A little over a year ago, I left Northern Virginia to travel to the small town of Badhan, situated in the Sanaag region of Somalia. Somalia was a country I belonged to by virtue of my lineage, but that I had yet to experience.
Although born in the U.S., I was three years old when my family fled Somalia. Growing up, I couldn't help but imagine what it would be like to live there -- especially the Somalia my mother and father would gush about. Somalia had changed over the years as conflict ripped the country apart. While Somalia might not be the country my parents remember, I always knew I would go back to experience it for myself.
I returned to Somalia to intern for Adeso, then still called Horn Relief. At the time, I had just graduate from college, and was working part-time at an architectural firm. The decision to leave my life in the U.S. and travel to Somalia was unequivocal -- I just had to go. Here was an opportunity not only to return to my country of origin, but also to be able to give back.
When I landed in Bender Qassim Airport in Bosaso, I was greeted with the stifling heat. Bosaso, a port city in northern Somalia, was unconventionally beautiful. The dry semi-arid planes and rocky terrain collide into towering mountains. The rugged beige earth melts into the bright blue sky making for a charming painting. Under this stunning natural beauty are fascinating people -- a society redolent of perennial destruction and yet imbued with a sense of heartiness and dignity.
From Bosaso, I set out for a four-hour ride west through the rocky desert to Badhan, where Adeso has had a presence for over 20 years. Life in Badhan was laden with new meaning for me. Stripped of all the Apple products and reduced to its simplest and most unadulterated form, I indulged in delightful siestas beneath the shade of the acacia tree with goats bleating in the distance and camels striding by with their swanking humps.
I was challenged during my time living in Somalia and working for Adeso. While traveling for hours to different cities with my colleagues, many of whom grew up in Somalia, I would ask them questions about the rangelands as the terrain changed around us. Very quickly, I became particularly concerned with the state of the natural environment -- at times I felt as though everywhere I looked all I saw was degradation and dust.
I witnessed firsthand the effects years of drought have had on the environment. Over time vegetation had been exhausted. Families struggled to provide water and pasture for their dying animals, and to find water and arable land for their dwindling crops.
Lead by the vision of its founder, Fatima Jibril, Adeso targeted many of its activities on restoring Somalia's natural environment to allow pastoralists and small-scale farmers to sustain, and in some cases regain, their tradition.
Adeso uses simple interventions and focuses on using local resources and engaging community-led change instead of driving change from the outside. That approach resonated with me, as it did not require bringing in foreign technologies or manpower, and used local materials. Some interventions were as simple as building dams out of rocks to create the conditions needed for plants, scrubs and small trees to grow.
One night, my colleagues and I slept in the open air, solaced with "caano geel" (camel milk) and long lyrical songs. That night I developed a great sense of reverence for this place. I couldn't help but acknowledge how fortunate I was to be immersed in such beauty -- the people, the language, the vast landscape. For just those few moments, I forgot all the anguish and suffering the country has endured in the past 20 odd years of civil war and for that moment I experienced the Somalia my parents once knew.
Experiencing the realities on the ground firsthand, traveling to the project sites and villages, witnessing the impact of Adeso's work, and speaking with beneficiaries to see how the project has changed their lives are all experiences that have really helped me grow both personally and professionally. Being in the field gave me the opportunity to learn so much from people who have so little.
To learn more about Adeso's work or get involved with the organization, click here.
This blog is part of our #GivingTuesday series, produced by The Huffington Post and the teams at InterAction, 92nd Street Y, United Nations Foundation, and others. Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday -- which takes place for the first time on Tuesday, November 27 -- is a movement intended to open the holiday season on a philanthropic note. Go to www.givingtuesday.org to learn more and get involved.