Leaping Heights: Basketball and dreams through E-Cash in Mogadishu

Women playing basketball in Mogadishu. Photo: Oxfam
“The girls I coach are passionate and always come for practice twice a week.”

“I used to be the captain of the Somalia Women’s National Basketball team in 1991, just as the country was beginning to fall apart. While this was taking place, the team and I were in Ethiopia participating in the regional championships. We could not return so we were instead taken to Nairobi.”

These were the words of Mulki, a former national team player in Somalia. Since that time, life has never been easy, but she has always been able to provide for her family. Today the 42 year old is a mother of 10 and runs a small shop in Mogadishu, where she sells fruits, vegetables and other assorted items. Mulki is the sole provider for her family.

Mogadishu has been at the center of a 22-year-old war that has ravaged the country and lefts its people at a state of despair. However, this was not always the case. Somalia was once a prosperous country, the most developed in East Africa.

“We were encouraged to play sports”

“I started playing basketball in 1982,” Mulki recalls. “I was inspired to play after watching other people play the sport and seeing how exciting it was. I am very tall so it was not a problem to pick up the game. I was an exceptional athlete, eventually rising up the ranks to the national team and becoming its captain. Things were different then. It was not a problem for women to play sports. In fact, we were encouraged to.”

To Mulki, that seems like a lifetime ago. Since then, Somalia has been plagued by continuous conflict and disasters. It was difficult to continue playing the sport she loved while busy trying to provide for her growing family. Despite all this, Mulki saved enough money to open her small shop 12 years ago.

“I have been running my shop for a long time and it has helped me and my family survive through all the hardships. I used to sell only fruits and vegetables, but I wanted to sell more things to earn more money,” Mulki said. “When I was selected for support from Oxfam and Hijra’s cash program, I was very happy because I could finally fulfill my plans.”

Receiving money on the phone: a slam dunk

Mulki and her family were selected as recipients of the E-cash pilot project launched by Oxfam and our partner Hijra in August of 2012, the first of its kind in Somalia. The project targeted over 2,090 households of internally displaced people and urban community members, to receive cash support via mobile phones.

“I was prepared to line up for a long time before receiving the cash, because this is what usually happens,” Mulki said. “Instead, I went to the Nation Link [mobile service provider] office, received a free phone and got the money transferred to my phone; all in a very short time.”

“After I received the money, I used some of it to buy additional items to sell in my shop such as biscuits, books, pens, salt and sugar,” Mulki said. “These items sell very fast and they do not go bad like the vegetables. I am able to buy a lot of stock and earn more money over a longer period of time.”

“I also used some of the money to buy food for my family,” she continued. “In the near future, I plan to save more money to build a permanent structure for my shop, and stock even more types of goods. Hopefully those dreams come true as well.”

“I missed playing”

Never forgetting her passion for basketball, Mulki began coaching a women’s basketball team in Mogadishu in 2000.

“I coach the Hegan women’s basketball team,” she said. “There is not much freedom to play the sport, due to cultural differences and perceptions, but the girls I coach are passionate and always come for practice twice a week. Two of my elder daughters play on the team as well.”

Her love of basketball was not the only reason she started coaching the team. “I wanted to show my daughters that there is more to life than what they see around them,” she said. “I wanted to share with them a part of me that was important when I was younger. I also missed playing so this was a chance to do it again.”

“This project really benefited me and my family’s life,” she said gratefully. “The money received was sufficient for us at that time. At least I was able to pay to improve my business and provide for my family. Any support is always welcome.”

“I hope for a better life where I don’t have to struggle to make ends meet,” she said. “This is a start.”

Oxfam and Hijra have been working together as partners since 2007 to provide livelihood support to people in Mogadishu. This work to help the people of Somalia continues today.