Landmine victims or agents of change: The story of an empowered woman

 Haja Karima's, one of the micro-loans recipients, smile and determination helped her to overcome the unexpected tragedy of her family. UNDP/Fatma Elzahraa Yassin
Haja Karima's, one of the micro-loans recipients, smile and determination helped her to overcome the unexpected tragedy of her family. UNDP/Fatma Elzahraa Yassin

After her husband’s landmine accident 20 years ago, Haja Najia’s life changed dramatically. At the age of 56, Haja Najia is the main bread winner of a 10-person family. The family lives a few kilometers away from the city center of Matrouh governorate, near the North West coast. In Matrouh, it is rare to see women in the streets, yet there are many women who defy the cultural gender constraints.

"My husband lost his right leg and eye many years ago from the war remnants, and since then, he couldn't work nor could he support the family. I had to raise 8 children and support my family. Despite the cultural constraints that hinder women's work in Matrouh, I overcame all challenges and worked for years to support my children,” recalls Haja Najia.

Highlights

  • According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), causalities due to mines left over from World War II have reached 8,313 casualties; 697 killed and 7,616 injured.
  • The women-targeted recipients used the micro-loans to purchase sheep, poultry, goats or sewing machines, and were asked to repay the money in monthly installments.

Haja Najia’s experience is one of the countless tragic stories in this area; it is difficult to find a family without a landmine victim, yet the families still share the stories with a smile of hope. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), causalities due to mines left over from World War II have reached 8,313 casualties; 697 killed and 7,616 injured.

Through the financial component of the Support to the North West Coast Development and Mine Action Plan project, Haja Najia benefited from the newly-executed model along with 58 women beneficiaries who were part of this model. She received her first micro-loan through the Mine Victims Association for Development, the local partner of the executive secretariat of the project. The model had a snowball effect; one after the other requesting the micro-loans. The women-targeted recipients used the micro-loans to purchase sheep, poultry, goats or sewing machines, and were asked to repay the money in monthly installments. “This is the first time for us to accept micro-loans. We have always refused but this time we liked the model and the loan terms. Women got the loans however the whole family work together to trade and repay the money,” said Ragab Saeed, a landmine victim.

"We wanted to prove that we really can work and be productive. The evidence is our actual work and not words on paper; this is why people trusted us. The landmine destroyed my leg in a blink of an eye, yet my determination helped me achieve my dreams," added Abdallah El Shehaby, Head of Mine Victims Association for Development, who is himself a victim who lost his right hand and eye in his early twenties. "We insisted that all Board of Directors members should be landmine victims. We are turning jobless victims to real agents of change in our community. Though the loan amounts to EGP 3,000, yet it created a big difference and supports the family". “Most of the women proved to be more reliable in terms of their ability to repay the money more than men”, said Abdallah.

The Support to the North West Coast Development and Mine Action Plan project was established in 2007 as a collective partnership between UNDP, the Ministry of Planning, the Ministry of International Cooperation and the Ministry of Defense to address the problem of causalities due to mines.  It aims to support the development of the North West Coast and inland desert to transform the country’s soil, currently contaminated with explosive remnants of war and mines, to a land that is ready for all forms of development.

After the success of the first phase of the project, UNDP launched the second phase of the project in partnership with the European Delegation to Egypt and the Ministry of International Cooperation that aims to help clear thousands of acres of minefields, improve lives of mine victims and their families.

Fatma, Om Mardia, Abdallah and Haja Karima are just a few names of other women who have benefited from the project. They have used these microloans to start up small, duplicable projects, improving their income and the wellbeing of the whole family.