“Before I was a poor man, but now I am rich.”

When I was in Sudan, I met a man called Mohamed Mohamed Musa. He was one of the people who had undertaken a seven hour bus journey to travel from Kassala to meet me at the Practical Action offices in Khartoum. I interviewed Mohamed at length, to learn about his life, and how he had worked with Practical Action.

My conversation with Mohamed was a fascinating one, and I wrote about it at the time on my blog Sprouting seeds for success and happiness. I remember being struck by his height. I’m quite small, and Mohamed towered over me. But he was very thin, and his collar bones protruded sharply. I remember noticing his clothes – he wore a ‘jalabya’, a simple long white gown, and an ‘eimma’, a turban – but he was also very proud of his very cool Ray Ban style sunglasses. But mostly I remember Mohamed’s face. It was fascinating, magnificent, the sort that has a whole life etched into it.

Today I received some really sad news from one my colleagues in Sudan.

Mohamed has passed away.

He died on 9 September after falling ill with a parasitic infection which is spread by contact with dirty water.

I am filled with sorrow. Mohamed was 64 – a good age – but at no point in our conversation did he seem weak, or frail, or ready to leave his life. He was passionate about Practical Action, and spoke enthusiastically about his hope that one day he would be able to help other poor people in Sudan in the way that Practical Action had helped him, and his community.

In my notes of our conversation, I scribbled “Mohamed is like hope embodied.” I feel so sad that his life and that hope have been snuffed out so soon.

I’d like to share Mohamed’s words with you, so you too can be inspired by the story of a very hard-working, determined and humble man.


Mohamed’s story

“I was born in 1947. I’m 64. I’ve lived all my life in Tambi. I have two wives and 16 children – nine sons and seven daughters. Some of them are still in school.

My childhood was a happy time. I had six brothers and four daughters. My father was a farmer and he also did some teaching. I left school when I was about 12 and started working with my father, helping with our animals.

I was 26 years old when I married my first wife Mariam, who is now 50. And then I was 44 when I married my second wife, Fatima, who is 37. My marriage to Mariam was arranged. Fatima is a relative, the daughter of my cousin. Her parents died when she was young and so I married her to look after her.

I live with my wife Mariam in Tambi, in a small mud house with four rooms. Fatima doesn’t live with me; she lives in Kassala because I want the children to go to school there.

Every day I wake up at 4am and prepare to go to the mosque to pray. After that I drink some tea and then will travel to the farm to work on the land all day. After I get back to my house at 5pm and we pray again and maybe have some food. In the evening times, I will go to the community centre which has been built by Practical Action. As a community we’ll discuss any issues or concerns, or problems we might have with our farming, or the latest news.

Mariam searches for the firewood for cooking. We cook on an open fire outside in the open, not inside our house. Otherwise it gets too smoky.

It’s our children’s duty to go and collect the water for drinking. We have water that is pumped from Kassala, but we rely on the rainwater to water our crops. We know that climate change is making life more difficult. We now need to plant seeds that don’t require as much rain because the rains don’t come as frequently these days.

Practical Action told me about these new seeds. They actually yield more, and I am able to get more money for my crops at market! I decided to bring these to share with you because I know you are meeting other farmers in Darfur. We can all see the difference between the old and the new seeds.

Before Practical Action came to Tambi, I was always worrying about the future, fighting for tomorrow. Mostly I was worried about food. We never had enough to eat. But I never gave up. We were just farmers, we had no skills, no other jobs. We had no choice, but to continue trying to make a living from farming.

I volunteered to be a ‘lead farmer’ in my village and am part of a network of lead farmers across Kassala called ‘Elgandhl’ (it means ‘sprouting seed’ in English). This means it’s my duty to share farming skills with other farmers in my community. This could be how to build a terrace or how to hoe the soil. I know how to do a small germination test to check the quality of the seeds – you simply put one in a saucepan of water, and watch to see if it will grow. I now know about weeds and pests and how to control them using local techniques (that have been forgotten over the generations) about scaring birds away. Practical Action has informed us of our rights, what we can expect from our government, how we can make ourselves heard.

Practical Action has helped some of the women in my village to set up a women’s farm. Mariam, my wife, is one of these women. If she has time she also comes and helps me with the animals. We now think of the women as equal – we are the same. I know my wife can think as well as I do.

There is not enough time to talk about all that Practical Action does in my village. Practical Action is like a mother to us – we see ourselves as the children of Practical Action. Before I was a poor man, but now I am rich – not with money but with knowledge. Knowledge makes me richer than anything.

We will know what to do long after Practical Action leaves. I am very happy and proud. I am hoping that one day we will be able to do for other poor people in Sudan what Practical Action has done for us.” 

Mohamed will stay in my heart forever. My thoughts are with his family and community in Kassala.

6 responses to ““Before I was a poor man, but now I am rich.””

  1. Sheikh Idris Arka Says:

    Hi Ella
    When I am listened to this sad news I worried how telling you? I know your distinct relationship with Mohamed Musa…also I remembered when your prepared his story I told him and he is very appreciated Saying Ella she is very kind girl I respect her and my contribution for our development and future growing .

  2. Ella Jolly Says:

    Hi Sheikh Idris,
    It is very lovely to hear from you.
    I am indeed so sad to hear the news about Mohamed – I will never forget meeting him, and when he showed me those amazing seeds of which he was so proud!
    I’m thinking of his family at what I’m sure is a very difficult time.
    Best wishes,

  3. Sheikh Idris Arka Says:

    Dear Ella
    Thanks for your kind words about Mohamed Musa
    I am brought them your feelings and the content of what you said ,they are thankful to you and very appreciated, we are in Practical Action Eastern Sudan continues our collaboration with his family and his community to achieve our common goals.
    My Regrds
    Sheikh Idris

  4. B.Ismail Says:

    Dear Ella
    I would like to thank you for sharing and the kindness for M M.Musa who was passed away.We wish God may help his families though after. I am very proud that Mohammed said that ,he was rich by adding knowledge from Practical Action and that is a good practices.

    My best regards.


  5. Angla Moodispaugh Says:

    (Instead of north Broadway, it might take you to the same street number on south Broadway.) If possible, get some landmark sights to help assure you that you’re headed the right direction, too. Additionally, it might be wise to confirm with the concierge at your hotel whether the neighborhood is one that is safe to travel to.

  6. Masud parbis Says:

    I am very poor man’s.but I no money.i need work. please help me.

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