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No time to lose in Somalia

Wearing my clothes made from the elderly tailor in the Dadaab refugee camps, I arrived in Garowe — the capital city of Puntland state, Somalia.

The dust and monsoon winds swirled around the small humanitarian plane so much we weren’t entirely sure it would actually land. Apparently the same plane had tried to land three times before giving up the previous day due to the heavy winds.

Just looking around the dusty terrain with no vegetation in sight and the extremely challenging environment, I had even greater respect for the heroic Save the Children staff doing life-saving work here every day.

A school on sticks

Early the next morning we drove three hours to Gardo and met with local officials — including the Mayor — who talked about the situation for the people of Gardo as well as the new families arriving from other parts of Somalia and living in extremely impoverished camps.

I was amazed to see almost 50 children in a school made from a dilapidated tent held up of sticks, sheets, and corrugated metal scraps.

Boys were on one side and girls on the other (including some babies). All had their schoolbooks in hand and were writing, learning and singing.

Save the Children has been supporting this tent-bound school, and right down the road we visited the brand new building under construction that will soon replace the tent.

It was inspiring to see the happy faces and the good work of the teachers — again, under extremely challenging conditions — and to look forward to this new school building opening its doors in the coming weeks.

Carried in wheelbarrows

Our second visit was to a health clinic, where Save the Children is providing maternity services (a woman was just about to delivery her baby when we visited), nutrition support for malnourished children, and child health services.

The government health officer for Gardo stated that malnutrition is his top concern, and said that the biggest challenge was addressing the needs of the people in the camps, who have no transport to the health clinic.

He even mentioned that some of the sick arrive carried in wheelbarrows, but don’t always survive the trip.

Save the Children is doing so much good work, but there’s a lot more to do in order to meet the additional needs brought about by the drought and food crisis, and to reach the people in the camps who have very little access to life-saving services.

A familiar sight

Back in Garowe, the camps of displaced people looked similar to Gardo, with family shelters constructed of sticks, and bedsheets, with broken cardboard boxes forming the walls of the structure.

In the largest of five camps, with over 1,000 families, there are only two water points and no health services.

We sat down with community leaders to talk, while dozens of families and children gathered around to listen.

One older leader began by thanking Save the Children for being there when no one else is, and for providing food for the most vulnerable families every month.

But again, there is so much more to do.

One woman said that pregnant mothers give birth in their shelters, and for those mothers who have complications, there is nothing available to help them and they sometimes bleed until they die.

The families need more access to clean water and latrines, they need health services, and more children need access to school.

We saw the little schoolroom that surely couldn’t hold more than 10% of the children who need it.

No time to lose

I’m heartened by the will and dedication of both the communities and the Save the Children staff who are literally saving lives and always striving to do more.

As more areas in the region are increasingly affected by this food crisis, I know that it isn’t ending soon.

I want to shout out the needs of these communities and this life-saving work to not only continue, but to expand to do more for more children.

Whether we represent governments, donors, or simply as individuals — we must do all we can to support the children and families of Puntland — and there’s no time to lose.

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This blog was written by Kathryn Bolles, Regional Technical Programme Manager for Save the Children.

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