Fragile Oasis

Connecting Space and Earth: Learn. Act. Make a Difference.

Blog Posts

Hope for Somalia

Photographs of the East Africa coast taken last summer from the International Space Station were breathtaking in their beauty. Beneath the clouds that covered the coast but delivered no rain, the worst drought in over 60 years.

Photograph taken by Ron Garan from the International Space Station on July 24, 2011

At it's epicenter lay Somalia, a nation contending with two decades of war, no effective central government and a collapsed economy. In July, the United Nations declared a famine – the first time in 27 years it had done so. Somalia was called "the worst humanitarian crisis in the world" with 750,000 Somali people at risk of dying before the end of the year.

As the founder of the Global Enrichment Foundation (GEF), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting the people of Somalia through education and empowerment programs, I knew how difficult it would be for aid organizations to respond to a disaster of this scale. Most had suspended all humanitarian operations years before due to the threat of intimidation, kidnapping, even murder. Bans on humanitarian aid were announced and enforced by Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group in control of much of the country.

I know better then most just how dangerous working in Somalia can be. In 2008, while working as a freelance journalist I was kidnapped by teenagers in the capital city Mogadishu and held hostage for 460 days. The insights that I had into a country producing generations of youth who are shaped by the war and extreme poverty around them helped me understand that my captors were not only the inflictors of violence – but also the victims of it. With this perspective I felt a responsibility to help Somalia and I vowed that if I made it out of captivity alive, I would dedicate my life to that work. When I was released I had the opportunity to put my vision into action and I established the GEF. Over the last two years, with guidance and support from the Somali community, the GEF has created powerful education programs that have garnered international recognition and support.

In the summer of 2011, I was researching a new education initiative in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world and home to about 500,000 Somali refugees. Up to 1,800 new refugees were arriving every day in search of food, many of them having walked for up to four weeks to get there. The camp was flooded with starving families and malnourished children with distended bellies and skeletal limbs. Once again, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility. I had seen the face of hunger – in the little babies and the mothers who held them before they died.

Photograph taken by Ron Garan from the International Space Station on July 24, 2011

When the UN announced the famine and the devastating number of people affected, I established the Convoy for Hope emergency food aid program to reach the most vulnerable in Somalia. Overcoming immense political and logistical obstacles, the GEF was one of the first aid organizations to respond to the famine and since August 2011, has fed almost 170,000 people.

To assist with operations, I made a very difficult decision to return to Somalia for the first time since I had been kidnapped, three and a half years before. The scale of the famine and the suffering struck me but also the tremendous hope that Somali people have for the future of their country, and their dignity and resilience in the face of constant hardship.

Ron Garan took this picture of the New York Giants Convoy for Hope truck from the International Space Station the day before he returned to Earth in September. The team's truck held enough to distribute flour, sugar, rice, vitamin enriched porridge and oil to 7,000 people.

On February 3, 2012, the UN announced an end to famine conditions in Somalia. The headlines have disappeared but the country remains in a state of emergency. I remain committed to providing emergency food aid as long as it’s needed.

I envision a future where every child in Somalia has access to schools that teach conflict resolution, peace building, leadership and gender equality. I want to see the day when every person in Somalia has enough to eat and opportunities to better themselves, and above all else, the day peace will come to Somalia after all these decades of brutal war.

From Space, Somalia is beautiful. One day it will be beautiful for all.