"The key of our work in Somalia is to target young people, offering access to education and security, to pull them out of poverty and prevent them from enlisting with Al-Shabaab militiamen. This is why in the refugee camps of Kismayo and Da'ab we, as AVSI, foster and boost the participation of boys and girls in scout groups, who take action to help the population. This creates a sense of active citizenship, that has positive effects on the rest of the community".
Corrado Cok is AVSI's Country Representative in Somalia: interviewed by the Italian press agency "Dire", he traces the outline of a country that has not yet emerged from civil war, while being called upon to deal with climate change resulting in famine, drought, locust invasions, floods and epidemics.
On top of this comes instability fueled by the rebel militia, considered a terrorist group by the government in Mogadishu. Although it carries out regular attacks that also cause civilian casualties, it is largely viewed - even among women - as a viable alternative in the more remote and rural areas of Somalia, where jobs, services and public safety are lacking. The International Crisis Group has also reported this in several reports.
Cok goes on to explain that "many areas, which have been nominally liberated by the government, are in fact still lacking in services and state presence. This makes them still dangerous: anyone with a weapon can rule over the whole community." For this reason, he recalls, "some time ago several village leaders asked us to set up sports camps to keep young people away from 'temptations.'" Suffering most from the lack of jobs and opportunities are boys and girls, as well as displaced people forced to live in refugee camps: according to the UN Refugee Agency, they are 3 million people, while one million have already left the country.
Precisely to guarantee a better life to these vulnerable people, in 2022 AVSI launched the second edition of a humanitarian intervention, carried out thanks to funding provided by the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and in partnership with other NGOs and local institutions. The project, originally started in 2020, includes multiple interventions to improve food security and ensure to the population the possibility to earn an income, providing, for example, farmers with training courses, donkeys and carts for transportation, and pesticides for livestock. Sanitation services have also been enhanced through the creation of wells and systems to purify municipal water sources. AVSI also works to improve the condition of women and girls, with courses against gender-based violence: solar powered flashlights are given to them to enhance they safety at night. Separate sanitary facilities have also been built, so that women and girls do not have to walk long distances, exposing themselves to potential dangers.
These interventions are precious, Cok assures, as “life is not simple. Many displaced people come to us in a state of shock, caused both by the violence they fled and the violence they suffered during the journey. Some of them saw their family members die. Added to this," the head of AVSI Somalia highlights, "is the sense of bewilderment at being in unfamiliar places, without family or clan ties, which in these social contexts are fundamental." Last but not least, "there is a lack of services such as clean water or schooling for children and teenagers: schools can only be found in big cities, whereas elsewhere the dropout rate is very high."
With AICS, AVSI supports 40,000 people in Somalia
AICS’ funding, Cok concludes, “will allow us to reach 40 thousand people by 2023: women, men, children, the elderly, and the disabled. For the latter, we are planning to build specific sanitary facilities to ensure accessibility.”