Nursing Southern Somalia Through Civil War And Famine

As the sun rises across Mogadishu, the Somali capital's air is fresh and the call to prayer signals the beginning of another day. The sound of radio talk shows can then be heard from battery operated transistors placed on the ground outside the entrances of homes where food preparation takes place. Feeling weak as a result of her diabetes, a mother squats near a charcoal fire as she makes a breakfast of tea and pancakes for her children. For her, this morning is both fortunate and especially difficult. Her husband, Abdi, provided this meal but he has been absent for months. He is a nurse fighting famine over 125 miles away in one of Somalia's Internally Displaced Persons camps.

The civil strife that has dominated life in this troubled East African state had meant that the breadwinners like Abdi must often leave home to support family and relations by way of remittances. In the darkest days of Somali's civil war and famine in the early 1990s, Abdi witnessed the departure of many of his school friends who sought a better life in Europe and the US. At the time, he found administrative employment at the Pediatric Unit of the SOS Children's Villages Hospital in Mogadishu where he was inspired by the work of the nursing students whom he observed.

The SOS Hospital and SOS Children's Villages Community Nursing School are examples of the many ways that SOS Children's Villages is working with the Somali people to improve life for the long-term. For nearly 30 years, SOS has provided family-based homes to orphan children, education programs and medical support through hospitals and clinics.

Abdi recalls, in times of emergency, when resources were scarce how, "everyone rolled up their sleeves and the ingenuity of professional staff and students from the SOS Nursing College saved children's lives. Young teenagers suffered from gunshot wounds while intravenous drips kept starving infants alive." Under very restrictive conditions, the commitment of people such as his nursing school mentor, Fatima Haji Mohamed, convinced the small town boy that this was the life for him. She was and continues to be a strong believer in "quality training and a strong social ethos," Abdi says fondly.

After five years of training at the SOS Community Nursing School in Mogadishu, Abdi had gained the experience necessary to obtain further specialist training in Kenya, where he graduated with a diploma in Community Health.

Like Abdi, many nurses who are currently providing care to children and families affected by drought and famine in Somalia are also graduates or students-in-training from the SOS Community Nursing School. The facility was founded in response to the significant need for health care facilities and skilled workers in Mogadishu and surrounding areas. Graduates earn a diploma in Registered Community Health Nursing at this highly regarded school which is recognized by the World Health Organization and has been supported by Johnson & Johnson since 2006.

Today, in villages within a 50 mile radius of Baidoa, Abdi fights malnutrition among thousands of children under 5 years old, in an area where the ratio of qualified nursing staff to chronically ill patients is the lowest in the world. At least 28,000 people are now in dire need of assistance after other organizations were driven from the country by insecurity. The provision of supplies is severely restricted as the road between Mogadishu and Baidoa is often closed, by up to 20 roadblocks that are manned by various militia and military forces.

While her diabetes continues to afflict his wife in Mogadishu, "she does not complain," Abdi says. "She is a very good person who deals with the everyday problems. We are in regular contact by telephone, but conditions here make it very difficult to see my family. I have not seen them for several months - and I miss them very much." But, the family rendezvous is on-hold as the SOS Community Nursing School graduate must work shoulder-to-shoulder with his team and impart his skills to his fellow Somalis who have again rolled up their sleeves and used their ingenuity to save their fellow citizens.

SOS Children's Villages is active in Somalia and over 130 additional countries. Your support of SOS programs helps provide loving homes for children, aid for families, and vital training for emergency relief staff on the ground. Visit SOS Children's Villages now to learn how you can make a difference.