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Healing the wounds of natural resource conflict in Somalia

Somalia, May 24, 2011

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It was one of my toughest decisions ever to join Mercy Corps in Somaliland as the Project Officer for the People-to-People Environmental Peacebuilding Program. My main motivation was twofold, to join as a humanitarian and for personal career development. I’ve now been working with Mercy Corps for two months.

Conflicts have been an everyday experience in many parts of Somalia, yet very few international organizations focus on this area directly. This gap encouraged me to join Mercy Corps, using my experience in a similar conflict resolution project I worked on in the past. The most interesting experience of the job is working with Somali traditional leaders, who are full of wisdom, poems and proverbs which make you discover the richness of the Somali culture; the kindness of the local people; and the distance between the perceptions of many outsiders and the reality on the ground.

On my first field trip, I travelled to Erigavo — more than 600 kilometers from my duty station of Hargeisa — to conduct a natural resource management and dispute resolution training and to collect baseline survey data for the project. Although the trip was long and tiring and the road was rough and uncomfortable, we reached our destination after nine hours of non-stop travel from our first stop at Burao. This was not my first, second or even third trip to the area, but this time the land was unthinkably devastated by severe drought. We hardly saw any grass, people, water or the signs of families or livestock settlements during the journey.

The difficult journey was relieved by the interaction, experience, cooperation and welcome we received from the elders whom we were training in Erigavo. I had the opportunity to have met some of the elders in the region before and I was proud to work with them once again.

The elders were very impressed by the training and the project as a whole. Chief-Aqil Mohamed, one of the prominent traditional leaders who attended the training said, “This is the best training I have ever attended and I hope the project will be as unique and helpful as this.”

During my short time as part of the Mercy Corps team, I have also developed my own skills in negotiation and conflict resolution which has made my work more effective and efficient. I even had the opportunity to attend a practical training in Nairobi to develop new skills, share experience and meet new friends who are also interested in peacebuilding work.

From there, I have gained more confidence that I have chosen the right job, and one which I had been dreaming of for years. I look forward to enjoying my work even more. Joe Gibbs, former American football coach, certainly spoke the truth when he said, “People who enjoy what they are doing invariably do it well!”