Adeso Goodwill Ambassador Barkhad Abdi returns to Somalia

Published February 20, 2015 by Anne-Marie Schryer-Roy

Amidst great need, Abdi finds hope and resilience and vital role played by Somali diaspora overseas through remittances

In 2013, Barkhad Abdi shot to global attention in his Oscar-nominated role opposite Tom Hanks in the movie Captain Phillips. Last month, Abdi was far from the glories of Hollywood when he returned to Puntland, Somalia for the first time since fleeing the war-torn nation at the age of seven.

Abdi’s visit to Somalia as a Goodwill Ambassador for Adeso was an opportunity for him to witness first-hand Somalia’s emerging stories of progress, hope and resilience, despite the major challenges still facing his homeland.

“I’ve been looking forward to this trip for the past year, and I’m really glad we were able to make it happen,” said Abdi. “It was important for me to reconnect with the country I was born in, to witness what’s happened over the past 20 years, and to understand how I can best work with Adeso to be part of the change I’d like to see in Somalia.”

Resilience, entrepreneurship and hope

Adeso, an international humanitarian and development charity, has been working in Somalia for over 24 years. Adeso has deep roots in the country and operates nine field offices and programs throughout the country. Notably during the 2011-2012 famine Adeso reached over half a million people through cash transfers that allowed them to meet their immediate needs, saving countless lives. Today, Adeso’s projects in Somalia include:

  • Restoring rangelands and coastal ecosystems
  • Giving young people new livelihoods with job skills and small business grants
  • Providing vulnerable households with social safety net; and
  • Providing seeds and farming inputs for small farmers.

After flying from Nairobi to Bosaso, Abdi traveled to rural and coastal villages in Puntland, where he met with women and men involved in some of Adeso’s projects. During his travels, Abdi was able to reconnect with his home country.

“Based on what you hear on the news, I expected to see a shattered country,” Abdi recalls from his visit. “But what I saw instead was a place full of resilience, entrepreneurship, and hope. Through Adeso, I met with young men who are learning how to become electricians to take part of the rebuilding of their country, and with women who are using newly acquired skills to come together and open successful businesses.”

Abdi’s trip also included a visit to the Bosaso port and coastal village of Durduri, where he spoke with fishermen struggling in the face of rampant illegal fishing. Foreign fleets have been ravaging Somali waters for decades, with coastal communities suffering as a result.

Humanitarian needs: Remittances hanging by a thread

Despite Somalia’s resolve and determination, the country faces tremendous challenges, with close to three quarters of a million people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance. For many Somali families, the key to stability is provided by funds sent from relatives abroad, called remittances. Each year, Somalis abroad send approximately $1.3 billion back to Somalia to help friends and relatives secure water, food, shelter, and medicine – and start businesses, pay off loans, and invest for the future

During his visit, Barkhad Abdi spoke with families who rely on remittances sent from loved ones overseas each month. But since his visit in January, the principal bank facilitating money transfers from the United States to Somalia – accounting for up to 80 percent of transfers between the countries – discontinued services effective February 6th, with potentially devastating consequences for the people of Somalia.

Commenting on this recent development, Abdi said,

“When I was in Somalia I didn’t just see conflict, drought, and hunger. I saw people building a better future for themselves. And part of the reason why they’ve been able to do so is because of the remittances they receive from overseas. Let’s not threaten that lifeline and risk reversing all the gains that are being made.”

Adeso, the Global Center for Cooperative Security and Oxfam America and released a report this week entitled Hanging by a thread which documents the ongoing threats to remittances and provides possible solutions to ensure the flow of funds.

For pictures of Barkhad Abdi’s visit, click here.