Saving lives, sowing hope: field notes from Somalia

By Dominique Godbout, Humanitarian Aid Programs Officer

In early May, I had the chance to visit our program in Somalia, accompanied by our international programs director Stéphane Vinhas and a representative from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

As I walk through Jazira camp in the Gedo region, I am shocked by the living conditions of the displaced women, men, girls and boys. They are sleeping in makeshift shelters, exposed to extreme weather and other risks. They lack basic water infrastructure and even the most basic household items needed for daily survival. Struggling to access food, many face starvation.

Somalia, along with other countries in the Horn of Africa, is devastated by the region’s worst drought in 40 years, following five consecutive failed rainy seasons. The lack of rain has led to successive deficient or failed harvests; farmers losing agricultural incomes; and pastoralists losing livestock.

Across the country, about 6.6 million people will face acute food insecurity and severe hunger by the end of June. Humanitarian aid is needed by some 8.25 million people, i.e., nearly half the Somali population. The drought has forced over 1.3 million people to abandon their homes and migrate to displacement sites such as Jazira camp. The crisis is exacerbated by unpredictable weather, climate change, political instability and ethnic tensions. The most vulnerable people, particularly children, women, the elderly and disabled people, are enduring the worst of it.

With funding from the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada, is helping its Caritas sister agency Trócaire save lives in the Gedo region by providing food and nutrition assistance to drought-affected people, especially children under five and mothers. The project has served over 118,873 people since 2017.

I met some of the people whose lives this project has transformed and heard of dozens more. Here are just two of the stories that stood out for me.

Muslimo Aden Talcoy is a 20-year-old mother of five from Luuq. Her youngest son, Ducale Nuuron Robon, suffers from malnutrition. Every week, mother and son come to the Trócaire clinic, where they are provided with a ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF) called PlumpySup. This peanut-based paste is used to treat severe malnutrition and reduce the need for hospitalization. Little Ducale will be treated with it until he gains enough weight, which usually takes about four months.

While at the clinic, Talcoy also participates in weekly information sessions where she learns about immunization, nutrition and breastfeeding. Over a year 9,428 parents and caregivers like her will receive knowledge and skills on how to optimally feed infants and young children.

To prevent malnutrition and improve food security and nutrition outcomes, Development and Peace ― Caritas Canada has also supported Trócaire in training 150 women in improved farming techniques; supplying them with farm inputs (tools and seeds); and providing them access to arable land to grow fruits, vegetables, maize, sorghum, etc.

One of the project participants, Hawo Adan Mohamed was able to harvest enough food to sell a portion in the village. With the proceeds, she joined the village savings and loan association that the project had also set up. A loan from the association helped her open a shop and sell goods in a local market.

By providing sustainable, community-driven solutions to women like Mohamed, we aim to strengthen their resilience against recurring shocks like drought. One project at a time, we help communities transcend chronic challenges by providing them resources and capacities to absorb, adapt and transform in the face of stresses and uncertainty and eventually move out of poverty. For this long-term endeavour, and to respond to the immediate hunger needs, we need your help.

As I boarded the plane that would bring me back to Montreal, I thought of how touched women and men in Jazira camp were that we had come all the way from Canada to visit them. Through their hardships, they were reminded that solidarity knows no borders. That we have not forgotten about them gave them hope.

And that is what we do: bring hope and empowerment, through our solidarity, to people struggling for justice and dignity around the world.

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