Yes, I’ve been warned. By just about everyone I know, in fact, especially by war-zone regulars. It is probably the most dangerous city—or place—on earth. As one war-correspondent friend who was there last year put it, “It is the most extreme place I’ve been…full of dead and heroes.” In fact, we had to delay our trip due to multiple suicide bombings and riots inside Mogadishu’s “safe zone.”
But where large-scale development projects fear to tread, where the world has simply written people off…’an army of women’ are about to show up. Make that an army of grassroots women. I’m hoping you’ll join us!
I was drawn to Congo six years ago because, as journalist Lisa Ling put it, “these women have no one.” Well, no place in the world has been more written off than Somalia. And in Somalia, no one has been more written off than women. Somalia was recently named one of the five most dangerous places to be a woman. Violence is rampant throughout the country: rape, torture, forced marriages to terrorist insurgents, on top of the utter vulnerability of just trying to keep themselves and their children alive. Like Congo in 2005, they have no one.
This always bothered me, but I never considered focusing on Somalia because I didn’t think it was possible. Like one DC-based expert put it, “No one goes to Somalia. Too dangerous.” Then I met Katy Grant, co-founder of Prism Partnerships. A 38-year-old British mother of three, Katy had traveled to Somalia more than 40 times in five years, including throughout two pregnancies, to facilitate humanitarian assistance through UNICEF. (Once, after a southern Somali town she was working in fell to Islamic insurgents, Katy was evacuated six months pregnant through roadless bandit territory towards Mogadishu in a hair-raising convoy escape, with a 16 kg flak jacket that would not fit over the baby bump!)
As Katy and I brainstormed how we might support women in Somalia, Katy immediately suggested Somali widow and human-rights activist Fartun Abdisalaan Adan. For years, Fartun worked alongside her husband, supporting his human rights efforts in Mogadishu. In 1996, he was murdered for his work. Fartun escaped to Canada to raise her daughters. In 2007, when her girls were old enough to live on their own, Fartun moved back to Mogadishu to continue her human rights work. In a shocking turn, one of her daughters, who has no memory of early life in Somalia, decided to join her. They live under constant threat. Every single day, they are grateful to still be alive.
We asked her what we can do to support her and Somali women. It turns out, that’s the easy part! Just write a letter. Or make a donation.
Katy and I are in Mogadishu today to talk with sexual violence survivors who have flocked to Fartun for refuge. We have delivered a bundle of 40 letters from the first group of American women and men supporting our new program in collaboration with Prism Partnerships, Sister Somalia. Fartun’s vision includes the first sexual violence hotline in Mogadishu, while serving 300 women a year with counseling, medical services, and business starter kits. We hope at least 1,000 American women and men will each give $10/ month or more to make that happen. Join us!
To find out more about our new program and what $10 buys in Mogadishu, click here.
The Black Hawk Down incident in Somalia 18 years ago was tragic not only for the loss of U.S. servicemen but because the subsequent U.S. policy toward Africa became hands-off in areas that need it most. Our trip and Sister Somalia program send the message that the risk is worth is, that these women matter—to me, to Katy, and Fartun, and I hope to you, too. Join us in supporting Sister Somalia!
With much love,