Inside Mogadishu, Somalia - A World Apart

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As a humanitarian and trustee at Muslim Youth Helpline, Furqan Naeem recently completed his summer internship with Human Appeal International (HAI). He took the opportunity to travel to Somalia to witness the devastation first-hand and implement some projects to benefit the people of the famine. Furqan shares his personal experiences with us from Somalia.

Inside Mogadishu, Worlds Apart
I returned last week from a humanitarian trip with Human Appeal International to the famine struck area of Mogadishu in Somalia. It was certainly an experience I’ll never forget. I spent a week witnessing things from a different perspective, a week reflecting on how fortunate we are in Britain to have those simple things we take for granted. It was a week of learning to always give more than you receive.

My first impression of Somalia was one of a broken world, one without order where chaos prevails above all other things. I spent the first day in Nairobi before visiting orphanages. I thought I’d use my time in Nairobi to gain an understanding of what life in East Africa was actually like. I hoped this would help me cope with seeing the devastation that I expected Somalia.

Arriving in Mogadishu the next day, I felt like I had entered a different world. It was surreal. The airport looked like a shelter home and the tight security all round made me feel very nervous. Even as we were at the entry office one of the questions on the standard visa form read, “what weapons have you brought with you?” Reading that made me realise that this was not a place not for the faint hearted.

As we headed to our secure residence for the week, I saw that there wasn’t a single built-structure that was not crumbling. I couldn't call any of these buildings 'homes'. It felt like we were in a war-zone and this was before we even went to visit any of the famine victims.

Meeting Refugees And Orphans
The next few days were spent visiting refugee camps and a local hospital so we could identify which areas on the ground aid was still not reaching. I got to see first-hand how the famine had devastated so many families.

somalia water pump human appeal project
Praying for rain - Furqan pumps clean water from one of Human Appeal International's water installation projects in Somalia

As we went visiting from tent to tent with our local team there from Human Appeal International, we were able to communicate with some of the families. Real families, real people who all had a common story.

These families had all walked for weeks to get to the refugee camp in the hope that aid would be there but found nothing more than other desperate people.

I heard how incredibly difficult life could be and was for people. I remember meeting a young mother who gave birth to a boy only three weeks ago but was barely able to look after herself because of her weakness. The young baby was in a critical state. It could easily be the case that these two human beings are no more but this was the case right across refugee camps in Mogadishu, just to give a glimpse of the scale of disaster.

After visiting three refugee camps around Mogadishu and seeing and feeling what it was like for the poor and needy, we had a chance to visit one of the local hospitals to see what sort of assistance doctors were trying to provide.

Unfortunately the scenes were not much different at the hospital. As soon as we arrived we saw a young boy getting treated outside the hospital for lack of clean water as there was insufficient space inside. There were so many victims all in distress with their families but the sad thing was to see so few doctors on hand, all of whom were being stretched to their limits in the first place. Most of the hospital was filled with crying young babies suffering from waterborne diseases, which have little or no cure.

Savings Lives, One At A Time
After identifying the areas where aid was not being reached, I and the team set about initiating food distribution points, mobile medical clinics and water distribution to the camps. This was perhaps the most satisfying part of the trip – to help all those that you saw on the ground by providing them with food packages that would help their families for a month at a time.

But the sad reality was that we were only just scratching the surface. There is a vast amount of people that are suffering and still need help.

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Women and families travel miles for the only medical aid available

I witnessed the bittersweet reactions in the faces of families who were relieved to see help coming in the form of food and water but then realising that this might be the only help they’ll receive in months.

Even with the mobile medical clinic I saw how families valued getting the correct treatment and medicine to help with all the illnesses. They queued for miles just to see a doctor in the hope that they might be cured.

In a country where there is so much despair and misery we managed to visit the University of Mogadishu, which surely is a beacon of hope in times of uncertainty for the Somalian people. There are two opposing regions in Somalia which is the reason why it is in so much ruin. One side is a desert from the recent famine that has affected most of Somalia, but the other side has a total lack of infrastructure and poor leadership from those in control of the country.

These two destructive forced have combined in a devastating way and now a time of misery has fallen upon the people of smiles. But for the country to prosper in years to come and for the people to live a better a life, Somalia has to produce effective citizenry. I believe education is the key in building the country’s next generation of leaders.

The University of Mogadishu has a massive role to play in shaping the country by producing well-grounded students who will go on to help provide that infrastructure, and help build a country where peace can be achieved sooner rather than later.

A Future Of Hope For Somalia
Whilst out on the trip with Human Appeal International I managed to spend some time with renowned Muslim speaker and educator Dr Hany El-Banna, the founder of Islamic Relief. Dr Hany was busy organising a conference, bringing together Muslim charities and local NGOs to help improve the situation in Somalia through his role as chairman of Muslim Charities Forum.
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Dr Hany has always been an inspiration to me, so getting the opportunity to work with him was a real honour, not to mention a huge learning curve. Watch Dr Hany's video message from Mogadishu.

somalia famine mogadishu human appeal international fundraise donate

The best part was seeing him in his element when he was with the children. When we finished Friday prayers I remember he started to make animal noises to communicate with the children and they all smiled and replied back with the same animal noises.

In a matter of seconds there were hundreds of young children gathering around this great man, Dr Hany El-Banna, as he built that special connection with the forgotten children of Somalia.

Prayers And Rain
All in all, visiting Somalia was truly an experience of a lifetime. Having reflected for a week since I’ve been back, the memories of the faces of desperation I saw still live within me. Much more can be done. It should be done.

One thing I have learnt is to be grateful for what I have in life and to never complain if something doesn’t quite go my way. There are people living in so much more difficulty than me – how do I have a right to complain?

I will never forget the stories; the mother who lost her children walking to the refugee camps, the father who had to sacrifice some of his children in order to provide for the other few.

somalia famine mogadishu human appeal international fundraise donate

And there took place a rain prayer where I was blessed to be part of a 10,000 gathering who all prayed for rain. The next morning through God’s mercy, rain descended upon the people of Mogadishu. Alhamdulillah, all praise be to God.

These memories shall stay with me for as long as I shall live and will continue to inspire me for years to come. As I reflect back I still wonder about Somalia's plight and the constant hardship its people experience. I do have hope though. Yes, the task is enormous, yes we still have a lot of work to do here in the UK but I firmly believe that if we all play our part, make enough effort through our donations to Human Appeal International, and with our prayers, then prosperity and peace will eventually come to the people of SomaliaInsha'Allah, God willing.

Do your part, donate to feed a family in Africa for a month. Please.

Read more at the {Human Appeal International blog}

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By Furqan Naeem, British Muslim student activist and humanitarian.

More inspiring activists:
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