First Aden Ali Mohamed’s 25-year-old wife died just days after giving birth to twins. Then his newborn son succumbed to malnutrition. His baby girl did not survive either, leaving the Somali man to now raise his surviving children alone in a refugee camp.
Mohamed says it’s been difficult to find work when he must always look after 4-year-old Ibrahim and 2½-year-old Sharmarke, who do not even know yet that their mother is dead.
“Taking care of children, like a mother, is very hard,” Mohamed said as the little boys slept on a thin mattress nearby. “If people bring me uncooked food, I don’t know how to cook it. Most of the time, neighbors prepare breakfast or lunch for my children hours after they’re done with theirs. When I’m alone with my children, tears follow freely.”
Mohamed broke down several times as he spoke about his plight, especially when talking of the pain of raising children alone without support from relatives. Somalia is a predominantly Muslim, deeply conservative country where women bear the primary responsibility for tending to children.
Mohamed and his 9-month pregnant wife were among the tens of thousands of Somalis who already have fled starvation amid the country’s worst famine in 60 years.
More than 12 million people in the Horn of Africa region need food aid, according to the United Nations. But the situation has become far more grave in Somalia because Al-Qaeda-linked Muslim militants have banned many aid organizations from distributing food in the areas under their control. Members of the Islamist Al-Shabab have even killed people trying to flee southern Somalia, saying it is better to starve than accept help from the West.
Many Somalis, like Mohamed and his family, make the harrowing journey to neighboring Kenya on foot. He carried one of his sons while his pregnant wife carried on their 19-day journey.
“We didn’t eat anything else other than what strangers give us,” he said. “We normally started the journey early in the morning and walked for about five hours. We rested a bit and in the early evening we resumed our journey.”
But their hopes for a better life in Kenya were short-lived, and now Mohamed says he’s struggling to raise his young sons far from the support network of his extended family.
“I believe in God, but when I recall what happened to me I feel my heart was ripped out,” he says. “I sometimes pray and ask God to give me power to withstand this nightmare. I haven’t felt happiness since I came here, only my sadness has increased.”
Mohamed has five other children and a second wife who stayed behind in Somalia with relatives, but despite his loneliness and pain he doesn’t plan to go back anytime soon.
“I’m afraid that they may die of hunger because they live with poor relatives. The ones with me are suffering, but are not hungry,” he says. “I will not return to Somalia because the problems that forced me to leave there still exist.”