Small signs of hope in Somaliland

Beth Good, MCC’s health coordinator, remembers driving for hours across parched, arid land as the wheels of the Land Rover she was travelling in brought up plumes of dust so thick it was hard to see.

What she did see was disturbing.

“We heard that people there depended on livestock, but as we were driving we saw (animal) carcasses and bones everywhere.” 

This past June, Good visited an MCC maternal, newborn and child health project done in partnership with World Concern in Somaliland, a region of Somalia. The overall goal of the project is to reduce malnutrition among children under five years of age and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding by providing nutritional supplements and delivering health messages.

MCC's health coordinator, Beth Good, talks about maternal and child health with Shamis Mohamed Farah in Hulul village in Somaliland. MCC photo/Rose Shenk

Tragedy in Ceel Lahelay

On the second day, Good arrived in the village of Ceel Lahelay in Somaliland’s Sanaag region to do an initial assessment and to hear from community members about how they’ve been affected by a drought, which has plagued the region for more than two years.

During her visit, Good, who is a trained nurse, did some exams on people in the community. During that time, she came across a one-year-old boy who was very sick with pneumonia and had a compromised immune system because he was malnourished. His mother and grandmother, both pastoralists who recently moved to the community after losing their livelihood, had not received nutrition education provided in the village.

“When I strongly advised them to transport the baby to the nearest hospital, they told us it would take a few days to work on transportation. I knew he did not have days. I discussed it with the partner and they agreed to transport the baby, his mother and grandmother to the next town that had a clinic for treatment,” Good explains.

Villagers in Ceel Lahelay bring a 12-month-old infant suffering from pneumonia to the World Concern Land Cruiser for transportation to a clinic. The boy died on the way. MCC photo/Rose Shenk

In a separate vehicle driving to the clinic, Good hoped the partner wouldn’t call over the radio, knowing it would only be bad news. Shortly after they began the trip, Good got a call to check on the baby.

“When I went to the other car, he was no longer breathing and didn’t have a pulse,” she says. 

Sadly, Good wasn’t able to revive the baby.

“It was so difficult for all involved, but my heart was broken for the mother and grandmother. We learned that this was the second child this young woman had lost.”

An empty water barrel stands outside a collection of shelters housing internally displaced people in the Sanaag region of Somaliland. This area of Somaliland, already arid, has not seen rain for 18 months. MCC photo/Rose Shenk

What if?

This experience and stories of so much loss made Good wonder if the MCC project was making any progress in the community.

“It struck me, how bad would it be if this project wasn’t here? We weren’t seeing wonderful improvement in outcomes, but we also were not seeing the devastation that could be there if the project wasn’t around,” she says.

In this community, as well as many others she visited on the trip, people explained how nomadic pastoralists had to move to more established communities because their flocks were dying. Some communities experienced population growth topping 30 per cent.

An animal carcass lies in front of shelters housing internally displaced people in the Sanaag region of Somaliland. In the villages MCC's Beth Good visited, the population has increased by as much as 30 to 50 per cent due to a migration of people who have lost all of their livestock. MCC photo/Rose Shenk

Because the mother and grandmother who lost the baby were internally displaced, Good wondered if things might have been different if they had lived in Ceel Lahelay for longer and had access to the services and education offered in the community.

“It makes one wonder if the outcome would have been different if his family had been part of the program and had the information that the caregivers provide.”

Although Good saw tragedy in the village, she also saw flickers of hope.

Good learned that community members who lived in Ceel Lahelay were sharing the food assistance they were receiving from humanitarian organizations with displaced pastoralists. 

“The community admitted that resources are scarce because they have been given rations for a certain number of people in their community. However, so many more are joining their community after they lose their livestock and they feel that they need to share with all,” Good says.

She adds: “The signs of hope I observed were many.”

This project in Somaliland is made possible through the Luann Martin legacy fund.