The impossible choice between family or food: Maryam’s story

At just 15, Maryam is forced to flee her hometown, in search of food and water. 

15-year-old Maryam had watched as the crops in her village wilted, livestock died and the children around her became fatigued with the effects of malnutrition. She is at the epicentre of the worst drought East Africa as seen in 40 years, with famine looming. 

At just 15 years old, she was forced to make the difficult decision of leaving her childhood home in search of food. The hardest part? Her mother was too sick to make the journey, so she was forced to flee with her 10 younger siblings alone. All in hopes of finding enough food and water to survive. 

Maryam knew she had to decide to flee, but the choice to leave her mother behind was one no daughter should ever have to make. Seeing her siblings suffer from malnutrition, Maryam knew she had to act quickly.

So, she gathered her five sisters, five brothers, and her family’s livestock. With nothing more, they started walking towards a humanitarian aid centre Maryam had only heard about. It was their only hope. 

Somalia, where Maryam lives, is no stranger to the crippling effects of drought. In 2011, a lack of rainfall led to the most severe famine of the 21st century, resulting in over 250,000 deaths. Right now, a similar crisis is looming as prolonged drought pushes East Africa closer to the brink of famine. 


The journey 

Before the journey began, Maryam was already familiar with how hunger and thirst felt: a growling stomach, low energy, dizziness, problems focusing, and more. Still, nothing could have prepared her for the extremely difficult walk ahead of her.

Travelling under the scorching heat, their livestock were the first to perish. It was a loss more significant than one might realize: for most families in East Africa livestock is everything. It’s a source of transportation, a source of income if they need to sell, and a potential source of food if worse comes to worst. 

Without the donkey's transport, their journey took longer, which meant their provisions would have to stretch further. Water was extremely limited and Maryam explains how two of the children nearly died of thirst. Had it not been for the three litres of water that a nearby family gave them, the family might not have made it. 


World Vision’s impact

Despite all odds, Maryam and her younger siblings made it to the humanitarian aid centre, where World Vision is providing food vouchers and cash to thousands of displaced families every month, in partnership with the World Food Programme.

Maryam had just enough strength to flee and lead her younger siblings to safety. Now that she is at the aid centre, she has just enough food and clean water to sustain her.

Maryam misses her mother and hopes for them to be reunited soon. Besides seeing her mother, Maryam dreams of becoming a teacher in the future.


"There is no looking back. The place we left doesn’t have food and water. My mother had a leg injury. She couldn’t dare to take the risk knowing the suffering. I’m worried for my mother. She doesn't have anything to eat. We spent three days on the road. While on the road, our donkey cart broke. We lost some livestock on our way and left others on the road. It was horrible. Several of our children collapsed from thirst and had to be rescued by nearby families who provided us with three litres of water to keep us going. I want to study and go to school. I’m illiterate now. I aspire to be a teacher and study everything."

15-year-old, Maryam


Hunger forced Maryam from her home, tore apart her family, and put her education on the line.

Your small act of kindness is enough to fill a child's plate. Support our Global Hunger Response 


Written By: 
World Vision Singapore