|UNICEF USA Ambassador Clay Aiken talks Rahma, 9, during a visit to the Somaliland Cultural and Sports Association in Hargeisa, North West Somalia.|
By Denise Shepherd-Johnson
NAIROBI, Kenya, 2 July 2008 – During a five-day visit to the self-declared republic of Somaliland in north-west Somalia, UNICEF USA Ambassador Clay Aiken was moved by the work that UNICEF is doing under challenging circumstances.
“In a country that’s better known for conflict, insecurity, drought and floods,” said Mr. Aiken, “it’s truly remarkable that UNICEF is still able to make a difference to the health, education and well-being of Somali children.”
Mr. Aiken travelled to Hargeisa, Gabiley and Boroma to see UNICEF-supported projects firsthand – projects that promote child health, safe water, sanitation and hygiene, primary education, child protection and girls’ empowerment.
Somalia is a country in which less than 25 per cent of the population has access to basic health services, and only 29 per cent have access to a safe water source. Fewer than 30 per cent of children attend primary school. It's also a place where almost every girl is circumcised, and it has amongst the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
‘The right to an education’
Playing basketball with girls in the enclosed facility of the Somaliland Cultural and Sports Association (SOCSA), Mr. Aiken saw the opportunity given to females by the UNICEF-supported organization.
“Here, girls are able to learn about leadership and health, acquire life skills and play sports within a safe environment,” he said. “Even the youngest girls that I’ve met at SOCSA impressed me with how confident and articulate they are as a result of this project.”
At a camp for 1,500 displaced families in Hargeisa, Mr. Aiken met Abduraman, 11, who helps to support his five siblings and blind mother by working each morning to collect stones. He uses his earnings to pay for school, which he attends in the afternoon.
“Somalia has some of the lowest enrolment rates in the world, but every child has the right to an education,” said Mr. Aiken. “UNICEF is working to help ensure that even working children get to go to school.” UNICEF has also provided the camp with child protection monitors, teacher training and school materials.
Providing for basic needs
In Boroma, Mr. Aiken saw how the town’s water system is functioning with UNICEF’s support. Under a public-private partnership, the system provides safe water to 95 per cent of the town’s population including schools and hospitals.
Mr. Aiken also visited maternal and child health clinics to see nutritional feeding and immunization activities along with projects supporting children with disabilities, the eradication of female genital mutilation/cutting and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
“Somali families want the best for their children and people really want to help bring about change,” he said. “Fortunately, UNICEF has always been there and continues to provide the support needed to make a difference.”