the Berbera municipality stepped in to help but he could only manage to pay school fees for Aaden and one of his brothers. The other children stayed home.
His mother had to provide for their basic needs but she barely managed with her poor health. “We went to school without breakfast – no one at home had breakfast. We were always hungry,” says Aaden.
“I remember getting a serious headache when my brothers asked my mother for school uniforms, books, pens and medicine, while she was stressed about our daily food. Often she was not able to provide all three meals,” he recalls. Aaden’s mother was also battling a respiratory illness that worsened when she could not afford medication or see a doctor. Their family was at risk of falling apart and being separated as they struggled to survive.
Aaden and his family started getting support from the SOS Children’s Villages family strengthening program in 2017. The program helps keep families together by creating a strong and healthy home environment.
The SOS team trained Aaden and his mother in entrepreneurship and financial management. She received access to medical care, and a micro-credit loan that she used to open a shop selling charcoal and clothes.
Two year ago, Aaden joined a local technical school in Berbera to learn the art of making aluminium furniture and installations, while his siblings returned to school.
After four months of training, Aaden was ready to enter the job market. Together with other trainees, he received a start-up kit containing a drill machine, safety shoes, hammer, a screwdriver and a measuring tape.
Due to his stellar performance in the final exam, Aaden interned at the technical school for two months and went on to become an assistant tutor. Recently, he was promoted to a teacher position. Aaden teaches in the morning and attends to private work in the afternoon.
“I feel a sense of pride and dignity for what I have been able to accomplish and because I provide for my family,” says Aaden. “I pay for water and electricity bills and buy school shoes for my brothers and sisters that cost US$60 per month,” he explains. “I have noticed that my siblings’ school performance has improved because with electricity they are able to study at night. In addition to that, I have hired a teacher to give them extra coaching on subjects they find difficult like math and English.”
His mother meets the other household expenses from her income at the shop.
And when schools closed last year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, Aaden bought a television so his siblings could learn online. He is playing a critical role in the well-being of his family and creating a brighter future for his younger siblings. “Investment in education has high returns; I am happy that they have the opportunity to achieve their full productive potential,” he says.
Aaden’s plan is to open his own workshop that produces and installs modern windows in new buildings in Berbera district. For that, he needs substantial capital. “I have a bank account where I save a certain amount each month. However, the support I give to my family is slowing me down, but I am willing to make the sacrifice.”
*Name changed for privacy reasons
In the last two years, SOS Children’s Village family strengthening programme has provided technical and vocational skills to 120 young people in Somaliland.