The other day I saw pictures from the port of Berbera . Somali women with children not allowed to get off the ship because they were Somalis from the South. I was outraged. How can this happen? Who is responsible for this crime? I am a Somali psychiatrist from Belet Weyne/Mogadishu/Moscow and Copenhagen. I left Somalia at the age of 14; I am 64 now and that means that I’ve lived most of my life outside Somalia. Nevertheless, that does not mean that I have been mentally away from the Somali reality. No, never.
In 2007, while I was working in Northern Norway I read in Hiiraan Online an article about the mentally retarded children in Burco that were chained for years. I barely knew where Burco was but I knew that these kids were somali kids and I had a responsability. The authors of the article were from the German-Somali NGO Medical Care Somalia(MCS) and I contacted them. The chairman was Dr. Ahmed Awad, a Somali physician married to a German nurse.They were trying to help these kids and other mentally ill people. I joined them and we travelled together to Somaliland in September 2008. It was the first time I was in Somaliland and it was the first time I was on Somali soil since 1975. The impression was huge and I just knew that I had to come back and do more for the mentally ill. A lot happened since. I took the initiative to found in Denmark the NGO Mental Health in Somalia(MHIS) and together with other NGOs from the diaspora and internally in Somaliland, we created in Burco the Mental Health Center – Mandhaye . This center is unique in Africa. It has both an out-patient and in-patient units focused on a Community Psychiatry model based on working with the family and the enviroment of the mentally ill. A telepsychiatric consultations unit with 2 Somali psychiatrist in Scandinavia. Training and supervision of the staff and the junior doctors and nurse students.
The Ministry of Health of Somaliland understood and appreciated the work that was done at Mandhaye and accepted the staff on the pay roll of the ministry and this was a huge achievement.
Most of Mandhaye’s economy came from the diaspora and it is very good that Somalis in diaspora take responsability for helping their people back home.
I had been working in Burco for 5 years and most of the time on voluntary basis.
In spite of sacrifices I had a good life in Somaliland. Professionally, it was good to experience that we were making a difference for a lot of people, mostly poor families. Privately, I tried to live the same life I live in Denmark : to walk a lot, read, do my shopping and cooking. It was a huge pleasure to do my shopping at the market. The women knew me and liked to see a doctor coming for her vegetables, meat and fruit. “Hello sister, we have mango from Mogadishu,” this was music in my ears. These women were real heroes, working 10-12 hours a day in order to feed their children. Most of them were married to useless men, passing the whole day chewing khat, many were divorced for the same reason.
Back in Denmark I have good memories of Burco and I try to follow the political situation of the country.
Somaliland is looking for recognition and I understand that. I will be the first person to support the recognition of Somaliland if the people of Somaliland vote freely for that.The choice must be of the people living in Somaliland and not the Somalilanders in diaspora holding foreign passports.
Seeing mothers with sick and needy small children in their arms at the port of Berbera and not allowed to get off the ship made me very sad and angry. Because, I know that the people of Somaliland are generous and will accept the refugees and give them shelter. The women at the market, the guy I would buy fish from, my neighbours, my friends, the staff of Mandhaye they will all welcome the needy people no matter where they come from. I am certain that it is not the people of Somaliland that are saying no to the refugees but then let us ask who made this decision? This action of inhumanity will undoubtedly delay the chance of Somaliland’s recognition. Shame on the authorities that took this decision!
By: Dr. Fatuma Sheikh. A. Jumale
Friday, June 05, 2015.