NAIROBI, Kenya (Top 40 Charts/ US Fund For UNICEF) - UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken, today ended a five-day visit to the troubled east African nation of Somalia and called on the world to remember the plight of that country's children.
"Unfortunately this is a region that's better known for conflict, insecurity, drought and floods," said Aiken who has been a UNICEF Ambassador for four years. "It's truly remarkable that UNICEF is still able to make a difference in the health, education and overall well-being of Somali children."
Aiken traveled to Hargeisa, Gabiley and Boroma located in the north-west region of the country, known as the republic of Somaliland. Here, Aiken was able to observe first-hand UNICEF-supported projects, which promote child health, safe water, sanitation and hygiene, primary education, child protection and girls' empowerment.
Somalia is a country in which less than 25 percent of the population have access to basic health services, less than 30 percent attend primary school and only 29 percent have access to a safe water source.
It's also a place where 98 percent of girls are subjected to genital circumcision and has amongst the highest maternal mortality rates in the world.
One of Aiken's first stops was the Somaliland Cultural and Sports Association (SOCSA), an enclosed facility in Gabiley dedicated to empowering girls through sport and cultural activities.
"The girls here are able to learn about leadership and health, acquire life-skills and play sports within a safe environment," said Aiken. "Even the youngest girls that I've met at SOCSA, impressed me with how confident and articulate they are as a result of this project."
At a camp for 1500 internally displaced families in Hargeisa, Aiken met 11-year-old Abduraman, who helps to support his five siblings and blind mother by working each morning to collect stones. He uses his earnings to pay for school, which he attends in the afternoon.
"Somalia has some of the lowest enrollment rates in the world, but every child has the right to an education," Aiken stressed. "UNICEF is working to help ensure that even working children get to go to school. UNICEF has also provided the camp with child protection monitors, teacher-training and school materials."
In Boroma, Aiken also visited maternal and child health clinics to observe nutritional feeding and immunization activities along with projects supporting children with disabilities, the eradication of female genital mutilation and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
"Now that I have seen Somalia for myself, I feel it is important for the American public to remember that the Somali people have the same dreams for their children that we do," said Aiken, who in recent years has also visited conflict areas in Afghanistan and Uganda for UNICEF.
"The country is one of the most desperate in the world. Fortunately, UNICEF has always been there and continues to provide the support needed to make a difference. No other organization is more capable of making such a difference than UNICEF," Aiken added.
The lack of a permanent central government has contributed to Somalia's status as one of the poorest and most volatile countries in the world. One of the most serious droughts since the 1970s has affected large parts of the country, exacerbating hardships for rural populations.