Why I'll Document the Real Somalia, Beyond the Media's Famine Frenzy
It was 1990 and I was on my first airplane ride heading from Washington, DC to Mogadishu, Somalia with my mom and siblings. Somalia was one of the most magical places for me. I was quite the imaginative five-year-old. I remember thinking a hyena was an old man with a long grey beard. Yep, that’s right. Because when you’re five, they tell you to behave or else the hyenas will get you. Rest assured, I was on my best behavior.
I remember the zoo we visited and all the amazing family members we got to hang with. I can still recall the clear beaches, roaring waves and kids' faces plastered with bright smiles frolicking all around. It was a happy place.
Nowadays, Somalia is synonymous with despair and disaster. I say Somalia and people give me this look—the same one you probably have right now. If you had mentioned Somalia to me 5 years ago, I probably would’ve had a similar reaction. I always knew my roots were tied to the nation because of my childhood travels, but all I ever read and saw was the same thing—starving children, broken buildings, and guns. Rarely did I see the Somalia I remembered.
What inspired me to tell the other side of Somalia started out as a personal goal. My parents allowed me to be a curious kid, asking all sorts of random questions. I’d ask “Why they always speaking negatively about Somalia?” and “Is our family safe there – I mean, did you guys read the news?” And every question was always greeted with a warm smile and patience. They explained to me that there is always more than one side to a story.
As I got older, I started to find small inspiring stories on the web neatly tucked behind a headline reading “FAMINE SWEEPS ACROSS THE HORN.” And while I truly appreciated the humanitarian work done, I just knew that someone had to start telling this other side of Somalia. The side of the courageous Somalis returning home to start businesses. The ones who are working abroad to support an entire family back home. Even those who’ve stayed through all of the ups and downs and remain madly in love with their home.
This summer I’m heading home to Somalia for the first time in over two decades to document the untold other side of the story. Sure it’s ambitious, and maybe a bit overzealous, but if you had an opportunity to tell powerful stories—life changing, heart-melting, ground-breaking stories—wouldn’t you try? I know I am.
You can support my journey on Kickstarter, where I am raising money to create an awe-inspiring documentary web and photo series. Money will go directly towards food, travel, and accommodations for our entire team.
This project will be featured in GOOD's Saturday series Push for Good -- our guide to crowdfunding creative progress.