Courage and hope in the mist of Somalia

The story of Haalimo Mohamed Maaclin:

Somali_Orphans_& _Disable_Children Center-6

She is a Somali woman, who is now mother to some 200 children and counting. She, like thousands of fellow Somalis fled the country as war intensified in the 1990s and settled in Sweden, in the city of Malmo.  She lived there with her husband and 10 children but kept an eye on developments back home, hoping for peace and for that day when she could finally return home.

She finally did in 2012, with relative peace, ensured by the Somali army backed by African Union.On her return Haalimo had to reside in hotels as her own houses, which she owned before she fled had been taken over or needed major reconstruction. What struck her though was the plight of children she saw on the streets of Mogadishu, living poor and troubled lives. The children she says were mainly aged between 7-14 years, exposed to drug and substance abuse and having to go through garbage heaps left outside hotels to find something to eat. She decided to come to the aid of these children and champion the change in their lives.

Haalimo finally opened the Somali Orphans, Disabled, Homeless and Children’s Centre, starting with 56 children in February 2012. These she collected from the different parts of Somalia and today, she appeals to fellow Somalis and Africans, not ignore the plight of children, wherever they are;

“Every child is the same to me, whether they are on the streets of South Africa sniffing glue or here in Somalia. I therefore urge every Somali, human being and African to help every less fortunate child they come across,” she says.

The decision to establish the home could have been the easier part of the journey. She has since struggled with finding appropriate accommodation, even food for the children. This journey has involved several visits to different government offices, seeking for help. Some have been helpful but many only recognized the good job she is undertaking verbally but did not offer any practical help. Her own children in Sweden and the good experience she had as a foreigner living in the country gave her the inspiration to reach out and help these children.

Today, the centre is home to about 200 children. The cost of managing the home has grown with the numbers, with bills for food, water, electricity and the laundry among others, presenting major challenges. The home owes its current landlord arrears in rent of 3 months and lacks resources to pay for the months ahead. Haalimo believes construction of a permanent home would be the ultimate solution but lacks land, even though she has people willing to help with construction.

“I urge the government to give me a place to take of these kids and give me the support and share the responsibility of these kids with me. Even if the government has a place to put these kids I am ready, so I can return to my kids with a clean conscious. However while they are still on these streets suffering, I will be here suffering with them. You can feel the responsibility, when I put 40 kids in one room it’s not allowed in the country, on one bed sleeps 4 children, it’s something unbelievable but it’s down to circumstances,” she says.

2014_03_06_Somali_Orphans_& _Disable_Children Center-8Of the 200 children, 120 are orphans while the 80 are vulnerable children from the Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. Some of them are able to attend school, though access to supplies and basic schooling materials remains limited.

The children also face major psycho-social issues, some having witnessed the killing of their families, having had to live with the pain of separation from their parents and having to grow up without any form of discipline inculcated unto them, among others. Haalimo however remains steadfast in ensuring that she makes a difference in the lives of these children, be the mother they otherwise would never have.

“To all Somalis, let’s not tire ourselves with things of no value and for the foreigners helping us, let’s redirect our focus from building roads to building children. It is more valuable for us to build our children than our roads, we have driven on these bumpy roads for the past 22 years and we can continue to drive on these roads because the priority should be our kids. Something needs to be done for the Somali children and for all kids on the streets of Somalia,” she appeals.