Over the weekend, I read a memoir of the life of Ahmed Ali Haile, a great Somali whom I was blessed to meet earlier at Daystar University in Kenya, where I attended my undergraduate studies. Haile taught a course I took on understanding Islam — a course that would positively influence my relations with the Somalis with whom I work.
In his memoir, Haile narrates his experience of famine in 1965, as a 12-year-old boy in central Somalia. His family and community had coping mechanisms that they practiced. But the continued conflict there has clearly cut off this pattern — and the consequences are devastating.
Since I started working for World Vision three years ago, I have met many malnourished children in Somalia. On few occasions, our teams were not able to save these children.
But I have witnessed just as many success stories of children who literally came back to life after staring death in the eyes.
I vividly remember Ahmed Aweys, who lives in the Bay region of south-central Somalia. In 2009, we captured the moving story of his brush with death from acute malnutrition, and the magic of Plumpy’Nut™ — an integral program component of our overall emergency response for saving live of malnourished children — that restored his health. Ahmed was only 15 months old when he experienced this.
The scale of malnutrition among children in the current crisis is overwhelming, yet we no longer have access to the hardest-hit areas of Somalia, including where Ahmed lives. I keep wondering whether Ahmed is healthy. Did he move to camps in other places? Thinking about the fate of children that we helped over time in those areas is the most frustrating part of this response effort in the Horn of Africa.
This is my first experience in a real emergency response situation at World Vision. An earlier training in Kenya by World Vision’s global rapid response team was critical in ensuring that I was equipped with the right skills for the response. The skills are paying off now.
But my greatest motivation for this response comes from the fact that I am a famine survivor. The great famine of 1984 swept through my agriculturally rich rural home in Kenya’s Rift Valley with a vengeance.
But I lived through the famine because help came soon, and we had no conflict to force us out of our homes.
This does not mean that my family was not affected. My younger sister experienced malnutrition and other complications, but was treated successfully in our district hospital. And when I grew up, I learned that the Horn of Africa was affected by that famine, too.
The current drought is worse than the one in 1984 because families are forced to walk for many days on empty stomachs and dangerous roads in search of food, water, and most importantly, peace. This is a truly difficult situation for Somalia, a country that is now welcoming a generation into adulthood who has known only conflict during their lifetimes.
Meeting mothers and children in displacement camps in Dolo and Puntland, Somalia, over the past three months has broken my heart. But I have to always be strong for them, to tell their story to the world, in the hope that the international community will respond. Thankfully, the response this time has been overwhelmingly positive. The response that I hope for in the future is one of lasting impact to the communities — for peace and abundance.
Even still, these experiences have made me reflect deeply about this crisis. Are we doing enough to change things for Somalia’s children? I keep asking.
The answer is that we all play different roles that come together for a common purpose, and through telling the stories of mothers, children, and families affected, I know that we are touching people’s hearts across the world, and something is being done. Hope is what those families need — in Dolo, Mogadishu, and other parts of Somalia, and in Dadaab camp in Kenya.
Amanda Koech is a communications officer with World Vision Kenya, covering World Vision’s response work in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia.
Follow the latest updates on the World Vision Blog to our ongoing response to the drought, food crisis, and famine in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. You can also make a donation to support World Vision’s efforts to bring life-saving assistance to children and families who are suffering in the midst of this disaster.