Experience is the best teacher; well, most of the times

Abdirizak during a rapid assessment for families affected by the cyclone in Somalia.


Before the collapse of the Central Government of Somalia, I was a practicing teacher at a local school and was interested in Adeso’s (then Horn Relief) environmental and Pastoral Youth Leadership program in Sanaag region, known then as the Buran Rural Institute. The idea was one of a kind, it was actually the first of its kind in a war torn Somalia, especially in Sanaag, a region that was to some extent marginalized and lacking of basic infrastructure.

The school catered to pastoralists and rural youth, children especially girls; who after the civil war lacked access to education. During that time, not many people were in the financial state to invest in their children’s education. The school provided basic literacy programs such as; Math, Science, Somali and English as well as leadership, environmental health and natural resource management courses.

What attracted me to Horn Relief was the potential that I saw in the work being done, albeit in one region back then, but it addressed the heart of the matter; the youth and school aged children. Horn relief’s approach was a unique not only because it was a local NGO but also because besides proving emergency supplies to the war affected population, it also worked at developing programs to rebuild the country.

It worked in rebuilding the morale, confidence and agency of the affected of the communities; starting with its most vulnerable; women and youth.

The collapse of the Somali government left many victims; the most affected and susceptible among them in my opinion being the youth, whose future had been hijacked. The institute equipped youth and children with basic knowledge, skills and tools to reclaim their future, and one day the future of their country.

I have been here since Adeso started as a young local organization, and now it has grown into an international organization operating in 3 different countries. One of the reasons why I stayed and felt inspired and motivated is because I love working with the communities, and Adeso works at the grassroots. I was one of the people who closely worked with the founder Fatima Jibrell, and working under her leadership inspired me a lot.

One thing that I learned from my years of work with Adeso is that we should not wait for disaster to strike and millions to die before we respond.

Most of the humanitarian crisis and the emergencies that we witness in Africa and in Somalia in particular are recurring and very predictable. An example being the current drought being faced in Somalia. The point is that we build community preparedness and resilience. We should mobilize and allocate more resources for preventive measures.

We are not caught off guard when a drought hits, it’s often foreseeable. Natural phenomena that could result in disastrous floods, acute drought, and hurricanes are often predictable through early warning signs. However, we seem to either ignore the signs or just fail to read them out of negligence both which have catastrophic results.

In the case of an emergency, those who are very close to the affected communities are the ones that are first to respond, because to them it’s not happening in a far off place, it’s hitting home. Local NGOs are often the first to raise an alert on looming humanitarian crisis. 

While that message is getting to the international community and international humanitarian actors, a lot of assets, time, hope and even lives are lost. By the time a humanitarian intervention takes place, these are only to save lives, and people will have lost everything and in need to rebuild a new life. This needs a whole other intervention that will restore or present livelihood opportunities. The later don’t often take place, and that’s how people are always trapped in cyclical poverty and always susceptible to a disaster after another.

Abdirizak Ese is the Senior Monitoring and Evaluation Officer for Adeso’s natural resource management project, Your Environment is Your Life