Child Care Jobs Good Option For Refugee Women

By Ruxandra Guidi
April 14, 2011

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi
Madina Hussein, 24, is a refugee from Somalia. She's the first in her family to graduate high school and go to college, and now she's hoping to earn a living by providing in-home childcare.

SAN DIEGO -- Madina Hussein is 24 but has the face of a teenage girl. A gold, embroidered scarf covers her hair. She's a refugee from Somalia, the first in her family to graduate high school and go to college. She has worked as a security guard and finished her nursing degree here by going to night school. But steady work has been difficult for her to come by.

"Right now it's really hard to find a job," she said. "I was looking for a job for two years, and there are no jobs out there."

Hussein has had to collect welfare benefits in order to support her family. But a few months ago, she heard about another refugee woman in her neighborhood who runs a childcare operation at home making $150 a week, per child. Now Hussein hopes to be making good money in her own business.

"I would like to make a month maybe like $10,000 if I start with 15 kids," she said, optimistically. "But right now, maybe like $3,000 a month."

On a recent Saturday morning, 30 women, many younger than Hussein, were in a classroom program sponsored by the International Rescue Committee, or IRC, and Horn of Africa, a local refugee program. Iraqi women sat on the left; Somali women on the right, facing translators and a first-aid and CPR instructor. Plastic dummies lay on the floor, ready for a mouth-to-mouth resuscitation lesson.

Beyond the state-mandated CPR and first-aid training, the 27-hour program for refugee women includes business, preventative health, child development and behavior training, as well as a community-care licensing orientation.

After getting certified, the women will be ready to start caring for children in their home, often alongside their own kids.

Ralph Achenbach with Horn of Africa said that hundreds of women have gone through the program in the last five years, and that number continues to grow.

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi
The "nap" room at Lia Woldu's home and childcare facility was especially designed for children up to 4 years old.

"We have seen that word travels really fast in the Somali community," said Achenbach. "One participant described it as 'we are faster than Facebook.' So if one client is successful in a particular sort of business model, then the chances are, it's catching on throughout the community."

But starting a business, even a home business, requires seed money and know-how. That's where the IRC comes in - they provide micro-loans to women, and give them the tools to run successful businesses.

"Business licensing and regulation and competition in U.S. cities, in particular, San Diego, is incredibly more intense than what that would be in a developing country," said Joel Chrisco, with the IRC's San Diego office. "So in combination with the loan always comes technical assistance."

Since the direct-loan program was founded eight years ago, the repayment rate for all loans to refugee women is 96 percent. But with the economy slowing down in the last few years, some clients have had to file for bankruptcy.

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi
Lia Woldu is a refugee from Eritrea who has been running an in-home childcare operation for since 2005. She's a mother of three, and takes care of other children from Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Somalia, and the U.S.

So far, Lia Woldu has been able to survive the recession. She's a mother of three, and a babysitter for almost 10 children. The kids are a diverse bunch: from Kenya, Mexico, Ethiopia, Somalia, and the U.S. Woldu is from Eritrea, and has been running the childcare operation for six years.

A couple of years ago, she a separate nap room for the little ones.

"I got a $10,000 loan from IRC," said Woldu. "I fixed my fence in front, so now, I'm happy and I'm secure for children, too."

Secure even for children whose parents can't pay. Two mothers who rely on Woldu for childcare recently lost their jobs, and Woldu has agreed to help them out during this difficult time.