August 15, 2011 -- Jon Warren, World Vision U.S. photo director, writes from Somalia during his 24-hour stay:
It would be easy to write about the flight from Nairobi to Somalia -- the hulk of 17,057' Mt Kenya looming beside the airplane, the transition from cool rain to blasting desert heat, the pleasure of meeting World Vision's dedicated Somali and Kenyan staff, and the seriousness of a security briefing that I listened very closely to. But a quick visit to nearby camps for drought and conflict refugees reminded why it's so important that I do this blog post. Those numbers we keep hearing about -- took on faces.
As we drove 8 hours today over bumpy, dusty roads, Somalia seems like it belongs in the American southwest. That didn't allow a lot of time to capture the reality of life in Somalia right now, especially when we had to honor security rules and be back by 5:30. But I didn't want to give up the chance to talk with families and see some of our staff at work, even if just for a short time.
First stop in Somalia. The UN flight stopped to refuel at Galkayu airstrip. We waited under thorn trees while it was refueled after the 3 1/3 hour flight from Nairobi. An NGO worker was kidnapped here 4 months ago. Staff work here at great risk. (photo taken with my iPhone)
Gaalo Adan Ali, 45, still struggles with nightmares. On the long 15 day journey here, begging rides on any vehicles heading north, two of her children died of hunger -- 2 and 4 years old. Another almost died in a car crash. Now she is cradling her 6 year-old son, Khaleed, praying he won't die too. He is vomiting and so weak he can't sit up on his own. The decision to leave and look for food elsewhere came slowly. But when her mother died and two of her sister's children, she and her husband knew it was time to leave. But he was bitten by a snake and unable to travel, so Gaalo had to take the children on her own.
Seven year-old Jimale Salat can no longer go to school like he used to in Mogadishu. There isn't room here. Now each day in camp, all he can do is fetch water and try to help his increasingly blind and deaf grandmother, Mumino. Jimale's story is especially tragic. On top of hunger and boredom, he has to try to grow up without either parent. Both were caught in the crossfire of a shootout and killed.
According to city officials, about 15 desperate families a day filter into the collection of 6 camps that make up Muuse Rootile IDP Camp. The huts are a patchwork quilt of pieces of cloth, cardboard and tin -- anything for privacy and shelter from the constant wind.
Wema Adere is World Vision's Acting Regional Manager. Prior to her 3 years in Somalia, she worked in Southern Sudan. She is one tough, brave woman! A recent highlight for her came after a 6 hour drive far off the beaten track, assessing the places World Vision could have the biggest impact here. She was delighted when a villager ran up in excitement and said, "I used to know you guys. I used to load your trucks in Wajid and my children used to be in your programs! And now I know things will get better here! I know things are going to happen!" One of the areas Wema first worked in Somalia is the exact town, Quansadhere, where Gaalo and her family came from. World Vision was forced to leave several years ago by Al Shabaab, but hopes to return sometime soon when security improves. (photo taken with my iPhone)
In my time to talk to just a few families, the story of 28 yr-old Hadija Hassan Abdi summarizes the enormous burden parents, especially mothers, carry when they become refugees. Hadida is only 28 years old, but already has find a way to raise 7 children during a time of famine. When the maize/corn crop failed yet again this year, she took the children and walked and hitched rides for 8 days and nights until she reached the safety of Burtinle IDP camp in Puntland, Somalia. Along the way she begged for food for her children from strangers. She has been in the camp only 4 days, just long enough to construct a tiny stick domed hut covered in cloth scraps. There is nothing on the floor and no cooking utensils. She and eldest daughter, Nurto, 10 (on right wearing orange scarf) are able to earn a little by hauling garbage away for families in nearby Burtinle city. But mostly she still survives primarily by begging. I wonder how we'd react if she came to us for help?
Close to the Ethiopian border is the tiny village of Magacley (pronounced "mugawlly"). Mothers were bringing their children for a weekly health screening, one of 10 that World Vision conducts in remote villages not served by any other health system. Today there was only one case of severe malnutrition, from a child coming for the first time.
Eight- month-old Naimo suffers from both TB and malnutrition. World Vision offers treatment, plus vaccinations against other diseases like measles. Naimo's parents have lost all but five of their goats and are now unemployed. Future prospects for them are grim.
All photos ©2011 Jon Warren/World Vision
The most severe drought in decades is threatening the lives of more than 11 million people — especially young children — in the Horn of Africa. Famine has been declared in parts of southern Somalia, and threatens to spread further if nothing is done to prevent it. Help World Vision reach those affected by drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.
See Jon's last photo blog, "Scenes from a Kenyan refugee camp."
Read the latest on World Vision's efforts in the Horn of Africa.