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Thank you Malaysia, you're a friend indeed
A doctor preparing to treat a child at a Mercy clinic in Mogadishu.

New Straits Times
Sunday, July 29, 2012

SHAFIE and Yassir are two young men who survived the civil war in Somalia and are now actively helping to rebuild their country. It takes more than two lads to rebuild the country torn apart by mistrust and suspicion, resulting in endless bloodshed and enmity.

The casualties of war vary. In Somalia, where I was two weeks ago, the casualties were evident from the ruins seen from the airport and all the way to my hotel.

The Mogadishu airport sees very few flights. The airport was heavily guarded by armed soldiers. An aircraft badly damaged during the civil war was still parked at one corner, a grim reminder to everyone taking a flight there.

The terminal isn't air-conditioned and all operations are manually done. Checking in for a flight is a test of one's patience and physical stamina. Everyone jostles to get to the check-in counter.

In the streets, one can see ruins all over. No buildings are spared from scars of the war. Many are no longer safe for occupancy. The roads are filled with potholes, making driving hazardous.

After 30 years of civil war, Somalia lies almost in ruins. But Shafie and Yassir have faith in the spirit of their countrymen, and this alone can turn the country from war to peace, from despair to hope.

Yassir studied at Universiti Utara Malaysia in Sintok. He graduated last year and returned to head Mercy Malaysia's operations in Mogadishu.

Healthcare has suffered and this was obvious when I visited a clinic, one of the more popular outreach programmes in Mogadishu.

The clinic is in a walled compound, and run by 16 volunteers.

Yassir said: "We treat up to 120 people here. They come from all over Mogadishu.

"We've been in operation for the last six months. It's been a very tough but satisfying six months. I hope we can continue to operate but this will depend very much on availability of funds.

"We have very dedicated medical volunteers. The sick prefer to see us because we are fast and orderly," said Yassir, who interspersed his briefing with Malay words.

Shafie, who is pursuing his doctorate at Universiti Islam Antarabangsa in Gombak, Selangor, has a small vocational school in Mogadishu. He has plans to expand the school into a proper college in the future. For the time being, it is managed by his mother.

Yassir said: "I'm thankful to Malaysia for allowing me to study there.

"Not many countries would accept students carrying Somalian passports," added the 28-year-old activist.

The absence of a proper government in Somalia has made many countries reluctant to recognise Somalian passport.

(The Perdana Global Peace Foundation and Tabung Bencana NSTP-Media Prima are the initial supporters of the Mercy Clinic in Mogadishu. Other donors joined later, enabling the clinic to provide basic health diagnosis and dispense medicines.)

Shafie has about 200 students learning various skills. The more senior students were later recruited as teachers.

A visit to the school would show old typewriters being used to teach the children with plenty of inspiring graffiti on the walls.

By the way, the schools and clinics are not the kind of physical structures one finds in Malaysia. At the Mercy clinic, patients wait in the open courtyard, sitting on mats under trees waiting for their turn.

Shafie's school is located in a war-damaged building with makeshift classrooms. In some other places, the schools are nothing more than tents with no proper textbooks and stationery.

How do Yassir and Shafie see the future of their country?

Yassir said: "I see a future in tourism. We have everything here, but this can only happen if there's peace. I want to build my country's tourism to be the best in Africa."

Shafie said: "For me, it's education. We can't go anywhere without education, be it in academic pursuits or skill sets. Look at the typewriters in my school -- broken and old. But I'm sure we will rise above this.

"Mahadsanid Malaysia (thank you, Malaysia), we value your help, your generosity and your friendship."


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