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Climate change

Meet the resilient women on the frontline of the global climate crisis

Women - as farmers, fishmongers, mothers, and providers - are bearing the brunt of the world’s climate crisis. UN figures show that 80% of people displaced by climate change are women. As world leaders meet at the crucial COP26 summit, Trócaire speaks to five strong women who are bravely navigating life on the front line of the biggest challenge facing humanity.

Halima showing us beans from her kitchen garden in Somalia - Photo Credit: Trócaire Halima showing us beans from her kitchen garden in Somalia - Photo Credit: Trócaire

Halima’s Story: Somalia

Halima (48), a mother of nine, lives in Jazira Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp in Luuq in southwestern Somalia. She has become a nomad in her own country after drought killed her livestock forcing her family to move 40km from their home in Yurkud village in search of food, shelter and work.

Climate change has made life harder for women in Somalia and climate projections suggest worse is to come. Mean annual temperatures are forecast to increase by around three degrees across the country by the end of the century.

Since becoming displaced Halima, her husband Hassan (46), their children and nine relatives have struggled. Education, a basic human right in Ireland, is not an option for the children as they focus on day-to-day survival.

“When we moved to the camp my family had no income and we were struggling to meet basic needs. We could not afford three meals a day and most of my children were malnourished.”

Internal migration in Somalia is primarily linked to extreme weather-related climate change events, conflict and violence.  Approximately 593,000 have been displaced in Somalia this year alone.

Last year, Halima was selected to take part in a new resilience food production project, implemented by Trócaire in partnership with the Centre for Research and Integrated Development (CERID).

Through this pilot programme, Halima is now being supported and empowered to reduce the devastating impacts of climate change and to create more sustainable ways of living through farming.

Halima has been given access to farmland, training on agroecological food production techniques and alternative income options. She has also joined a community savings group.

“In the first year of the project, I planted tomatoes, squash, green pepper, cowpeas, sorghum and maize. I learned about good agricultural practice and was given a plot of land to plant on. For the first two seasons I made $310, (€263), which I used primarily for family basic needs, and to purchase two goats. Legumes and cereals were harvested and sold as fodder to generate income.”

“Currently, I have 15 goats all acquired through the support of CERID and Trócaire.  I bought six with money from selling crops from my farm. Since then, they have given birth to another six.”

Halima’s daughter, Qali Hassan (17), is also helping lift the family from poverty after graduating from a course at the Agricultural Training Centre which trains teenagers on agri-business and entrepreneurship. The programme is also implemented by Trócaire in partnership with CERID.

Qali and her mother have now started a kitchen garden where they grow vegetables to feed the family. This is a win-win as it helps provide much needed income, and food.

“I harvest lettuce and other vegetables every morning and prepare breakfast for my children. I also give some of the daily harvest to my neighbours,” Halima adds.

Halima’s daughter is applying her newfound skills to improving the irrigation system, soil fertility and pest control.

Thanks to the transformation in their lives Halima has also been able to send her bed-ridden mother for surgery for her failing eyesight.

“My mother is now independent again. Now she can go anywhere she wishes without anybody’s guidance,” Halima says.

Santa Paulina Brito Raymundo in Guatemala is one of the many millions of women on the frontline of the world’s climate crisis Photo Credit: Trocaire Santa Paulina Brito Raymundo in Guatemala is one of the many millions of women on the frontline of the world’s climate crisis Photo Credit: Trocaire

Lorenza and Santa’s Story: Guatemala

Mothers Lorenza Cedillo Matom and Santa Paulina Brito Raymundo are from the village of Xeucalvitz in Santa María Nebaj in El Quiché province in Guatemala. Vulnerable communities in the Central American country are seriously affected by climate change, and recovering from the devastating double impact of Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

After the hurricanes hit the Guatemalan government declared a state of emergency as landslides destroyed roads, collapsed houses and isolated communities.

Lorenza and Santa’s remote village is approximately 47 kilometers from the main city. Before the hurricanes, it took two and a half hours by car to reach the city due to the poor state of the roads. But after the hurricanes struck the community was cut off for two months. Road travel was not possible, forcing community members to walk 14 hours to buy food.

Lorenza and Santa had to abandon their animals, which they heavily relied on for income. Shops were empty, and families were forced to sleep outdoors because their houses had collapsed.

Malnutrition was a huge concern for Lorenza and Santa as they struggled to provide food for their children.

Thanks to Trócaire, in partnership with Caritas, Lorenzo and Santa and community members received food rations and higiene kits in the two months after the hurricanes hit.

They have now been elected members of the disaster response committee, COLRED, which is helping  to rebuild from the rubble.Women like Lorenzo and Santa are becoming increasingly empowered to take on leadership roles and to make a difference

Mary Jeffrey (31) is a farmer in rural Malawi Photo Credit: Trócaire Mary Jeffrey (31) is a farmer in rural Malawi Photo Credit: Trócaire

Mary’s Story: Malawi

Mary Jeffrey (31) is mother to four sons and one daughter aged between three and 12 years of age. The family live in Masuli village on the Phalombe River in Zomba, Southern Malawi. The river is renowned for its lethal flash floods.

Married to George (42) Mary is the main family breadwinner and one of the many women trying to adapt to and survive the increasing extreme weather events in rural Malawi.

Approximately 97% of women in Malawi farm to raise money to support households, and make up 70% of the country’s cash crop labour.

Over the years Mary has lost crops due to flooding, while other community members lost homes and became displaced.

“Back in the day, rains were more predictable. We could plan for crop season. Now we cannot. Our livelihoods which are dependent on agriculture are impacted.  Our yields are poor and we are not able to feed our families.”

“Our houses are destroyed when storms hit, endangering our lives. We do as much as we can to combat climate change, including planting treets, but it’s not easy.

“Families are forced to move to camps. People get infections like cholera because of poor hygiene in the camps. Families are broken and children miss school.”

Mary’s day starts at 6am and involves farming, feeding her family, looking after her children, selling crops and getting through a number of chores. Without Mary, the family would not have food on the table or clothes on their backs.

Mary situation has improved thanks to Trócaire’s four-year Climate Challenge Programme in Malawi. She has received training in agroecology, gardening, manure making, livestock and pest management.

“Before the programme, my family were struggling for food. I depended on casual work to support farming. My husband left me to marry another woman but after seeing all the improvements in my life he has asked me back.”

“Thanks to the programme I have been able to increase my harvest. I never harvested over 10 bags of maize since I started growing it, but now I harvest 15 bags. I am able to put the  children through school and  have also been able to support my brother to go to College. We have made bricks so that after the rainy season, we will be able to build a stronger house.”

With proceeds from the sale of vegetables Mary was able to join a Village Savings and Loans group.

Ninfa, 36 years old leader and health volunteer in Tocoa, Colon, Hondas Photo Credit: Trócaire Ninfa, 36 years old leader and health volunteer in Tocoa, Colon, Hondas Photo Credit: Trócaire

Ninfa’s story: Honduras

Ninfa Suyapa Aguilera Maldonado (36) lives with her four children Carlos (16), Alex (13), Kimberly (10) and Ninfa (5), her partner and mother in a former rubbish dump on the banks of the river in the city of Tocoa, Northern Honduras. She is one of four million Hondurans who have been affected by Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

Sadly, her eldest son died two years ago so it has been a difficult time for all the family.

Living on the banks of a river is precarious, and the family is also worried about being evicted. The land on which they built their house belongs to a businessman and they don’t have deeds – something which worries Ninfa constantly.

There is no fresh water supply and people many are forced to drink contaminated water from the river, or buy bottled water with the little that they earn.

Ninfa supports her family with an income of €42 per month from what her husband and eldest son earn as stone masons and from what she earns in the small shop she runs from her house. Ninfa uses that money to buy food (rice, beans, and corn flour) and to stock her small grocery store.

The shop income covers the payment for the internet so her daughter can study in a new distance learning programme. It also helps pay off loans and feed the family when her husband and son do not have work.

As well as the shop and running the household Ninfa takes care of her grandson.

When the most recent hurricane hit, Ninfa and her family woke in the early hours of the morning to find water rising in their home. They took refuge in a temporary shelter but it was full of mud and there was nowhere for the family to sit. The family moved and stayed with friends while they carried out house repairs.

 “I cried when I lost everything. You can’t sleep peacefully when it is raining, because the river will rise. If I had a house somewhere else I would not be risking my family”.

Ninfa is now taking part in a new vegetable garden initiative run by Fundación San Alonso Rodríguez (FSAR) and supported by Trócaire. Ninfa and her neighbours have successfully planted tomatoes and lemon grass and are preparing to plant radish, cassava, watermelon, and lemon soon. For Ninfa it means “a new beginning”.

Despite her struggles, Ninfa remains positive and focused on providing for her family and ensuring they have everything they need.

“I’ve been through storm after storm and it has yet to break me. It’s tough, but not impossible,” she concludes.

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