Vaccinating The Somali Children from the Psychological injuries of the Civil war
By Maryam Mohamed
I have recently visited my birth place Mogadishu after migrating with my family to London at the age of two. Visiting where my parents used to say “Mogadishu is where your umbilical cord is buried” was a life changing journey. The words of my parents “Xundhurtaadaa ku duugan, Xaqeeda ayaa lagaa rabaa” led me to realise the personal and collective responsibility to participate in rebuilding one’s country. As I studied health and child care with four year practical experience in London, during my visit I focused on looking at ways to help improve the existing schools in Hamar Weyne and Boondheere. One of the things, I observed in Mogadishu is that it is saturated with NGOs offering a lot of services such as food, vaccination and education. Majority of these local and international NGOs put more emphasis on meeting the physical needs such as vaccination for tropical diseases, food etc. However, you will hardly see an organisation that vaccinates the children from the psychological diseases of the war. This is not as tangible as providing food and medicine and the intangible services are difficult to sell to donors.
People sustain psychological injuries even more often than we do physical ones and they can deteriorate if we ignore them. This is an important area that individual Somalis such as parents, teachers and institutions such as schools, Madrasas, NGOs and the all Media need to positively contribute to short circuit the cycle of violence from this beautiful country. We need to immunise our innocent children from the unhealthy psychological habits and the negativity surrounding the environment they live in. The educators at home the parents and school (teachers) and the community need to beware of what they are saying in front of their children or students. Children are born with fitrah clean heart free from negativity and their opinions are influenced by what the people around them think, do and say. The key problem starts when these groups pass the heritage of enmities arising from historical traumatic events. This perpetuates stereotypes from one generation to the next, entrenching the conflict for many years to come and the hostile relationship gets integrated into our society.
One of the schools, I visited include Banadir Orphan and Needy School in Mogadishu in which the charity “Help Yateem” founders includes my uncle partly supports the school. I have explained the school staff about my thoughts and they acknowledged the need for addressing the psychological needs of the children. For example, an orphan whose father was killed by a gun attack may still have that anger and rage in him or her. Ruminating about upsetting events in this way can easily become a habit, and it’s a very costly one. Therefore, we need to find ways that allows the child to use their anger constructively and failing to do that will lead the children use their anger destructively. Nobody knows, but there are higher possibilities that those children that are sniffing glues was as a result of chewing over or ruminating about upsetting and negative events occurred in their childhood.
We urge all Somalis abroad and home to put more efforts on reversing the negative psychological behaviors that is integrated into our society. Let us offer our children psychological first-aid lessons so that they become the true leaders Somalis are yearning for. We can do this by re-evaluating our conducts in the three most important institutions where children are nurtured such as home, schools and the Masaajid/Madrasah.
One of the best gifts you can give to a child is to assure him/her that you love his/her mother or father. Traditionally, Somalis are reluctant to show their love for their partner and seen as a weakness. The prophet SCW said putting food into the mouth of your partner is counted as a charity (Sadaqah). For a child to see his father putting food into his mother’s mouth is the best gift he could get. This will have more long lasting effect then buying the latest gadgets. But, few Somalis have ever tried this, but those who tried were shocked to see the child’s reaction of joy.
Another example, when our child fights with a friend or a neighbour’s child and gets hurt, some mothers tell, you will not come back until you take revenge and hurt him/her the same. This is where our problem lies, we yearn for a good leader, but we fail to nurture that leader. We should not be blaming our parliamentarian, but our failure to make our homes an environment where kids grow positively and learn how to compromise at early ages.
The Masaajid and Islamic Madrasah play important role in teaching the children the Quran and Hadith. But one of their shortcomings is that they put too much focus on memorising the Quran and Hadith. I have visited a well organised Madrasah in Boondheere and most of the kids memorised the 40 hadith of Imam Nawawi and that is a great achievement.
The missing part however was teaching the kids the applications and understanding of the wisdom behind a particular hadith. Another problem might be the Moalim is not practicing what he/she is preaching (Lack of role model) and this will impact the children internalising the behavior prescribed in the hadith and the wisdom behind it. Teaching Social values known as (Mu’aasharah) dealing with other fellow beings as well as other creations is very important.
We need an educational system that prepares our children for life and not for work only. The problem with educating them for work only is when they grow, they will feel as if they are existing only, not living. We need to introduce activities that encourage role-playing and empathy help children to develop awareness and empathy as well as developing resilience and assertiveness.
Also to educate our children about the consequence of the civil war, the educational system (teachers, schools, textbooks) needs to try to paint a fair, accurate and unprejudiced picture of the conflict. Through stories, discussions, and exercises, teachers can help students (of all ages and levels) understand the complexity of the conflicts that surround them, and develop appropriate responses to the current conflicts in their homes, communities and nation.
Above all, Somalia has been put through a lot of fire similar to the diamond making process. The diamond starts from coal and through more fire pressure and cutting it shines. Change does not happen overnight and it is not an easy process. But if we take the steps to change ourselves for the better, one day Somalia will shine and will lit the light of the Dark Continent (Africa).
Mariam is a member of Help Yateem Charity in London. Please also remember to help those unfortunate children in Somalia with whatever you can offer such as your knowledge, labour and donation. Visit our website http://www.helpyateem.org/