August 18, 2011: On Tuesday, heavy fighting between Somali government troops and rebels forced SOS to evacuate children and staff from its SOS Children’s Village in Mogadishu. Most medical personnel at the SOS Clinic, also located in the Somali capital, evacuated as well.
Map of East Africa and SOS operations in the region, click to enlarge
SOS has worked for several decades in Somalia under dangerous conditions. Yesterday’s evacuation is not the first that SOS has been compelled to carry out to protect children under its care.
Yesterday’s action came after government forces neared SOS grounds. In their attempt to secure the area, Somali soldiers faced resistance that prompted them to use mortar shells and anti-aircraft guns. The artillery hit structures next to the SOS Children’s Village and hospital.
SOS Children in Mogadishu Now Safe
Women and children are waiting for treatment at the SOS Clinic in Mogadishu
The 90 children have reached safety northwest of the capital in an area between Mogadishu and the town of Afgooye. The location houses thousands of temporary shelters for families escaping violence. Anticipating the need for safe haven, late last year SOS-Somalia rented space in this area for emergencies like the current one.
While a few SOS staff members, some youths, and security guards remained in the village, spending the night in a bunker, a skeletal staff stayed at the hospital. The mother and child medical center is functioning at a minimal level; the few staff still there are attending to a handful of patients too ill to be moved.
Ahmed Ibrahim, National Director of SOS Children’s Villages Somalia, reported some structural damage to roofs and office buildings, but no major destruction. As of Wednesday morning, the area was quiet.
SOS Somalia Operating Under Duress and Uncertainty
Al Shabaab withdrew from Mogadishu earlier this month, but pockets of resistance remain in the city. Ahmed Ibrahim said the worsening situation was expected as government and African Union forces moved closer to Mogadishu’s northern district, an area formerly controlled by al Shabaab.
SOS Children's Villages Somalia maintains constant communication with government officials to ensure the safety of its children, staff, and facilities. Nonetheless, intensive fighting like yesterday’s can get out of control despite government efforts.
Commitment Despite Complications
SOS co-worker attending mother with child in the Badbado refugee camp
The bulk of medical staff from the SOS Mogadishu clinic have gone to support an SOS emergency clinic set up in the nearby refugee camps in Badbado for drought-affected children and families. There, SOS medical personnel see 250 patients a day, of whom 100 are children.
“Mogadishu is one of the main areas where we wanted to concentrate on aid for starving children and families in urgent need of proper medical care,” said Ahmed Ibrahim. Although the SOS-Somalia director does not think the whole emergency relief effort is in jeopardy, he notes that the evacuation from Mogadishu will complicate SOS aid work.
Ibrahim and the SOS staff in Mogadishu are tough, resilient, and utterly devoted to protecting children. In expressing admiration for her SOS colleagues in Somalia, Kenya-based social worker Priscah Wachera recently noted that working in Somalia is not “reckless behavior. It is simply the conviction that, once you have committed to giving long-term help and offering people hope for the future, you honor that commitment.”
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