23/1/2013 - As part of a class exercise, a number of children and youths from the SOS Children’s Village in Mogadishu were each asked to write a letter to their peers abroad to demonstrate what it is like growing up in Somalia. The following extracts provide a remarkable insight into a community of extraordinary people.
“Mogadishu is now well, we don’t hear any shelling,” says Ali. His favourite mid-day meal of spaghetti and spiced camel meat is eagerly awaited by the 14 year-old who has just rushed in the door of his home after outrunning his neighbour in a race from school. For a week in 2011, a barrage of nightly gunfire led the evacuation of his village and nearby school. Widespread violence meant that he was subsequently displaced from where his family and neighbours took refuge. He has not been to the place he calls “home”, since he was 12. The last week of December again signaled another change; but, this time Ali had reason to believe that it was a change for the better.
The intensive shelling that left the young teenage boy emotionally scarred in August 2011, forced him, 120 other children and other to flee their homes in the SOS Children’s Village in north Mogadishu. Fierce fighting between Al-shaabab and allies of Somalia’s Transitional Government continued unabated, at a time when a combination of famine and violence left 1.3 million people displaced in Somalia. Roadblocks manned by various forces and militia made free movement virtually impossible. Children could not get to school. College students could not attend lectures. The sick could not be seen to. “Because of the fighting” as Ali’s friend Ahmed lamented, “we were missing some activities, like playing football”.
Putting on a brave face
At 5:00 a.m. in south Mogadishu, the overnight temperature remains at 24 Celsius. With his tooth-bush in-hand Ali surfaces from his small bedroom which he shares with his brothers. The rented house is also home to other families, all of whom were evacuated from the SOS Children’s Village, back in 2011. At daybreak, the call to prayer is respected. The older children then make their first of two daily visits to dugsi (a place where they learn the Holy Koran). On their return, they are treated to canjeero – a pancake-like bread that is often dipped into a cup of warm sweet tea.
Ali’s mother is heard repeating her mantra; “education is the key to life”. For 18 months she often had to put on a brave face for her children, as she shielded them from the anxiety she shared with thousands of other Somali parents, who had reason to fear the worse. As a result, of her efforts Ali’s dreams live on. His hobby and desire means the same thing to the young teenager when he says, “my hobby, is to be a doctor”.
Throughout the instability of the past year-and-a-half, the director of the SOS Children’s Village made it his mission in life to ensure that Ali and everyone else in his care were safe, and that the children’s education would continue. Irrespective of the multitude of challenges.
Osman Shukri, always had a plan B. Together with SOS mothers, teachers and other colleagues he ensured that while the physical structure of the Herman Gmeiner School was closed, classes would continue whenever and wherever possible. Safe accommodation and makeshift classrooms was always identified in advance to cover all eventualities. On some occasions small rooms in what were previously private houses became a class room or a temporary family home.
From one such tiny overcrowded room people like Ali’s friend, Ahmed, boasted; “I take 12 subjects like; chemistry, physics, math, English, Arabic, Islamic religious education, biology, geography, history, Somali and computer studies.” His neighbour who attends college a half-hour’s car journey away is happy that her education has not been disrupted. She knows that the people of Somalia are very proud of their heritage and their love of learning. The upheaval of the past two decades has prevented many - especially women of her parents’ generation - from completing their education. This will not be the case with Fatuma who derives inspiration from her best friend in school. “We help each other as friends,” says the 17 year-old, who is considering her career options. Attending the Nursing School at the SOS Vocational Training Centre is on her wish list.
Over the past few weeks the sound of electric saws and hammers were heard behind a compound wall in north Mogadishu. This is the SOS Children’s Village where fresh paint adorns eleven refurnished houses that were damaged since they were evacuated in 2011. Today, the sound of children echoes from the village across the street to where mothers can be seen entering the SOS Hospital.
In a place where many buildings remain scarred by a combination of looting, artillery fire and weather damage, life is returning to normal. As Ali aptly put it – for children at the SOS Children’s Village – “Mogadishu is now well”.
In their best interest, the children’s names have been changed, but their message is real.