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How long would you wait to feed your hungry child?

By Marion McKeone, Save the Children Somalia, Somaliland Emergency Programme

How long would you wait to feed your hungry child? An hour? A day? A week?

Not likely.  As a responsible parent, you probably pre-empt hunger pangs by ensuring your child has three meals a day at regular times, with a careful eye on the nutritional content of each meal. Plus of course, the occasional treat guaranteed to make his eyes light up. An ice cream or chocolate bar.  After all, they grow up so fast…

No food to offer

It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it, being forced to watch your child go hungry for days, or even weeks and be powerless to do anything but watch. And pray for help.  Harder still, unbearable really, to imagine watching your child die from hunger. Or losing him to a curable childhood condition like measles, diarrhoea, or even a cold he couldn’t fight because of chronic malnutrition.

You’d do anything to save him, to ease his pain. You’d probably walk for days in a direction where you’ve heard there might be help.  You’d walk, your baby on your back, or your child, if he’s still able, tottering by your side.

You’d  brave gunfire and shelling, hunger and thirst, even wild animals if there was a chance you could save  him.  When the sun set, you’d be prepared to lie on the side of the road, exhausted after another 14-hour walk in the searing heat and dust without food or drink.

What dangers lie ahead

You might rest but you won’t sleep, because of your own hunger as well as that of your child and the fear of what the night may bring. Within you all the while, hope continues its battle against the creeping dread of another tomorrow like today. And at dawn you rise and start again, not knowing what dangers lie ahead or whether your child will survive another dawn.

This is the narrative of Aljera, and  countless thousands of  mothers in Somalia, who arrive in camps for displaced families with children near death, who’ve witnessed unspeakable horrors and endured unimaginable hardship, but who were spurred forward by a determination to save their child at any cost. You’d do the same.

But you’re lucky; you don’t have to.

Marion McKeone is our Media and Advocacy Manager for Somalia.  These are her reflections after visiting camps for displaced  people,  and talking with  some of  the 1.36  million Somalis, mostly mothers and children, who’ve been forced to flee their homes because of conflict and drought.

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