Somalia: do I know why I’m going to Mogadishu?
Thursday 24 May 2012
It’s the night before I fly back into Mogadishu. I’ve developed a funny and slightly macabre ritual – pizza and beer with my friends here, and a phone call, one by one, to all the close family back home. Just in case.
The security briefings are a sobering reminder of what our team face every day in Somalia.
The security manager Graham spreads out a huge map and points out the locations of recent bombings and shootings. He tells me that the bombs tend to be IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
He explains that the plane comes in over the sea rather than the land, due to anti-aircraft missiles. He pulls a bulletproof vest over my head and hands me a trauma kit.
I get a lesson on dealing with massive bleeding, limb loss and gunshot wounds. If I wasn’t nervous about heading back into Somalia before, I am now.
“Is it important enough to risk your life?”
Graham asks (as he always does) “do you know why you’re going to Mogadishu? Is it important enough to risk your life?”
He pauses, his eyes searching mine. “I don’t need to hear the answer. I just need to know that you’ve thought about it and that you know the answer.”
It’s a question that always gives me pause. But the answer is always the same.
The importance of communications in emergencies is often overlooked. It’s not immediately life-saving, it’s not feeding children or providing urgent medical care.
It’s giving people a voice. It’s bearing witness to things that the world can’t, or won’t, pay attention to.
It’s forcing yourself to hear stories that will later haunt you, because these stories are people’s lives, and they deserve to be heard.
Interviewing and photographing people caught up in emergencies drives our fundraising and advocacy.
It’s crucial to the success of an appeal, which translates into life-saving money for our emergency teams.
In the field I always explain to families why I’m asking them questions, and what I’ll do with their answers.
I explain that it might not have an immediate impact on their children and their community, but it might help their country.
I say that I can share their story with the media, and speak their words across the world.
I tell them that their pain should be heard, and shared. I ask if that’s ok. And the answer is always the same.