“The first time I went to Mogadishu was in September 2002. I was there on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and sat with the SOS children, youth and staff in the village hall watching reruns on satellite news stations. As you would expect, there was no jubilation – just silence as we pondered how the world had changed in the last 12 months.
My next visit to Mogadishu was in early 2003 when I went to report on fistula surgery taking place at the SOS Hospital. Two doctors from AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation), experts in this type of surgery, were training SOS medical staff. I remember talking to women who had been ostracised from their communities and divorced by their husbands because of incontinence resulting from the fistula. Their lives were about to change in a positive way.
Changes in society
In the ten years since then much has changed. The Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) came and went, bringing some stability and with it a stricter Islamic code. Then Ethiopian troops invaded and drove the UIC out, helping to establish a transitional national government. After the withdrawal of those troops, Al Shabaab, an Islamic group formed from the remnants of the UIC, began to stake their claim, gaining ground in Mogadishu and in other parts of Somalia, leaving only a very small part of the capital around the airport in the control of the government, supported by AMISOM (African Union) troops.
SOS projects continue to operate
Caught in the middle of apparent endless conflict, the SOS Hospital and Children’s Village in Mogadishu has continued to operate, although not always in the original premises.
In August 2011, the SOS Children’s Village again became the front line of fighting between opposing groups. Unable to operate safely, both the hospital and Children’s Village were evacuated to the relative safety of the Afgoye Corridor outside Mogadishu. When, in December 2011, that area became too dangerous, the ten SOS families moved into two houses in the south of the city, in what is deemed to be the safest part of Mogadishu at the moment. The hospital also relocated, this time to an area only four km from the original hospital in the north. In an area ravaged by war, it is a centre of healing.
Return to Mogadishu
In late April 2012 I went back to Mogadishu, the first time in nine years. Reports indicated that the city was becoming safer and some newspaper articles even talked of it returning to normal.
Our first destination in Mogadishu was the empty SOS Hospital and Children's Village in the north of the city. Security was heavy as we made our way through Mogadishu’s streets. The streets of Mogadishu seemed less tense – people on bicycles, donkey carts pulling piles of mattresses and countless shops selling spare parts. “But”, as Aristide Ramaciotti, the Regional Director East Africa said, “the situation is unpredictable and can change very fast, so you have to be alert, ready to act and proactive”.
At least two of the hospital buildings and three family houses were almost totally destroyed by mortar shells, while other buildings had been damaged by heavy fighting and looting. The hub of the hospital complex, a courtyard surrounded by wards and treatment rooms, was overgrown with grass. In 2002 the paths around the courtyard had been lined with pregnant women, bright in their colourful dresses, waiting for antenatal treatment.
Optimism for the future
There are hopes that a renovated hospital will be ready in eight months. If the security situation allows, a small clinic will also be opened in the current nursing school, which will bring people into the area once again.
As for the Children’s Village, it is hoped that the children can move from their current cramped quarters back into the family houses in the village, once it is safe to do so. When that happens, the Children’s Village and the hospital will once more take their places as a centre of hope, offering love, care, stability and healing to all who enter.