April 30 2008

SOS Children's Villages Somalia mourns the death of a co-worker

30/04/2008 - More news is emerging about the situation at the SOS Children's Village Mogadishu after it was occupied by Ethiopian and Somali troops for three days from 19 to 21 April.

It appears that a government offensive to drive out insurgents was concentrated on the area around the SOS Children's Village and the SOS Hospital in Somalia's capital. The hospital had only recently reopened after being closed for three months due to insecurity and lack of access to the area. The village was empty apart from a skeleton staff, having been evacuated last December after it was hit by mortars. The mothers and children still remain in relatively safer housing elsewhere in the city.

Photo: Alexander Gabriel
Giovane - Photo: A. Gabriel

As the army moved into the area, shutting off access points, most of the SOS co-workers moved out for their own safety. Unfortunately two gardeners were still at the hospital, and while one managed to hide, the other was stopped by troops. It is not clear what happened next but the body of Abdulahi Osman Hassan, always known as Giovane (young one in Italian) by all the staff, was found in the compound after the troops moved out three days later. He appears to have been shot on the day that he was apprehended. Giovane had been working as a gardener for SOS Children's Villages since March 1990 and was well known to everyone. At any special event he was always the one to make a speech on behalf of his co-workers, even doing so during the recent visit by SOS Children's Villages President Helmut Kutin in March this year. The other gardener managed to remain hidden without food and water, for the three days that the hospital and village were occupied by troops. He was found by co-workers after the troops had left and treated by hospital staff.

SOS co-workers gained access to the hospital and village on 23 April (when Giovane's body was found) and set about assessing the damage. Both the hospital and children's village were ransacked over the three days occupation and medicines and food stuffs were stolen. Every building was broken into, including staff and SOS family houses, and a considerable amount of damage was done.

Photo: Alexander Gabriel
During the special visit of President Kutin at the end of March - Photo: A. Gabriel

The hospital was reopened on Monday 28 April due to the dire need for medical care in the area. The SOS Hospital is one of the few functioning hospitals in Mogadishu and specifically caters for women and children at no cost. With the current situation the few hospitals still open are full to capacity, so SOS staff considered it essential to reopen as soon as possible. Since it opened people have started to trickle back into the area and each day has been busier than the one before. On 30 April alone, one hundred children had been seen by 10.00 am. The hospital staff are led by Dr Abdulahi Hussein Moallin, who recently retuned to Mogadishu after undergoing training in Europe. He is determined to continue assisting the women and children of Mogadishu who have been largely forgotten in this ongoing insurgency.

Wilhelm Huber, regional director for SOS Children's Villages in East Africa, is extremely disturbed by the hostilities taking place in Mogadishu against humanitarian workers. "Despite assurances from the government", he said, "the soldiers entered our facilities, ransacked the place and took the food and medicines that they needed. The food situation in Mogadishu is very serious and everyone, including soldiers, is desperate. We are greatly saddened that we have lost a loyal and long-serving staff member who had not hurt anyone and we abhor the fact that humanitarian workers and facilities should be treated in this way."