Survival and triplets in the midst of famine

Emergencies article written on the 17 Nov 2011

Photo: Geno Teofilo/Oxfam

“My son Ahmed has been sick for five months, but he became very weak in the last month. I really don’t know exactly what is wrong with him, but I think the problem is linked to hunger. This nutrition centre is extremely important for us. Without it, hundreds of children would have already died from malnutrition.”

Sahro, a 40-year-old mother of five, and her family were recently displaced from near Baidoa in Bay Region, to an Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp in Booli Qaran in Mogadishu. Her child Ahmed is receiving treatment for malnutrition at the Community Therapeutic Care (CTC) centre opened in the camp by SAACID. Implemented in partnership with Oxfam, the CTC program has been treating children since 2009.

“We were displaced after drought killed all the animals we had,” says Sahro. “We had goats and some cattle; we also had a small farm which we cultivated in order to sustain our lives. But unfortunately there has been no rain at all, and this caused everything to die.

“We endured a very difficult trip from Bay to Mogadishu, because we travelled on foot for almost 250 kilometres. It took us five days because I was carrying my sick child on my back, while my husband was carrying another child. We begged for food and water, from district to district and from village to village. In reality, we were very lucky to survive. We know of so many families who have lost relatives or children. We thank Allah, who has allowed us to come to Mogadishu together and survive.”

The new camp for displaced families, called Booli Qaran, which ironically means “Looted Wealth of the State”, was opened in Mogadishu on 12 July. SAACID opened the CTC centre for malnourished children the next day. The camp was specifically opened for rural families that are flooding into the capital in search of food, services and employment. Months later, the camp is home to more than 5,000 people, still living in desperate, difficult conditions. SAACID currently operates a total of 14 CTC centres throughout Mogadishu, admitting more than 3,000 malnourished children every week.

Caring for triplets

Ambiyo with her triplets. Photo: OxfamAUS

Ambiyo with her triplets. Photo: OxfamAUS

Ambiyo, from Mogadishu, brought her triplets – her daughters Qaali and Naciimo, and her son Abdirisaq – to one of the SAACID centres. Qaali was found to be severely malnourished and in need of immediate treatment, so was referred to SAACID’s Outpatient Therapeutic Programme section at the clinic. Abdirisaq and Naciimo were placed into the Supplemental Feeding Programme section, which treats moderately malnourished children. As treatment has continued over two months, they have all been recovering.

“All of my triplets were weak, especially Qaali, who was so weak and sick and refused to breastfeed at all. The other two were weak and thin, but still breastfeeding. I was so worried that Qaali wasn’t going to make it. We were well received when I first came to the clinic and the nurses immediately said that they could help us”, says Ambiyo.

“Our daily life depends on what my husband earns with his work as a barber, and that is not enough for such a large family. I hope my triplets will recover from the sickness arising from malnutrition problems, especially Qaali who is the weakest. So far, so good.”

SAACID’s senior staff and management also lived through the Somali famine of 1991-2. SAACID-Somalia’s Country Director, Raha Janaqow, says, “I had hoped to never see such a hell in Somalia ever again. Yet, here we are, 20 years later, having endured 20 years of statelessness and anarchy; having to see another generation of Somalis suffer and die of starvation. I have seen so much suffering, and still I weep. I no longer know where my tears come from. All we can do is keep helping as much as we can with the resources we have, and hope for a better time.”

SAACID has a long history of tackling malnutrition in Somalia. Unicef and the World Food Programme also support the CTC program, which is jointly implemented by Oxfam Novib and SAACID. So far this year, the CTC program has admitted more than 84,000 malnourished children for treatment in Mogadishu.

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Read previous blog posts about SAACID’s therapeutic care work with malnourished Somali children:

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