16 April 2009

A Pocket of Refuge in Somalia

04/16/09 - Somalian pirates operating in the Indian Ocean have made big news lately. In the media, Somalia is portrayed as a failed nation whose poverty, lawlessness, and longtime civil war have produced an environment ripe for young men to turn to piracy for economic survival.

The African coastal nation of Somalia, east of Kenya and Ethiopia, is indeed in dire condition. War and violence have left many families destitute and many children orphans. Education and health care facilities are sparse to non-existent.

SOS Offers Glimmer of Hope to Somalian Children and Mothers

But in the midst of this chaos lies a glimmer of hope. SOS Children's Villages has been giving structure to the lives of Somalian children and families since 1985. SOS Children's Villages is the world's largest charity devoted to providing loving homes to orphaned and abandoned children. The organization has maintained a continued presence in Mogadishu (with some temporary closures) throughout Somalia's civil war, which began in 1991.

A patient recieves medical care at the SOS Medical Center in Mogadishu, Somalia
A patient receives medical care at the SOS Medical Center in Mogadishu, Somalia 

Besides the SOS Children's Village in Mogadishu, SOS also runs an SOS Maternity and Emergency Pediatric Hospital and, since 2002, a nursing school. Such work carries risks. Two SOS staff members have been killed—a male nurse and an Italian nun who had set up and run SOS's four-year nursing school. Armed guards protect SOS facilities, and at times SOS families have had to be moved for their own safety. The SOS hospital, with the only functioning maternity ward and gynecological unit in the country, has suffered structural damage.

Yet despite tragedy, the hospital has continued to function. To date, the maternity ward has helped nearly 10,000 women and delivered over 1,000 deliveries, including Caesarian sections. Without these surgical interventions many babies and their mothers would not have survived. Meanwhile the emergency pediatric unit has treated nearly 40,000 children and vaccinated more than 3,000 children. Many of these children would likely have died without this assistance.

Showing Resolve and Strong Local Relationships

Children at an SOS Emergency Relief Facility in Mogadishu, Somalia
Children at an SOS Emergency Relief Facility in Mogadishu, Somalia

How has SOS managed to stay in Somalia all these years? Operating humanitarian facilities in a war-torn nation requires commitment, a willingness to assume risk, and an ability to secure local support. Ahmed Ibrahim, director of SOS Children's Village Mogadishu, believes that SOS has been able to continue its work due to the great sympathy of the local people. Also, SOS has maintained good relationships with UN agencies, international nongovernmental organizations, local authorities, and community elders. SOS also enjoys constructive partnerships with ECHO (the European Union Humanitarian Office), UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the World Food Programme.

Local SOS staff members in Somalia have been willing to risk their lives to protect SOS children and the SOS facilities that are the only lifeline for many Mogadishu women and children.

If you would like to secure a warm home and a bright future for a Somalian boy or girl, consider sponsoring a child.