Hiiraan Online Editorial
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Somalia’s war-ravaged capital, Mogadishu, is not an ideal city to raise kids or for that matter be an orphan. It a survival-of- the-fittest-city and the epicenter of all miseries.
In this Horn of Africa nation, it is tempting to be selfish, turn inward, overlook the plights of others and dismiss out of hand calls for help. The country has experienced, unlike any other country in modern times, 22-years of unbroken chaos that has affected almost everyone.
It is not uncommon, therefore, to see in the capital city, Mogadishu, orphans as young as four and five years old left to fight for their own survival, or single mothers toiling day in day out to keep their children from starvation.
But this gloomy picture does not mean that all Somalis are devoid of compassion and sympathy
In fact, this misfortune has brought the best out of some very few individuals who opted to break out the straightjacket to save lives and help out others.
And this year Hiiraan online’s "Person Of The Year" pick goes to two unique, indeed very unique, individuals whose empathy for orphans and the underprivileged stand out.
Mohamed Ibrahim and Mohamed Osman, the co-founders of Benadir Orphans and Education Center, had every excuse to stay out of the dangerous humanitarian activities in Somalia.
But that is not them. They got big hearts and caring eyes that can't look the other way when they see misery in the eyes of poor and hungry kids in their neighborhood, Hamar Weyne district, where the center was first launched.
Ibrahim, the general secretary of the center, has a PhD in African studies and can easily get a decent job and focus on his seven children, but he said he was shocked by the huge number of orphans in Mogadishu, and with the support of others they "decided to do something about it."
Osman, the manager, has also has a degree in education, but he always aspired to help his fellow countrymen.
Osman and Ibrahim appreciate the risks of being an orphan in Somalia and the consequences of letting the chips fall where they may.
They know too well that the alternatives of not stepping up to the plate are hunger, starvation, illiteracy, child soldiers and worst of all radicalization by the Al Qaeda linked militants of Al Shabaab.
So, in 2010, the pair come to a conclusion that they can mitigate the plight of the orphans in the capital, Mogadishu. Education should become the tools of success, they envisioned, rather than the barrels of the gun.
In that year, the mere thought of trying to start any meaningful organization to help the underprivileged was in itself a far-fetched notion and more like a daydreaming. It was a scary affair in a city where people are killed for their ideas.
Mogadishu was during that period the battle ground of two warring sides: Somalia's ruthless terrorists, who controlled much of the city, and foreign troops from Uganda and Burundi, who protected the weak and transitional government.
But Osman and Ibrahim were ready to risk it all when no one else was even having any of it. They shared a conviction of caring for and educating kids, and by doing so they believed they can make a difference in their community.
They were the real prophets of optimism in a time of doom. Today their center, Benadir Orphans and Education Center, has 980 students, 15 fulltime teachers and five volunteers, showing what two determined, selfless Somalis can do to turn the bleak lives of the poor children into a promising future.
“By helping these children first, we are doing a huge favor for ourselves and for Somalia. We are chanelling their energy to the right direction so as they, in future, help address their country’s problems,” said Osman, as his colleague, Ibrahim, who sat by his side, nodded in approval.
The pair’s work is indeed a big feat in a country where illiteracy is rampant and generations are lost to war, hunger and disease. The bright future of these kids can only be understood well when compared with that of hundreds of others who turned to sea piracy, extremism and crime.
When Osman and Ibrahim embarked on this journey barely four years ago, they had no sources of funding.
The center, which started with about a $US 100 collected from shops in the capital, has now have 12 rooms and its students undergo intensive courses "because funding is not guaranteed."
The center puts more emphasis on math, science and physical education as well as humanities. In the near future, it wants to introduce computer classes to ensure that students compete with their counterparts in private schools.
The founders first put out a call to Somalis inside and abroad, pleading with them to contribute to the center's activities, starting finally with just three rooms whose rent was paid for by Ms. Faduma Awowe Mohamed of Himilo International and Civic Development in Toronto, Canada, was one of the first responders.
Immediately after hearing of Osman and Ibrahim’s call, she offered to cover overhead costs and teacher salaries, providing a much needed support to the center, which now depends on the goodwill of Somali citizens.
It is really sad to note, though, that official contributions is lagging: The center’s appeal for assistance, for instance, to Benadir regional administrations and the Ministry of Social Services to sponsor computer labs fell on deaf ears.
Asked about her views about the center, Ms. Mohamed said: “I’m happy that I am part of these children’s success. I can really see the difference my contribution is making on the ground. This is truly a remarkable achievement!”
In a country that tries to heal its self-inflicted wounds, it is inspiring to read such stories that need to be emulated.
There're surely numerous other centers for orphans in Mogadishu and in other parts of the country, but the dedication of Osman and Ibrahim has attracted Hiiraan Online's editorial board, and we're not alone: A businessman in the capital had recently offered to give the center about 2 square kilometers of land near the capital.
And now that they have the land, theses apostles for hope will definitely need someone to come out and help them realize their dream of establishing a fully-fledged and professionally run institution that can cater for the needs of more orphans in Mogadishu.
If you are willing to support this orphanage center, please contact the following address: