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Letter from Mogadishu

UNICEF Representative visits national staff delivering for children in Somalia

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Nasim
UNICEF Representative to Somalia Rozanne Chorlton wears the body armour required for road travel between the airport and the UNICEF compound in Mogadishu, Somalia.

By Rozanne Chorlton

UNICEF Representative to Somalia Rozanne Chorlton recently returned from a mission to Mogadishu, the conflict-affected country’s capital city. Her firsthand account follows.

NAIROBI, Kenya, 25 June 2010 – I went to Mogadishu to visit the UNICEF compound and spend time with our colleagues there. I was told that it was the first visit by a UNICEF Representative to the Mogadishu office since 2007, due to a deterioration of security conditions in the city.

The mission went very smoothly. After a short flight from Nairobi, we arrived in Mogadishu on a lovely bright day. As we were landing, contrary to the usual media images, Mogadishu looked sparkling with a beautiful blue sea and white buildings in the background. The city was green and lush, and I realized there must have been quite a lot of rain.

Effects of conflict

We landed with no problems and were greeted by the UN security staff, who helped us through the airport arrival formalities. We put on our ‘personal protection equipment’ – or PPEs – consisting of a heavy flak jacket and a helmet. Then we boarded huge armored personnel carriers, known as ‘Caspers,’ which we are obliged to use in the city.

© UNICEF/NYHQ2007-0004/Kamber
Two children walk in a crowded street strewn with debris in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, in 2007.

We were tightly strapped in because, I was told, Caspers are designed to bounce if there is an explosion.

There was no fighting that day, but as we drove along, I could see that Mogadishu had suffered a lot from conflict. There were damaged buildings, barbed wire and large cement blocks to prevent the passage of vehicles.

Otherwise, the city looked like any other, with people selling goods in their shops and going about doing their daily business.

Results for children

At the UNICEF compound, I was met by our colleagues. It was a real thrill for me to go to the Mogadishu UNICEF office for the first time – to my real duty station, where I am supposed to be based.

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Nasim
UNICEF Representative to Somalia Rozanne Chorlton stands on the roof of the building that houses UNICEF's office in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, with a view of the city behind her.

Currently, due to insecurity, some other UNICEF staff and I support the Somalia programme from Nairobi, Kenya, instead of Mogadishu. It was great to see our national staff in the Somali capital and thank them for the fantastic job they have been doing, delivering results for children in the areas of immunization, water and sanitation, education and protection.

Our staff looked in great shape. It was good to be able to sit and talk with them.

As part of our mission to Mogadishu, a stress counsellor was on hand to meet with staff members and provide support. They work under difficult circumstances – especially since a mortar round landed in our compound in April.

The incident was the unfortunate result of an attempt by armed groups to reach another target; the mortar accidentally hit the UNICEF premises. Tragically, a security guard and another worker were killed, but no one on the UNICEF staff was injured. Our staff are still distressed about the incident, and it was chilling to see the spot where the two people were killed.

Highly motivated staff

Our next stop was a visit to the ‘cold chain,’ or vaccine storage, equipment in the compound. With about 30 refrigerators preserving vaccine supplies, it is the largest such facility in the central-south region of Somalia.

It was moving to know that this is the place from which vaccines were distributed to immunize over a quarter of a million children and some 300,000 women in Mogadishu during the recent Child Health Days campaign there. We hope to launch second and third rounds of the campaign in Mogadishu in good time.

Afterwards, we went to the roof of our office building, where you can see a wonderful view of Mogadishu, which looks like a place with great potential. However, from one angle of the roof you can see the Shamo Hotel, where a tragic bombing of students and ministers occurred last December – a reminder that terrible things can still happen.

UNICEF’s staff in Mogadishu are very highly motivated. I have seen this through their work. In spite of many difficulties, they find solutions to problems and always manage to find ways to deliver for children. Though they work in a highly complex environment, I was happy to see that they are in very good spirits, full of commitment, drive and enthusiasm.



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