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An unimaginable situation

Somalia, August 15, 2011

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A young mother cradles her severely malnourished child at a hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps

Yesterday my colleague Cassandra Nelson, on the ground in Somalia, sent in several photographs of what she was seeing in Mogadishu, the country's crisis-ravaged capital to which our emergency response team has deployed. Each picture struck me harder than anything has in a long, long time — but the one I'm posting here honestly had me sitting in my chair, quietly sobbing over the unimaginable situation it portrayed.

A young mother sits in a hospital, cradling her excruciatingly fragile-looking baby. It's hard to say how old the little child is. It's plain to see that the baby is critically malnourished and on the brink.

But it's the look on the young mother's face that breaks my heart — because it is such a strong and yet, at the same time, imploring expression. There seems both resolution and deep uncertainty. I wonder where she came from and how she got here. If she has, or had, other children. What I wonder most of all, though, is what happens after the moment within this photograph.

So many photographs I've seen during the ongoing Horn of Africa crisis have made me consider and empathize with the plight of parents in places like Somalia. It makes me think of holding my own son when he was a newborn. At that moment — whether you're a father or a mother — you're immediately and irrevocably imbued with a sense to protect that little life at all costs. Preserve the promise of those little hands and bright eyes. You know that you will fight and do anything you can for your baby.

Parents in Somalia and across the Horn of Africa are in the fight of their lives; they're literally fighting for life. At least 30,000 children have died in Somalia's famine in just the last three months, and all indications are the worst is yet to come. From pictures like these, it might look hopeless, but we can't give up. This woman certainly isn't giving up.

You can see in this young mother's eyes that she's still fighting, despite her own thirst, hunger and fatigue. She's determined to save her baby — and we can help her. We must.