I used to love playing TAG as a kid. You remember the game — you’d run around and try to get away from whoever was “It.” We’d always designate a “safe base” where if you got there first, whoever was It couldn’t tag you unless you got off the base. You were safe.
As I was flying out of Somalia yesterday, I was struggling to sum up in my mind my overall reaction to visiting a Somali transit camp along the Ethiopia border … until I remembered the game TAG.
Let me explain.
What I saw was hundreds of Somalis who had just made a race to the border. After talking with them, it seemed that many of them had hoped Ethiopia would be their “safe base,” a place where they could finally get food, water and help from aid organizations.
Yet, what surprised me was that many of the Somalis I met were finding that what they had hoped to be their “safe base” actually wasn’t. Instead, some were crossing into Ethiopia only to turn around and head back to Somalia. The grass wasn’t greener on the other side. They were still struggling to get food and many were resorting to begging from people in town. It broke my heart to see how frustrated many of these mothers were to have walked for nearly two weeks from parts of Somalia only to end up in a place that wasn’t much better. There is still violence in the area, very little food/water, and many of them were sick. They are desperate to get help.
I spent awhile talking with Mohamed, a 76-year-old grandmother who had walked more than two weeks with her eight grandchildren to find food. As she leaned on her walking stick while talking to me, Mohamed told me she still struggles to just stand up because she had walked so far. Surprisingly, she didn’t want to go into Ethiopia. “I don’t know those people, ” she said. “Somalia is my home.”
Although Mohamed knows she’s not able to get the help she needs in Somalia, she also knows that going into Ethiopia won’t be much better. So for now, she’s intent on staying in her home country.
I told her that I worked for World Vision and that we are deploying people to this camp to set up medical clinics. She nodded and said that this was a good thing.
While it’s extremely dangerous to work in Somalia, Mohamed’s story is just one of the reasons why our staff has decided to respond to this border camp area anyway. We know Mohamed isn’t the only one who wants to stay in her home country if she can only get the help she needs here.
I left Somalia feeling like World Vision has a clear mission in this camp: to give more people like Mohamed the resources they desperately need in their home country and to provide those who have fled to the border with a true “safe base.”