April 24 2007
Not giving up hope
Interview on the current situation in Mogadishu
In recent weeks hundreds of thousands of people have been fleeing from the capital of Somalia. Heavy fighting between Ethiopian-backed government troops and Islamic militia are again leading to the outbreak of a humanitarian disaster in a country which has been in a state of chaos for more than 15 years. Wilhelm Huber, who is the Regional Director of SOS Children's Villages in East Africa and who worked for the children's charity in Mogadishu itself during the civil war in the 1990s, reports on the current situation regarding SOS Children's Villages projects.
Mr Huber, how are things looking in Mogadishu at the moment?
Wilhelm Huber: Security is a real issue in terms of SOS Children's Villages' projects and the situation is very tense. We are in the middle of the fighting. We took the children to a place of safety on Sunday morning and we're now going to have to wait to see what happens.
Around 100 children and young people and their SOS mothers live at the SOS Children's Village. How are the children and staff coping now that the situation has worsened?
Wilhelm Huber: I must say that I admire the courage and strength that the mothers, our children and young people have shown. It has been amazing to see how they have coped with the situation and that they still have courage.
Has there been any damage to SOS facilities?
Wilhelm Huber: I can hardly believe that we have escaped any damage - so far it has been a case of pure luck. Bombs landed right on the football pitch and classrooms and there were large explosions. I don't think that we will remain untouched. If the fighting really does become a major offensive, we are going to resign ourselves to the fact that there will be serious damage.
Is it possible to say when the families and staff are going to be able to return to the facilities?
Wilhelm Huber: It is entirely possible that the situation will be such that they will be able to return to the SOS Children's Village in two or three days, maybe. It has always been the case that the fighting has moved on from one area of town to another within a short space of time. But at the moment heavy fighting is taking place right in the area where the SOS Children's Village is located.
And in the long-term? Are you optimistic that the weapons will eventually fall silent on a permanent basis after all these years of unrest?
Wilhelm Huber: There have again and again been times when people have really thought that there was no more hope and that it was the end. But time and time again I have seen people pull through it somehow - an opening presents itself, people take it and things carry on. That's the way I see it now as well - we can't give up hope. I think that the situation will calm down, although things don't look good at the moment. But things can change at any time. We've seen that over and over again.
SOS Children's Villages has been active in Somalia since the middle of the 1980s. An SOS Children's Villages, a kindergarten, youth facility and school for around 350 children are located in the south of Mogadishu. Despite heavy fighting and the complete chaos around the city following the outbreak of civil war in 1991, SOS Children's Villages continued its work at a time when almost all the other aid organisations had left the country.
The large aid and food programme that was launched at that time gradually became a permanent facility. Now, no one could imagine the city without the medical complex which includes a mother and child clinic, a paediatric unit and a food programme. Every year there are around 300,000 treatments. ECHO and the United Nations World Food Programme are supporting these projects.
SOS Children's Villages' facilities have been caught up in the conflict again and again over the past years. There have even been abductions, which fortunately turned out all right, mainly thanks to the solidarity within the population at large. A tragic moment was when Sister Leonella, director of the SOS nursing school, and here bodyguard were murdered last year.