Investing in Dignity in Northern Nigeria: Ya Fati's Story

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Photo © Rosie Collyer/IRIN. Nomadic boys, northern Nigeria.

Ya Fati Goni used to live in the community of Bulturum in the state of Yobe in northeastern Nigeria with her husband and five children. Her life was not easy, but at the age of 52, she was no stranger to scarcity. She and her husband managed to earn enough to support their most basic survival needs.

But in December of 2015, Ya Fati’s village was attacked. Her home was burned to the ground, along with most of her village. She had to abandon everything she owned and run for her life, seeking refuge in Damaturu town. Ya Fati and her family were lucky enough to be taken in by a relative, but, she says, “There were no jobs to earn income. We were dependent on the food in my relative’s home. I worried a lot for how long this could happen.”

Ya Fati is not alone. In a part of the country already struggling with extreme poverty, a violent insurgency led by the group Boko Haram has displaced over 1.5 million people in northern Nigeria and triggered a severe humanitarian crisis. An estimated 92 percent of displaced people have been taken in and assisted by “host communities[1].”

Action Against Hunger beneficiary Ya Fati Goni holds her "smart card," which empowers her to make her own financial decisions to manage her cost of living. Learn more about smart cards below. Photo: ACF-Nigeria

Neighbors offer lifelines to families uprooted by conflict

People’s willingness to offer shelter to total strangers—whom they consider “brothers and sisters”—and to share their limited supplies of food and water has been more than just a customary gesture of kindness. For thousands of displaced families in dangerous freefall, the generosity of host communities has been a critical safety net. But with such a massive influx of displaced people seeking refuge from the violence, the resources of host communities have been stretched beyond the breaking point, driving both the displaced and their hosts into deeper crisis.

In 2015, Action Against Hunger launched an emergency program to meet critical food and survival needs of communities affected by conflict in Yobe State, where the crisis is particularly severe. Our program, made possible by the United States Agency for International Development, benefits overburdened host households, as well as particularly vulnerable displaced people, such as mothers with young children.

There is food available in the local markets in Yobe, but displaced people—and the local families hosting them—don’t have the money to meet their needs. Instead of conducting large-scale distributions of food rations, which may have damaged the livelihoods of local vendors, we decided to provide at-risk households with recurrent monthly cash and food vouchers.

The value of choice

Beneficiaries receive “smart cards” to which funds are allocated monthly. The smart cards operate much like a debit card, with each beneficiary being given a unique ID number. Vendors are issued smart phones that act as devices for scanning and entering a PIN number. Receipts are printed and vendors are regularly reimbursed by Action Against Hunger. Each targeted household gets an allocation of roughly $50 USD per month, which covers about 75 percent of their monthly food needs. They can choose between shopping for food items with specific vendors—or collecting cash from money agents to pay for other critical expenses such as shelter, clean water, or health care.

Evidence suggests that the program not only helps the most vulnerable meet their food and survival needs, but also has a positive impact on local businesses and the local economy.

Being able to make decisions about their needs restores a sense of dignity to families who have lost everything. Having cash to buy food at the market has helped Ya Fati regain a sense of self reliance. “I can now feed my family,” she says. In fact, Ya Fati has even been able to save a little money from her monthly cash allocation, which she invested in two sheep, a source of future earnings: “I will try to also fatten my sheep so that I can earn my own money.”

Action Against Hunger is currently meeting the urgent needs of 21,000 people affected by conflict in Northern Nigeria through its emergency cash and food voucher program.

This blog post is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents are the responsibility of Action Against Hunger and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government.

[1] IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix Round IV June 2015

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Action Against Hunger is a global humanitarian organization that takes decisive action against the causes and effects of hunger. We save the lives of malnourished children. We ensure families can access clean water, food, training, and health care. We enable entire communities to be free from hunger.