Children in Somalia wake up every single day feeling weak, hungry, thirsty and often times not sure when their next meal will come. After two decades of war and instability, Somalia has been devastated and the population continues to suffer. Every day, 7-year-old Hassan wakes up in the morning in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu. Hassan has no father, and his 22-year-old mother Halima struggles to raise him without a stable income. Because of his situation, Hassan is forced to leave his mud hut every morning to go to work. He comes home each day tired, hungry and wondering if there is more to life than what he’s experiencing.

Hassan wants to know if the rest of his life will be for survival, he wants to know why he has no father and he wants to know whether he should have hope. Although Hassan is a fictitious character, his situation holds true for thousands of young Somali children as well as many of the estimated 590,000 orphans in Somalia. In fact, just like Hassan, 48% of all Somali boys and 52% of girls aged 5-14 work full-time rather than go to school. With Somalia's struggle with terrorist, tribal and pirate violence it’s no surprise why Somalia has so many orphaned children as well as over 1.3 million internally displaced peoples (IDP’s).

I’ve come to learn about this tragedy through my heritage and personal experiences in life. My family moved to Virginia from Mogadishu, Somalia in 1991, the year the Somali Civil War erupted. The following year, I was born safely in Prince George’s County hospital, while on the other side of the globe the Somali Civil War raged on. My connection to this topic furthers because my mother and father separated in 1997 when my father, frustrated by bills and his dramatic decline in social status American society, abandoned my family and moved back to Mogadishu. At that time I was 6 years old. My now single mother was left to raise my eight brothers and sisters and two grandparents. In a sense, when my father left, I joined the hundreds of thousands of Somali orphans, because in Somali tradition, losing one parent is considered being orphaned.

Although my mother has battled through the hardships of being a single parent new to America, she never once forgot about the suffering of mothers back in Somalia. As a result of her desire to help Somali mothers, she founded an NGO called Aadamiga. The organization raises funds several times a year throughout the past decade to send it to a partner organization called the Hinna (Haweenka Horseedka Nabadda) Women’s Group, an organization that carries out various social services to struggling mother's from its base in Mogadishu.

I think people can begin to get an idea of the kind of tragedy Somalis are living in when they hear the true story of a woman named Medina Elmi, or “Generale” as they called her, the president of the Hinna Women’s Group. Medina was a woman who surpassed gender, tribal and customary barriers in order to advocate her causes for peace and women’s rights. People’s respect for Medina’s was also partly due to her impressive past as a Somali soldier, which she discussed often. Although she was highly respected and worked hard for the good of the people, Medina was shot and killed in Mogadishu in 2005. The motives for the murder are unknown, and quite frankly no one understands why someone would target her. But, in the end, this incident goes to show the sad reality of living in Somalia. The country has become lawless, hostile and unpredictable ever since the collapse of its national government.

On the bright side, people such as the late Medina Elmi “Generale” will never be forgotten for their dedication. Medina acts as an inspiration to me each and every day as I myself work to help Somalia. As a matter of fact, people like Medina and my mother have inspired me to start my own non-profit organization for Somalia, called WakeUpSomalia.

My life has changed so much as a result of my heritage and learning of my country. As a sophomore in high school, I co-founded WakeUpSomalia as a way to help the people who I feel are being ignored most in Somalia: the youth. Because of this feeling, my co-founder and friend Bashir Warsame and I decided that the best way to begin helping Somalia is by helping the impoverished youth get an education. We have begun raising funds and planning the establishment of two high schools in central Somalia. We hope to finish this project and continue building schools across the country. We truly believe that education is the best way to empower the youth and to help Somalia’s future.

Although I was born and raised in the United States, I am still connected very closely and emotionally to my homeland. In fact, my entire life I’ve felt a special connection to Somalia that I could never understand. I soon discovered that the images I saw, the stories I’ve heard and the video’s I’ve watched about Somalia from a young age have always been about conflict and suffering. As I continue to follow the tragedy of Somalia I have become unable to ignore a desire to do something to help the people. Starting out I knew I may not have been able to do much, I just knew I needed to try.

Thus, WakeUpSomalia was founded with the dedication of two Somali-American teenagers, and hopefully our organization will inspire other Somali youth to get involved. To this day we continue to strive to be a better organization and achieve our goals. My organization’s foundation lies in our belief that in order to help Somalia’s situation, the youth must be educated. This education includes surpassing tribal boundaries, acquiring skills needed to read and write and learning about their country’s once peaceful history. In the end I believe that every Somali activist, leader or scholar should know that the first step to fixing Somalia’s problems is for all of the people around the world to stop turning a blind eye to the massive suffering that is occurring in Somalia and to take action against it.

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