Small Children Play a Big Role in Somalia

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By Muzaffer Baca*

Mogadishu, December 5, 2011—Somali families living in camps for the internally displaced (IDP) in Mogadishu and elsewhere include, on average, seven children. All of these children lack education, food, and adequate shelter, and tens of thousands carry adult responsibilities on their small shoulders.

Foreign relief workers who visit Somali IDP camps encounter children who bridge the language gap by putting fingers to their throats to show they are hungry and to ask for food for themselves and their families.

I witnessed this on a recent trip I made to Korson Camp, where thousands of Somali families have taken up temporary residence, forced to flee their homes because of historic drought and political violence. The drought, the worst in 60 years, is affecting the entire Horn of Africa.

International Blue Crescent (IBC), which I serve as vice president, is providing relief aid in the form of monthly food packages, hospital assistance, and care for severely malnourished children and mothers with newborns; wells, livestock, and other supports to the displaced in Mogadishu, Afgoo, and Bay Bokool.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is partnering with us in this work. Together, and with our local implementing partners, Islamic Relief Somalia and Maaruf Foundation, we are assisting thousands of families and individuals affected by the crisis in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

I want to introduce you to two of the unsung heroes I met at Korson Camp in the Somali capital. Fawziya, 11, is the principal caregiver for her brother, Abdullahi, who has a neurological ailment and is paralyzed. Naima, 8, takes her mother’s place in long lines for food aid. Naima’s mother just gave birth to her eleventh child.

Compassion, Love, and Patience

Abdullahi has struggled with his illness for all of his 12 years. He has spent all that time in the same bed, which his family has moved to different camps as hunger or violence drew near. Except for the attention his sister provides, Abdullahi has had no special medical treatment.

Fawziya fights off the flies and mosquitoes that circle around her brother, and cleans his sores. From the time she was four, she has stood guard next to Abdullahi, devoting each minute of every day to him, bringing him water and medicine like a special nurse.

Fawziya says she is happy caring for him. She believes her compassion opens the door to heaven for her. Yet, while her six other brothers and sisters attend school, she remains behind. At 11, she can neither read nor write.

It may well be that her compassion, love, and patience have kept her brother alive. He smiles at her, and she says this is her great happiness.

Fawziya’s father believes Abdullahi will recover. “Someone will assist us for his treatment,” he says. But the reality is different. Doctors who have seen Abdullahi say he will die soon.

And what will become of Fawziya? Her brother’s death is sure to deal her a strong psychological blow. And she is unprepared—having never been to school—for any other role but to care for him.

One Portrait among Many

In Korson Camp, this portrait of a vulnerable child with big responsibilities is not singular. Like Fawziya, many children are obliged to take on adult tasks—such as the child who stands in line for trucked-in water and who must struggle with his elders just to get his jerry can filled. Then he must carry the 44 lb. weight back to his family.

The principal task of all these children is to survive the crisis brought on by their elders.

Tomorrow, I will tell you more about Naima.

You can help the children and their families in IDP camps in Somalia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, where drought and violence threaten millions. Your gift to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450, is urgently needed. Please earmark your check “Horn of Arica Crisis.”

*Muzaffer Baca is vice president of International Blue Crescent, an UMCOR partner in Somalia, Turkey, and elsewhere.