Oxfam’s Caroline Gluck spoke recently with Halima Hussein, a 42-year-old nurse working for SAACID, one of Oxfam’s local partners in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. She’s based at the emergency therapeutic center in Badbaado, the city’s largest camp for people displaced by the conflict and drought ravaging the country. Here, in an interview recorded by Gluck, Hussein talks about the challenges of the job and what keeps her going.
“I work with mothers and with children. Every day we see on average 200 to 250 people. They are in different situations. Some are severely malnourished, some are moderately malnourished; others have complications.
“People come to us initially for an assessment, and if we can treat them we do this in the center. If there are complications, we might have to refer them to a hospital.
“I’m a mother myself. I have five children. The oldest is 21. The others are 18, 14, 5, and 4. I think about my family a lot in terms of this work. I always think if this is my child, if they are like this, what could I do for them? Sometimes I cry when I see the mothers like me suffering and others less fortunate than me…
“We face many problems. The biggest one I have is how to convince a mother that it’s best to refer her child to the hospital when the child is suffering so much. They often tell us: ‘I have four to five other children at home. Who’ll take care of them?’ Instead of spending four to five days with one child, they think of the other children…
“Three or four children are dying every week in Badbaado. These are children that I see or know about but I think the actual cases are far higher.
“I see lots of people digging graves for small children because there is an outbreak of measles. We are doing immunization for young children at our centers.
“When children come in, first we screen them. We weigh them, and measure them, and we place them in one of three categories: green, that means they are malnourished; yellow, which means moderately malnourished; and red; which is severe acute malnutrition. We treat moderate acute malnutrition in the centers.
“Initially, when I began working [at Badbaado], it was shocking for me. When I started two months ago, the children I saw then were badly malnourished. But you would never know now because they have become beautiful and gained weight…and that’s thanks to our help.
“I’m so happy but so are the mothers. They will go around telling other mothers now in similar situations to how they were: ‘Don’t be desperate. My child was worse than yours, but look how well they are now.’ The level of mobilization for our work goes from mother to mother.
“Now, I hope things will improve and the rains will come. Maybe people will go back to farming, but that will take time, and recovery will take longer. But I am optimistic that things will change. Although people are still vulnerable…
“There are two things that really encourage me. I’m working for my people and my community. And secondly, I’m the breadwinner for my family. My husband isn’t working. There is no job for him; no opportunities for him. Before, he had a big restaurant in Bakara market in Mogadishu. But it was shelled and we lost everything. That was in 2006. Now, I have to be strong for the whole family.
“Droughts used to come and go. But I think the main reason for the crisis now is instability and political conflict. I have to have hope, especially from God, that this conflict will stop and people can start to understand each other and we can life a peaceful life. We want and need peace.”