April 7 2008

Morale boost for SOS families and staff in Somalia

President Helmut Kutin makes surprise visit to Mogadishu

04/04/2008 - The mothers, children and co-workers of the SOS Children's Village Mogadishu received a boost to their morale on 29 March when SOS Children's Village President Helmut Kutin made a one-day visit to meet them.

On Saturday 29 March the President of SOS Children's Villages, Helmut Kutin, visited the war torn city of Mogadishu to meet the SOS mothers, children and co-workers who have been victims of the heavy violence around the now evacuated children's village.

Photo: Alexander Gabriel
Warm welcome at the airport in Mogadishu - Photo: A. Gabriel

Accompanied by his personal assistant, Alexander Gabriel, the East Africa regional director, Wilhelm Huber and former Somalia project director, Claudio Croce, President Kutin flew into Mogadishu by chartered aircraft on Saturday morning. He was warmly received at the International Airport in Mogadishu by a small delegation from SOS Children's Villages Somalia including national director Ahmed Ibrahim, the village director, two SOS mothers and two SOS children who welcomed Mr Kutin with flowers.

Leaving the airport Mr Kutin briefly visited the recently re-opened SOS Hermann Gmeiner Primary and Secondary School, which is currently occupying former factory premises in a safer part of the city near the airport. "This is in the old part of Mogadishu, an area where people could not live for years because it was too dangerous. In the meantime this district is safer than others", described Mr Kutin the ever-changing security situation in the town.

Photo: Alexander Gabriel
It takes the children up to two hours to come to the temporary school - Photo: A. Gabriel

After touring the school and talking to the students and staff Mr Kutin's party moved on to a hotel where all the SOS mothers and children waited to meet them. "It was the first time that I have met families not within an SOS village but in a hotel", said Mr Kutin. "Ironically, the hotel is called 'Paradise', in midst of complete destruction."

Although the President would have liked to visit the temporary homes where the children are currently staying he could not do so as he did not wish to endanger the families (the sight of Europeans in the area could have done so). Similarly, he was unable to visit the SOS Children's Village and recently reopened SOS Hospital in the northern part of the city as the area remains a no-go battle zone and cannot be accessed. Three days after the hospital has reopened after a three month closure, a nurse was shot dead on his way home. "The SOS facilities are encircled by military camps; this makes them like being in a sandwich. The SOS Children's Village and all the other buildings are guarded by ten security men who fulfil their job at the risk of their lives. At the hospital, the staff is doing an outstanding work, each day up to 200 patients, mainly children, are treated there", said President Kutin.

Photo: Alexander Gabriel
Photo: A. Gabriel

At the hotel Mr Kutin talked to the children and mothers before presenting each SOS mother with a special thank-you gift. He also commended Ahmed Ibrahim for his outstanding leadership and applauded the bravery of various SOS co-workers in Mogadishu who have stayed with the project through the worst of times. In particular he mentioned Mr Abdi Osman who led the skeleton staff who remained behind after most of staff members fled from the project.

Mr Kutin has also seen the UN headquarters in Mogadishu; everything is empty as due to the prevailing violence most NGOs and aid organisations had to leave the country. "Most of them are staying in Kenya now, hoping for a change for the better. What is really striking is that mobiles work, you even can send an e-mail, but most of the buildings are ruins or heavily damaged", said Mr Kutin .

After honouring the co-workers the President presided over the graduation ceremony of 14 nursing students from the SOS Nursing School. This is the second graduation of nursing students from the nursing school which is now into its sixth year of operation.

Photo: Alexander Gabriel
Mogadishu, a town in ruins - Photo: A. Gabriel

At a time when few foreigners visit Mogadishu because of the ever present danger, when hope for the people in Mogadishu and for the SOS families is fading and when morale has reached its lowest point, there is no doubt that the visit by Mr Kutin and his colleagues was a great morale boost to the co-workers and families in Mogadishu. "In just a few hours the morale of our mothers and co-workers underwent a big change", concluded Ahmed Ibrahim.