Improving family livelihoods is effective in keeping families together. Koos’ children return to school with renewed hope for a brighter future.

Koos Osman, 60, has infectious energy but her warm, rich smile hides many years of pain and sorrow.

Sitting on the bare floor of her new two-bedroom iron sheet house in Berbera, a coastal town in Somaliland, Koos hugs and laughs with her six children. She likes to tell them random stories they find amusing.


“I have taught my children to support me and to be there for one another,” says Koos. “What you see is the result of what I have taught them.”

Koos’ family was on the brink of falling apart two years ago after a painful divorce. The fights between her and her husband had escalated, and the tension in the home was unbearable. She says her marriage felt like one long argument, hurting the children. Traditionally, Somali women are nurturers and take care of the home while the men provide for the family’s needs. When Koos lost her husband, the family also lost their source of income.

Keeping A Family Together After Years Of Hardship In Somaliland
Koos and her son discuss his homework in their house, in Somaliland. ©Lydia Mantler

Koos started selling groceries at the roadside near her house. The children continued with school, but the demand for new uniforms, exam fees, and snacks kept coming. Koos could not keep up. She felt helpless as her children dropped out of school one by one.

“Food was hard to find. I could not afford to buy vegetables, pay school fees, or buy uniforms; many other things were just impossible,” says Koos. “When he [my husband] was here, the children ate three meals per day. These changes hit the children hard.

“I asked myself many questions, but I had no answers,” Koos adds. “I cried when I was alone. I did not have relatives with money to help me. I had no solution. I was so troubled.”

Common trend 

An assessment done by SOS Children’s Villages shows that many families are experiencing similar hardship in Berbera.

Most impoverished families lack the technical skills needed to run a successful business. They also need help accessing financial services for the credit required to pursue income-generating activities.

When families face difficulties, children are often exposed to abandonment, neglect, and abuse. Poverty is the number one reason why children are abandoned. Improving family livelihoods has been effective in keeping families together and avoiding separation.

The SOS Children’s Villages Family Strengthening Program helps caregivers like Koos overcome hardships by providing the family with what they need to enjoy a healthy life.

Keeping A Family Together After Years Of Hardship In Somaliland
Koos and her daughter laughing in their garden, Somaliland. ©Lydia Mantler

A new path forward 

Education support enabled all six of Koos’ children to return to school after missing a year. Three children are in primary school, two in high school, and the eldest daughter is enrolled in vocational training.

To generate income of any kind, Koos first needed some basic literacy. Her relatives raised her after the death of her parents, and they never sent her to school.

For six months, Koos sat in an adult education class and studied numbers, the alphabet, and simple math. In another training, she learned how to run a business, manage her finances, and the importance of savings.

With this knowledge, she felt confident and stopped selling groceries to stock pricier items like utensils and clothes. She accessed a loan of 500 USD and opened her business.

“I lost a lot of money [selling groceries] because my neighbors took items from me on credit, and I did not know how to write their names,” says Koos. “They never paid, and I could not recall what they had taken. These days, I can write their names.”

Koos says going to school has motivated her to take an interest in her children’s education and monitor their performance.

She can feed the children well, pay school fees and clothes, and care for their health from her profits. Primary school is free, but teachers ask for exam fees. She spends 60 USD per month for her sons in high school.

The children are now optimistic about their futures and discuss pursuing careers as doctors, teachers, and pilots. Some say they want to study as much as possible and acquire many degrees.

According to UNICEF, access to education in Somaliland is limited. One in two children do not attend school due to poverty, drought, and food insecurity.

Koos is thrilled that her children are in school. She is focusing all her energies on growing her business and educating them.

“We now have a decent life. The children are receiving an education, and we are all working hard.”

Family Matters

From ‘Family Matters Magazine Spring 2023’

Koos, a mother from Somaliland, and her six children have faced immense hardship since the children’s father left. They lived in a cramped one-room iron-sheet house, unable to escape the elements during the rainy season.

With no income, Koos couldn’t afford necessities like vegetables, but thanks to SOS Children’s Villages, she was able to improve her small business and learn valuable accounting skills. Micro-loans allowed her to expand her shop, which became a lifeline for her struggling community.

SOS Children’s Villages provided Koos and her family with a new two-room iron-sheet house, lifting their spirits and allowing her children to flourish in school.

We’ve changed the names of all children and some featured adults in this magazine to protect their identities.

Alison Wallace
Alison Wallace

Greetings and warm wishes to you all. I hope that this edition of Family Matters finds you and your loved ones safe, healthy, and hopeful. The world around us continues to change, and in these challenging times, the importance of nurturing and supporting those close to us is clearer than ever before.

The global cost-of-living crisis continues to have a profound impact on countless families. I know that many of our supporters will be feeling this keenly. Across the world, increased economic pressure, natural disasters, and conflict have brought additional stress and hardship, especially for the children and families we support. However, through adversity, they remain strong, and the collective resolve and dedication of our supporters to make a difference has never wavered. Thank you!

Thanks to you, we persist in our mission to create safe, stable, and secure environments for children, families, and young people worldwide. In difficult times, vulnerable children face heightened risks of neglect, abuse, or exploitation. One in ten children already confront these challenges globally and we remain committed to protecting them.

At SOS Children’s Villages, we accompany children through each phase of their lives, enabling them to experience the joys of childhood despite past traumas. With our support, they experience loving, and nurturing homes as they grow, access high-quality education, and are supported to develop the skills they need to confidently embrace independence when the time comes.

One of the most effective ways we do this, is by helping families facing hardship to stay together whenever possible. In doing so, children can gain a sense of security and belonging, and pave the way for their future success. With ongoing conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine (page 7), our ability to support families affected by war, personal crises, or economic hardship is more important than ever. Our supporters have provided a vital lifeline to ensure we can help refugee families like Olha’s, who fled Ukraine when the war began. Through SOS Children’s Villages, they are supported to deal with the emotional trauma of war and adapt to life in their new country.

In this edition, you’ll uncover stories of resilience and hope. For example, from Grace (page 13), who with her caregiver’s support, overcame adversity and is now pursuing a fashion career. Read about our efforts to keep families together during crises by aiding mothers like Fatou (page 9), helping her to keep her children in school and start her business.

These stories showcase the strength and determination of those that you support. Continue reading to discover the importance of mental health support for children (page 6) and join us in celebrating the immense power of young people’s voices (page 10).

We applaud the extraordinary individuals, from caregivers to our tireless staff around the world, who devote their lives to helping others. Their incredible commitment, coupled with your generosity, is genuinely inspiring. There is no question that the cost-of-living crisis has brought additional difficulties, but it has also reinforced our commitment to each other and the families we support. All children deserve to grow up feeling safe, loved, and respected. Thank you for helping us make this a reality!

With heartfelt gratitude,

Alison Wallace, Chief Executive Officer, SOS Children‘s Villages UK

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