steps forward, a solemn expression on her face.
Too young yet to wear a veil, she wears a cream-colored, elegantly
frilled bridesmaid's dress. With puff sleeves, bracelets, and a minute
frown of concentration, she could easily blend in at an American or
Instead, she steps forward so that our nutrition team can weigh and
measure her to assess the severity of her malnourishment and give her
therapeutic food. She is one of thousands of malnourished children in
Somaliland struggling to survive the Horn of Africa's deadly drought.
But few people on earth live farther away from help than she does... I'm in a silver four-wheel-drive bound for Gumburu Xangeyo, the most
remote village served by Medair in the Sool region of Somaliland. We
are several weeks into the Deyr rainy season, but today, like most days,
there is no rain. Strong winds whip the dust and sand up into choking
Two hours into a seven-hour drive, we pull off the highway onto a
treacherous dirt track of sudden twists and soft sand, where cars can
get stuck and need to be dug out. I stare out the window and endure the
relentless bumping as we vanish into the wilderness.
The Sool countryside is eerily quiet. The dry land—dotted with
leathery bushes and tower-like termite nests—would normally be densely
populated by herds of grazing camels, goats, and blackhead sheep. I have
been told that in 1990, Somalia as a whole was home to more camels than
any other country. Today you can drive for miles without seeing a single
After five hours on the dirt track, we reach Gumburu Xangeyo, a
collection of wood-and-mud huts that is home to about 250 families, with
another 250 living nearby in the surrounding countryside. When the nutrition team enters the village, children and their
parents queue in anticipation. After the girl in the bridesmaid's
dress receives her food, each child waits their turn to be weighed and
measured and to receive sachets of Plumpy'Nut, a high-energy therapeutic
food used to treat malnutrition in children under five.
Medair is only into its second week of distributing food in this village
but already the children are putting on weight. That represents a rapid
onset of recovery, considering the drought the village is going through.
"When the first food sachets were distributed last week, the children
needed to be carried to get them," says Salad Roble Awad, the
60-year-old village chief, "Before, the children were weak and sleepy.
This has woken them up!"
A gathering crowd of villagers express amazement to me that a foreign
organization has visited them at all. "Nobody had ever come here
before," explains Salad. "People do not want to come here because it is
so hard to get to this village. But Medair first came to learn about us,
then came back to help. Now I have hope for the future of the village." Sayneb Mohamed, 29, tells me a story tragically typical in the
village. Not long ago, she had prospered in this once-rich
pastureland. She kept large herds of both goats and sheep, but every one
of her animals died in the years of drought, the last one a year ago.
"When the animals started dying there were carcasses everywhere," says
Sayneb. "Their corpses were lying in the streets of the village. The
smell was unbearable." Today only a few bones remain, simmering in the
burning heat of the midday sun, picked clean by insects.
Sayneb's son Jimcale gradually became so malnourished and exhausted that
he could hardly move. He spent most of the day sleeping on the ground.
"He was close to death," she says. "Many children died here before
But today, there is a healthy glow to Jimcale's cheeks and he plays
constantly while his mother struggles to hold on to him. "Before, the
children were weak and were unable to digest what little food the adults
had to eat," she says. "The special food that Medair brings is good for
the children." To my Western eyes, life in Gumburu Xangeyo seems almost unbearably
tough. I wonder how the families here find the will to continue. But
no matter how tough life here is, it is infinitely better than
abandoning their lives to move to a displacement camp. As I walk through
the village, several people tell me how desperate they are to stay.
When people move to displacement camps, they leave behind their entire
lives. They lose their land and all their possessions, and can become
dependent on aid. This dependency hampers recovery. That is why we
travel so far to deliver aid directly to the communities like Gumburu
With the nutrition team done for the day, I climb back into the 4x4 to
start the long journey home. Travelling through this region, I have seen
immense hardship, malnutrition, and need, but I also have seen fresh
hope, the glimpses of a future that Medair is bringing to the families
who live here.
Sayneb said something today that stuck with me: "The eyes tell more than
the lips," she said, a Somali expression meaning that words alone cannot
express her thanks. She had gestured at the group of mothers gathered
around us, their happy children playing at our feet: "Without your help,
we would have been finished." With your support, Medair will provide emergency relief that will
help more than 300,000 people survive the drought over the coming months.
We will also immunize children, boost local capacity, and improve safe
water access—long-term interventions that will increase the ability of
communities to withstand future droughts.
Source: Member //Medair