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Mogadishu Fighting Puts Children at Risk

In Somalia, the fighting in Mogadishu between the transitional government and rebels has left nearly 100 thousand people homeless. About a third have stayed in the city. Among those trying to survive are displaced children living in camps or on the streets, many doing menial jobs to earn money. Many of the children are poor and hungry.

Banadir Hospital, the biggest mother and child hospital in Mogadishu, cares for children with digestion-related problems, including malnourishment and diarrhea.

In the hospital compound, parents lie under the trees with their sick children, who are waiting to be seen.

The head of the hospital, Mohammed Isse Abdi, says more and more children are arriving every day. He says he's thankful that – with the help of UNICEF -- the hospital now has a feeding center.

Fadumo Noor Ali is one of a number of mothers waiting with her child at the hospital's feeding center. With her is her seven-year-old daughter, Idman Omar Jama. She says when she brought her daughter here in mid-May, she only weighed 12 kilograms. Now, she's recovered and is waiting for the hospital to let her go home.

Some parents in Mogadishu cannot afford to pay for their families' needs, so many children seek menial jobs.

Twelve-year-old Bashir Ali Omar polishes shoes every day until noon, when a popular stimulant, the narcotic leaf known as khat, arrives in the markets. He then sells the discarded leaves left on the ground. He says he only earned 60,000 Somali shillings -- about $2.00 per day -- which he's happy to take home to his mother and two younger brothers.

Bashir lost his father two years ago in fighting in Mogadishu between Islamic insurgents and occupying Ethiopian troops. He says his father used to work and provide for the family, but now that's his job. He says his mother does not have a job, she's just a housewife. Bashir would like to go to school and learn but now he has no time or money.

For some children there is hope. A local NGO called DBG, the Somali abbreviation for Social Welfare Network [Daryeel Bulsho Guud], has opened nearly two dozen schools on the outskirts of the city for internally displaced persons. DBG is funded by the NGOs Bread for the World and Dakonie Emergency Aid.

The speaker of the DBG, Mohadin Ali Jimale, says the agency is working to build up to 20 more schools. DBG provides them with latrines, and also food and water for the hundreds of internally displaced children attending the schools. Many of the school teachers are internally displaced themselves. They teach basic education.

Jimale says, "We are also planning to open other schools so that the underprivileged children will get opportunity to learn and education is free of charge. This allows the children who were displaced to maintain their education."

While some may be able to attend the schools, others are not so lucky. Many of the city's children have been killed in the fighting, and those who survive must work if they want to eat.