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Mother’s Day 2023: Ambiyo’s love for her children gives her hope for the future

Today on Mother’s Day, we celebrate all mothers who work tirelessly to provide for their families

Ambiyo and Mahat with their children Willow (14), Issack (12), Fathan (10), Nasteha (8), Mohammad (4), twins Zelinab and Isnino (2) and baby Feisal near their home in an IDP camp, Luuq, Somalia. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire Ambiyo and Mahat with their children Willow (14), Issack (12), Fathan (10), Nasteha (8), Mohammad (4), twins Zelinab and Isnino (2) and baby Feisal near their home in an IDP camp, Luuq, Somalia. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire

At Trócaire, we work with millions of incredible mothers every year, many of whom do the seemingly impossible to provide a better life for themselves and their families.  

To mark Mother’s Day this year, we share the story of Ambiyo, and how her love for her children gives her hope for a better future.  

Meet the Mahat family 

Ambiyo, her husband Mahat, and their eight young children ranging in age from 14 years to two weeks’ old have been living in Boyle (pronounced “boy-lay”) Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp outside Luuq in Gedo Region, southern Somalia, since March 2022.

They are among hundreds of thousands of Somalis forced to flee their homes due to a fourth consecutive year of drought which has ravaged the country. In 2023, an estimated 8.25 million people, nearly half of Somalia’s population, will need immediate lifesaving assistance.

The Mahat family left their home in Dor Murah village in Bakool region, approximately 55 kms from Luuq, after their crops failed and the last of their 200 goats died. They say their only option was to leave – or stay and face starvation and death.

After walking for three days, they arrived in Boyle with, as Mahat (39) put it, “nothing but the clothes on our backs”. Ambiyo (36) was five months pregnant with her 9th child.

Ambiyo and Mahat have nine children, Willow (14), Issack (12), Fathan (10), Nasteha (8), Mohammad (4), twins Zelinab and Isnino (2) and baby Feisal. The family’s third daughter Ardo, died from diarrhoea aged two.

Journey to the camp

Before the drought the Mahat family had a relatively good life in their village, Dor Murah, in Bakool region, southern Somalia.

“We owned a small plot of land and had a home with two rooms and enough to live on. As well as a herd of 200 goats, we had a donkey which meant we had transport to get to the local market to sell milk and goat meat to get money so we could buy food and household supplies. Our goats also supplied milk for the family. We were hopeful for our futures. We were content,” said Mahat.

Childhood sweethearts, Ambiyo and Mahat were born and reared in Dor Murah. Ambiyo was one of four children, but she is the only one of her original family alive. Two of her siblings died as adults from measles, and a third died from hunger after the drought set in two years ago. Mahat was orphaned when he was very young and was reared by his grandparents.

Both were from pastoralist families and met herding goats when Ambiyo was 15 and Mahat was 18. The couple fell in love, and when Ambiyo was 16, Mahat asked her father for her hand in marriage. They married and started their family and were happy.

“Before the drought came, we had 200 goats and one donkey. Our family was growing. We were also farmers with a plot of land and we grew sorghum (a millet). Our home was built from mud walls and had two rooms – enough room for us all. We were happy and settled and could afford items and the upkeep of our children,” Ambiyo said.

“But everything changed when the drought came three years ago. The drought took our livelihoods. Previously we experienced drought, but it always passed and didn’t last and did not force us out of our homes.”

“Our goats started to die. One by one by one by one. It was heart-breaking. When we were down to our last goat, we made the decision to leave our village. If we didn’t, we would all have died. We heard that there was help if we got to a camp in Luuq.”

She said when the last goat died, it had very little meat on its bones as it was so thin, but the family took what meat it could from the carcass and fried it to have some food for the children for the journey to Luuq. The family set off on foot and it took three days and two nights to get to Boyle IDP. They walked all the way, on their own, with no other families from their village.

“There were many other families making the same journey. People were desperate. We met people who lost family members on the journey. They had to bury them on the roadside. We could see dead animal carcass along the way,” Mahat said.

Ambiyo said it was a very tough journey: “I was five months pregnant and carried one of our little twin girls on my front and the other on my back. My husband helped the other younger children and the older ones walked. It was very difficult walking in the heat of the day. It was cold at night. We carried a water container and got water from bore holes along the way. Apart from the goat meat there was no food. Myself and my husband did not eat at all we survived on water. When we arrived at the IDP camp we very weak and tired.”

Building a new home

Ambiyo in her makeshift kitchen at the IDP camp, Luuq, Somaia. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire Ambiyo in her makeshift kitchen at the IDP camp, Luuq, Somaia. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire

Boyle is a new IDP camp on the edge of Luuq town. It is home to thousands of families forced to leave their home due to the ongoing drought. It is a desolate place and as far as the eye can see there are hundreds of makeshift shelters. New families have been arriving here every day in recent months.

The earth is scorched, and the only vegetation is bush scrubs. Little children run around outside their shelters. There are no toys, no playgrounds. Some children play with sticks and empty water containers. Older boys use the containers as footballs. Across the camp you can see tall, lean men huddled together in small groups. Women, dressed in their colourful traditional outfits and many swaddling small babies, fetch water and cook over open fires outside. It is baking hot. Temperatures are nearly 40 degrees Celsius.

Trócaire runs the entire health services in Gedo district, including a hospital in Luuq town and an outreach health clinic near Boyle camp. In recent months the number of young children presenting with malnutrition has trebled, and there is growing pressure on the services.

Ambiyo is stoic and dignified despite all she has endured. She doesn’t smile often but when she does her beauty shines. She is still weak after almost losing her life giving birth on the ground of the family’s shelter. She cradles her three-week-old baby daughter, Feisal. Her eldest child, daughter Willow, (14), is like Feisal’s second mother and is very protective of her baby sister. The other children are scarpering around outside the shelter. The older siblings are looking after the lively two-year-old twins, Zelinab and Isnino.


The shelter is approximately 12 feet by 10 feet and is built from sticks and twigs covered with scraps of material, plastic and cardboard. “When we arrived at the camp, we had nothing,” said Ambiyo. “The older children went to the bush and got sticks to help build the shelter. We gathered bits of plastic and material from our neighbours.” The family used the cardboard from boxes of plumpy nut (a nutritious food) they received from Trócaire to fill in gaps. No material goes to waste here. There is just one bed in the shelter, a mattress on some blocks of wood, with a sheet of material around it to give Ambiyo and her newborn some privacy. Her husband sleeps outside and the rest of the children sleep on mats on the ground.

The family were given help from members of their clan, Malin Weyne, when they arrived in Boyle. Clan members help their own and they shared whatever food they could with the family.

“When we arrived here the twins were very sick and weak after the journey and we were worried that one would die from hunger. Zelinab was hospitalised due to complications from malnutrition, but the other one was admitted with her as they didn’t want to separate them. The twin was in hospital for 11 days and she got milk and food. I was also given food. When the twin was released, we were given a food basket from Trócaire which lasted for a month. It included rice, soghrum, oil, flour and tea leaves. This really helped us,” Ambiyo said.

Ambiyo looks around the shelter. “We don’t own this land. Before we had our own land and a livelihood. The children sleep on the floor – there are not enough mats for them all. It is hard to see what the future will hold. “

The birth of their 9th child

Ambiyo's daughter Zelinab undergoing MUAC measurement by Trócaire staff. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire. Ambiyo's daughter Zelinab undergoing MUAC measurement by Trócaire staff. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire.

On June 11th 2022, Ambiyo went into Labour with her 9th child. Her labour pains started at 8 p.m. and at 9 p.m the traditional birth attendant arrived. She was the same attendant who supported her when she gave birth to her twins in her village two years previously. “Like so many people from my old village the birth attendant had to leave her home also, and she came here to Boyle,” Ambiyo said.

“I was lying on a mat on the ground in our shelter. The pains were very strong, and the baby was born at 10 p.m. It came really quickly, but then I started to bleed. I was bleeding all through the night it wouldn’t stop.”

The camp leader was called, concerned that Ambiyo would not last the night. One of the Muslim leaders also came and prayed. But it was night-time and there was no transport to get Ambiyo medical help. The bleeding continued until sunrise and Ambiyo was taken to the nearby Alcara Health Centre run by Trócaire, where she was given an injection to stop the bleeding.

She was also supported to breast feed her new baby. She spent two nights in the health centre. “My life was saved,” Ambiyo said.

Three weeks after giving birth, Ambiyo is still very weak and cannot stand for long periods. She is taking iron tablets to increase her blood level. “My daughter Willow is a great support. She is like a second mother to my baby and our other children.”

A day in the life of the Mahat family

Mahat Ibrahim Isaack (39) carrying water to the homestead at an IDP camp , Luuq, Somalia. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire. Mahat Ibrahim Isaack (39) carrying water to the homestead at an IDP camp , Luuq, Somalia. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire.

The day for the family starts early when the children wake at sunrise. After prayer, the older children make tea and traditional pancakes called anjera from soghrum. The older children then go to Islamic school known as Dugsi. Ambiyo does chores and makes a lunch of Ambulo, a stew made from maize and beans, cooked on the fire outside.

“If we don’t have maize and beans to make Ambulo we go without and we just have tea. After lunch the children go back to school. When they come home, they have more Ambulo if there is some left. My husband goes into the town to look for casual work. He gets whatever work he can to buy a little food, but most days he comes back with nothing. There is no work most of the time,” Ambiyo said.

Willow who is 14 sometimes gets work in town washing clothes to make some money for the family. She also gathers sticks to sell as firewood so they can buy food. Soon her brothers Issack (12) and Fathan (10) will be old enough to seek work to support the family.

Holding her new-born sister Willow says proudly: “I want an education. When I grow up, I want a job and I would like to support my mother and father. I would like to teach in a school someday.”

The older children have never been to a traditional school but this week the oldest three are starting in the school in the IDP camp run by Trócaire. They are very excited. They will have uniforms and copies and books. “I really want to learn,” said Willow.

Hopes for the future

Willow and Nasteha at school. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire. Willow and Nasteha at school. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire.

Ambiyo’s biggest wish is for a better life for her family. “Most of all I want my children’s lives to be better. I want them to go to school and to have a good education. I did not go to school and my husband did not go to school. I am happy to be in Luuq as we are near the health services so if my children get sick, they will get help. It is good to be here where we have supports. Being here gives me hope.”

Mahat echoes his wife’s wish for their children to have an education.

“Before we met Trócaire life was very tough for us here. We had nothing in our hands. We would send our daughter Willow to wash clothes for people to try and raise money. The little money she would get we used for our food. We had to put food on the table. She would also go and search for firewood to sell so we could buy food. Our daughter did those chores as I could not get a job. There was no work for me at all, I tried every day. So, I had to get my daughter to work. This broke my heart. I am the father and the head of the household and it is I who should be earning money. Our daughter should be in school getting an education.”

Religion is very important to the Mahat family.

“Since Trócaire has helped life has improved and we thank God for that. We have got food baskets and we are very grateful to God for this. We are now actually able to put food on the table,” Mahat said.

“Our faith is important. We hope God gives us help in the future. We have present needs, food. But I pray for the future needs of my children, and I hope God will open doors to help my children and that they will be able to go to school and learn and get jobs. My biggest wish for all of my children is they get an education.”

Message of thanks to the people of Ireland

The Mahat family say there are enormously grateful to the people of Ireland who have supported the people of Somalia through Trócaire.

“Without the support my family received from Ireland, we might not be alive. I want Irish people to know that we want to live a better life and to have food for my children. I need food assistance and we are getting this. Thank you to people in Ireland for supporting my family and the people in Internally Displaced Camps in Gedo,” Ambiyo said.

Love keeps the family going

What keeps the Mahat family going, they say, is the love they have for each other.

When Mahat talks about his wife, he looks at her with love in his eyes. When Ambiyo talks about her husband her eyes light up and she smiles. “I thought I lost her when she gave birth to Feisal,” said Mahat. “I don’t know what I would have done.”

The children mind each other. The older ones looking after the younger ones, watching out and caring for them.

“We do not have any toys,” says Willow. Her brothers nod in agreement. “We have each other.”

“We do not have much,” says Mahat. “But we do have each other. Yes, our love keeps us together.”

Trócaire’s response on the ground

Paul Healy, Trócaire’s Country Director in Somalia, said the drought and hunger in Somalia is currently the worse he’s ever seen it.

“It is catastrophic. We’ve just about avoided famine being declared in 2022, but the worst is still to come. There are millions and millions of people on the edge of starvation,” Mr Healy said.

Paul Healy. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire Paul Healy. Photo: Joy Obuya/Trócaire

In Somalia, Trócaire has been providing lifesaving health services for the past 30 years in the Gedo region, which is about the size of Ireland.

“I was in Dolow Hospital in Gedo a number of months ago, and I noticed a child come in who was very distressed. I got the doctor, but I watched that child die and I will never forget it. It is completely unacceptable that a baby would die of starvation, and that’s simply what it was. That day will stay with me for as long as I live,” Mr Healy said.

Mr Healy thanked the people of Ireland for their continued support for the people of Somalia.

“My deepest thanks to the people of Ireland for your solidarity, your compassion, and your support for the people of Somalia who are at their darkest hour.

“Your donations to Trócaire have enabled us to scale up our response so that the most vulnerable, especially small children and babies, their lives are saved and they have some sort of a future. Thank you for your support. It’s deeply appreciated, and we will use every euro to the best of our ability, so that lives are saved and dignity is insured.”

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