Somalilandsun-In light of International Human Rights Day, Somaliland Mental Health Support Organizationheld their grand community event on Thursday 15th November at City Hall, Cardiff. The well attended event highlighted the plight of those suffering from mental illnesses in Somaliland and gave descriptive insight into why the country has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world. This was also a chance for the charity to showcase their strategic plan and appeal to the widercommunity for their support. The conference consisted of presentations, panel discussions and exhibitions.
The list of attendees consisted of various city officials including former local MP and South Wales police and crime commissioner Alun Michael, local MP for South Cardiff Stephen Doughty, Councilor and Equality Champion of Cardiff County Council Ali Ahmed and Saleem Kitwai OBE, Secretary of Muslim Council of Wales.
A wide range of influential community members attended including Ahmed Bare, Muse Arab, Mohamed Muse (Barlin), Abdirahman Ibrahim, Saeed Ebrahim,, Leila Saeed, Zaynab Nuur and Kinsi Hayan. In addition many professionals also showed their support such as Professor Alison Brown from Cardiff University School of Geography and International Development, Sally Beaman, Cross-Cultural Community Worker and Sharmarke Ahmed director of Maan mental health charity in Sheffield.
It has been 25 years since Somaliland declared its independence from neighbouring Somalia, but the country is still haunted by the war and many of its people are battling with Post-traumatic stress and depression.
The chairman of Somaliland Mental Health Support organisation, Nasir Issa emphasised that tackling mental health problems is crucial for the development of the country and the need for the charity and the public to do more in helping those affected. He stated that ‘many do not have the luxury of getting simple medication or going to clinics, they are however chained in their homes and marginalised from society. We need to help the helpless.’
Eid Ali, a prominent academician and researcher and former Deputy Chief Executive of the Welsh Refugee Council, who is a volunteer advisor for the charity talked about his field trip to Somaliland to deliver a project jointly funded by Hub Cymru Africa and Somaliland Mental Health Support Organisation. The goal of the project, which is jointly delivered with Somaliland partners, is to improve mental health service delivery in Somaliland by joint-up and holistic approach to meet the varied and complex needs of people with mental health problems.
Eid said ‘According to the project plan we have delivered two day sessions on awareness raising on mental health and advocacy and capacity building in three regions namely Awdal, Maroodijeex and Togdheere. The theme of the sessions has been providing dignified integrated mental health service within primary health care. 116 health practitioners from public, voluntary and community sectors and carers attended these sessions and the feedback was very encouraging’.
Eid also talked about a successful conference SMHSO and Somaliland partners held on 10th October, (World Mental Health Day), at Hargeisa Group Hospital and highlighted the plight of those suffering mental health problems in Somaliland. The key speakers were the Director General, Somaliland Ministry of Health, Director of Hargeisa Group Hospital, Director of Mental Health Department of Somaliland Ministry of Health and Drs Asia Mohamed a psychiatrist from Sweden who specializes in children mental health issues.
Professor Allison Brown, who in last August led a team of four,conducteda research on the informal economy in Somaliland, praised the impressive strength of the people of Somaliland particularly women after overcoming the tragedies of the war all on their own. She noted that ‘Somaliland is a country born off horror but facing the future with hopeand with the significant help from the Somaliland Diaspora it is developing into a great nation’
Sally Beamanhas made five annual visits to Hargeisa, the capital city of Somaliland with a small team, helping students at Edna Adan teaching University Hospital with their English language, which is the medium for learning. She said ‘we have always been given a very warm welcome and every courtesy. The needs are huge, but so is the determination of many to overcome great hurdles, as has been demonstrated by the achievements of the Somaliland Mental Health Support Organisation’.
The Councillor of Cardiff Ali Ahmed appealed to the audience stating that it is in every faith to give back to the world especially to those in need. He strongly emphasised the importance of ‘Sadaqah’ charity and urged the Muslim community to stand by and help those who suffer from mental health illnesses in Somaliland and around the world.
Saleem Kidawai OBE echoed similar beliefs and urged the community to actively talk about mental illness. He pointed that mental illness is a taboo in our communities and the first step in tackling it is breaking the silence, which is why it is so important to help Somaliland Mental Health in their endeavour to tackling mental health problems.
Sharmaake showcased the MAAN Mental Health Project in Sheffield as a benchmark and highlighted that their project acts as a bridge between the Somali community and service providers. The successful and sustainable charity was founded in 1994 by the Somali community and is funded by the Sheffield City Council and the NHS. The objectives of the project include supporting health and social care organisations to provide appropriate and culturally sensitive services to the community; and providing advice, one to one support,and information for adults experiencing mental health issues.
Sharmaake underlined that he andhisteam‘informand educate the community about the consequences of experiencing civil war, being a refugee, unemployment and khat chewing on people’s mental health is an important part of the work to make the community aware of, and open about, mental health issues.’
Stephen Doughty MP gave his personal accounts of mental illness and noted that he has witnessed the struggles of members of his family and friends and understands the importance to helping the more vulnerable in Somaliland and in Cardiff. He noted that ‘I always say this when speaking about and supporting international development and health initiatives abroad, that the money giving from communities here in the UK is absolutely crucial and it is literally lifesaving.’.
The event was not only to raise awareness and mobilise support, it also drew special attention to the support and encouragement the charity has received from both the Somali and wider community as a whole.
Eid Ahmed thanked Alun Michael for his endless support for the Somaliland community in Wales. They also reminisced about the countless challenges and meetings they overcame across the years. Alun Michael talked about the positive influence the Somali community as had on Cardiff and reiterated the importance of coming together and helping those that need it most.
Members of the organisation, Adam Yusuf and Abdirahman Ahmed provided an overview of the achievements of the charity so far. With the help of Somali communities across the UK and Europe and with funding from Hub Cymru Africa, the charity has been able to make a significant impact in helping and providing support to those battling with mental health issues. From door to door donations and holding fundraising events the charity has been able to raise more than £90,000. Along with many achievements, thecharity was able to rebuild with Hayaat Trusta kitchen at the mentalhealth unit in Hargeisa Group Hospital. Also the charity providedcrucial medication enough for one year to Borama and Burao mental health hospital and rebuilt the emergency mental health unit at Hargeisa Group Hospital.
All key speakers focused on the undeniable need to maintain all kinds of support for the organisation, especially with all their outstanding achievements in such a short period of time. They highlighted the value of cooperation, unity and necessity to fulfil the vision of the organisation.
Finally an appeal for fundraising for the charity was supported and launched by Rt. Hon Alun Michael, Stephen Doughty MP, Saleem Kitwai OBE, councilor Ali Ahmed. They emphasized that our donations enable the Charity to fight for a better future for the hundreds of thousands of suffers of mental health in Somaliland.
Donations to the charity, Somaliland Mental Health Support Organisation can be made via the Royal Bank of Scotland at account number: 100055152 and sort code: 16-15-23 or directly to the organisation at Enterprise Unit 3, Loudon Square, Plas Lina, Cardiff CF10 5HW.
Rahma Abdillah, MA from Oxford University
Ayan Sharifhashi, BSc from Cardiff University
this development comes in the heels of the handover to the Somaliland ministry of health an 18 roomed uptra modern mental health unit by the Somaliland mental health Support Orgsnization