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Somalia through the lens

Somalia Through the Lens

An Insight to Somalia Through Rizwan Hussain 

The situation in Somalia is heart-breaking. A staggering 73% of Somalis live below the poverty line and over six million people are in need of humanitarian assistance due to the ongoing drought.
We’ve gathered some insights from Rizwan Hussain, our Multimedia Specialist. Having visited over 20 countries in the space of his 15 years at Human Appeal, Rizwan kindly shares with us his first-hand experiences in Somalia, where he recorded various case stories and interviewed internally displaced people (IDPs) currently living in dire circumstances.

1. Where did you visit and why?

I visited IDP camps in Mogadishu and Biodia in Somalia. I went there to help distribute food and medical aid, as well as capturing footage for our Ramadan campaign.

2. What was the atmosphere like once you had arrived?

The place was full of IDP camps. People were continuously flooding in to the area in large groups. It was chaotic.
Each camp was in a very bad state, with very little food and water. Most of the camps didn’t even have toilets, and the stagnant water had led to various water diseases. There was also no sanitation and the presence of malaria.
There were too many people living in makeshift shelters covered in tarpaulin sheets. People were in close contact with each other, and that makes germs and illnesses spread more.

3. Did you manage to speak to any of the vulnerable people?

Yes. I spoke to a few mothers. Sadly, I found that mothers had to choose which children to save before setting off for the camps. Mothers had to leave their unwell children behind and take the children that they thought were more likely to survive a ten day journey walking by foot.
Also, Somalian people are the most hospitable people I’ve ever met, they were very welcoming despite their dire situation.

4. Would you say this experience has changed you as a person?

My experience has placed more value in my connection with my children. It’s made me acknowledge that I could have been in that situation too.
A woman had given birth in the camp, hadn’t eaten for three days and couldn’t produce milk. I shared some dates with her that I had brought with me from the UK. She immediately shoved five dates into her mouth. These were the effects of her hunger.
Every time I go abroad now, I make sure I have energy bars which I can give out to those most vulnerable. The experience has made me prepare more efficiently for when I next travel to these kind of places.

5. As a father of two young children, how do you think the experience has changed your views on parenting?

I’ve started to teach my children how to value life more than everything else. I want them to appreciate that life is not all easy and we need to build our characters. We have to go through struggles.
My experiences have taught me that material life doesn’t take precedence over family life. It’s also made me closer to my children, more so when I’m in the field, I always see my children in other children, and that can become emotionally-draining.

6. Do you think photos and video footage are enough to reveal the true story of what’s really going on in the scenes?

No. You can never show the reality on the ground, because people aren’t able to smell, touch, or stay in a camp more than half an hour. Security guards were with us, it was quite intimidating, but due to the risk of being kidnapped or something bad happening to us, we had to work in these conditions.

7. How has this journey uplifted you spiritually

There’s that saying, “if you want to improve yourself, travel and meet people, sit down and talk with them,” and sometimes, the biggest gift you can do is just talk to the people in need if you can’t give material support. Sit down and emphasise with them. Sometimes, they appreciate that more. And that way, it uplifts us spiritually, making us appreciate of how fortunate we are to be in our current state.
The new trend however, seems to be ‘charity tourism,’ with a whole new ‘selfie’ culture, that takes away the dignity of the purpose of going to these places. It’s vital that we see the impact we create when meeting these people.
For me, it was not just a spiritual journey, but a life journey. It taught me how capable I am to connect with my Lord more physically due to being blessed with so much more. This was their test, and also my test.

8. What would you say is the hardest part of your job

Seeing someone about to die and knowing you can’t do anything about it. Everyone looks at you as a beacon of hope. You can’t help everyone and that’s very difficult to take in.
When I come back, I always have to look at the videos I had captured. Sometimes, tears come to my eyes, as I have to recall it all.
Taking photos can become very hard, as I feel like I’m invading their privacy. I therefore make sure I sit down and first make them feel comfortable. If you want something that is natural and powerful, you can’t treat them like they’re just objects as part of an exhibition, they’re humans, full of emotions. It’s key to emphasise with them.
Also, I tend to return home with a lot of mental baggage. It’s hard to go back to your normal daily routine following trips like this.

9. What makes you want to continue your job?

Knowing that I can make a difference. I have potential. Lives can be changed with everyone’s efforts.

10. What message/advice would you give to others after your journey?

Reflect on how the less fortunate are living and compare it to your current state. Remember, saving one life is as if you’re saving the whole of mankind. Do your utmost whilst you’re able, give to charity or serve the less fortunate where possible.
Also, renew your intention before wanting to do these charitable acts. Do it with sincerity.
The beneficiaries are your employers – they are the reason you are doing your job. So complete your job with care, love and compassion.


According to Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 388,000 children are acutely malnourished in Somalia and are in desperate need of nutritious food and water. Alongside this, nearly 895,000 people are internally displaced due to the drought, famine and conflict and are in urgent need of food, medical aid and shelter.

Human Appeal have already assisted 53,745 Somali people in 2017 with food, shelter and essential aid. By donating to our East Africa Appeal, you can make a difference to a precious life today.

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