Post-conflict reconstruction in Somalia: The urgent need for a gender-sensitive approach

Background and Introduction: The Impact of conflict on children in Somalia

“Children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future” - John F. Kennedy

Everyday thousands of Somali children are caught up in conflict, suicide bombs, destruction and displacement. Some of them not only merely as bystanders, but as targets also. Others fall victim to general onslaught and made to watch the slaying of their own families or of other civilians (Dini; 2005:pp23). Many others are psychologically traumatised after witnessing death and destruction while yet others suffer the effects of sexual violence or the multiple deprivations of armed conflict that expose them to hunger, displacement or disease. Many children have become orphans or lost entire families and thousands of young people are exploited as combatants by the Al-Shabaab militia group (idem). Multiple attempts to solve Somalia’s conflict have not been successful because solutions have often been short-sighted, not gender-sensitive and the role of women and youth have been overlooked and efforts to integrate lives and livelihoods into interventions underestimated.

Although government efforts are critical in addressing post-conflict reconstruction in Somalia, they are not sufficient in dealing with the challenges at hand. The nature and scope of the challenges in Somalia requires the full mobilization of all talents and resources that all stakeholders, including those that children have. The TFG government of Somalia with its current capacity can not cater for all the social needs of all its citizens. What is needed are partnerships between the government and the private sector as well as with the civil society to support the transition in a holistic way that begins from the bottom and not the top, as is the case currently. The specific needs of various (vulnerable) groups and their social and mental well being have not been taken into account in reconstruction and reconciliation efforts. Rebuilding bridges of communication between social groups and promoting participation in social life is a necessary but daunting challenge for social reconstruction in Somalia. For example, the traditional perception of women in conflict and post-conflict situations is as victims of war (Brons: 2001. pp 107) whilst men tend to be the primary beneficiaries of reconstruction projects. Yet, in various conflicts, women have made up significant numbers as combatants while others were victims of sexual violence (including rape, sexual mutilation, sexual humiliation, forced prostitution and forced pregnancy) during armed conflict. The psychological and social needs of war-traumatized Somali women and children need to be taken into all aspects of reconstruction work (Brons: 2001. pp155). Throughout Somalia's history, Somali women have taken an active role in peace and security efforts but their work has remained at grassroots level and has not yet translated into national or international agenda points. However, the active role women play in such situations is slowly starting to be recognized

I have chosen to share this topic because its is one that impacts me personally. It confronts me on a daily basis. About 2 years ago i decided to shift back to Somalia and work on the important topic of girls education. I went there with my family- my daughter of at the time 7 months and husband and i feel very responsible for their well being and especially my daughter's happiness. I am passionate about this topic just as much as i am about girls' education. Everyday single morning as i prepare myself for work, i wish for the 1000th time that there was a day care here i could take my daughter to so she could play with other kids, or perhaps a children's park she could play and have fun, or some children's creative center but there are none in Somalia and nobody is even talking about it. It is for this reason that i initiated this project early this year and it is the best thing i have ever done.

This project argues that for any post-conflict reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation to make significant impact in Somalia, it must take into account the different needs of the various groups in Somali society through a child-friendly lens. Such gender-sensitive programs must be the eyes of the innocent and the voice of the voiceless. Even in war children must remain children and. Play is important for the development of children and for healing. Playgrounds and child-friendly centres in post-conflict countries can provide happiness as a healing therapy to these traumatised children. The social skills that children develop on playgrounds become lifelong skills that could be carried forward into their adulthood. Independent research shows that playgrounds are among the most important environments for children outside the home. Most forms of play are essential for healthy development, but free, spontaneous play—the kind that occurs on playgrounds—is the most beneficial type of play.

The Happiness Project: Happy Parks for Somali Children in Somalia

"Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth." - Kenneth Ginsburg

Research on existing theories reveal that there is a direct relationship between playground activities and the promotion of children’s self-esteem. Also personal development may be gained through the enhancement of skills, such as playing, communicating and cooperating with other children and adults in the playground.

It takes a lifetime to make big changes, but it takes a split second and a compassionate individual to bring a smile to a child's face. Whatever the change will be, change doesn't happen on its own; people change things. The lack of children's play grounds in combination with the absence of any child-friendly spaces such as zebra crossings, creative corners, play grounds, happy parks, amusement parks, is contributing to the absence of HAPPINESS in Somalia. The goal of this project is to build a happy park, a play ground in Somalia where Somali children can play happily and safely and be just children. This project wants to mobilize resources for building a happy park for Somali children in war-torn Somalia. The environment in Somalia is such that there are huge and sharp stones everywhere and it is extremely windy as well as very hot. There are hardly any children playing safely outside. Many children are kept indoors for fear of the dangerous sharp stones laying everywhere, the extreme heat, or even the dangerous mines and other explosives. But children should be playing outside. Children shouldn't be kept indoors. Full of energy and life, children should be encouraged to play, draw, take up sports and be creative.

Mobilisation of resources and progress made so far The Happy Parks project was launched on Facebook and other social media in November of 2011 and so far 304 people have responded positively to the cause for example, students from Groningen University in the Netherlands contributed dozens of boxes full of toys and other play stuff. Secondly, A cargo shipping agency has volunteered to transport 100kg of toys and playground stuff for free to Somalia from Holland. Thirdly, the Governor of Nugaal region in Puntland promised to donate a piece of land to build the first Happy Park ever in Somalia in Garowe, the capital of Puntland State of Somalia. This project is about building trust between communities, its about healing wounds and reconciliation, its about constructing and changing lives. The project visualises the direct and indirect impact the project will have on all those children in Somalia who have been affected by conflict, displacement, drought and war. The project will contribute to the realization of the building of happiness in Somalia and to the thinking that children should be children, even in war. It aspires to contribute to the building of the first ever happy park for Somali children in Somalia. A merry-go round here, a swing there, a toddler's swimming pool here, a creative corner there. It’s possible and we would like your support, ideas, guidance in this. We seek all kinds of assistance material and material. Currently, the fist shipping is underway to Puntland and it is expected to arrive there in 5-6weeks. The second destination will be Mogadishu and currently several volunteers have stepped forward to assist with the dissemination of calls, mobilising resources and in the building of the first ever Happy park for Somali children in Mogadishu. Plans are underway to do the same in other parts of Somalia. In the field in Somalia, 21 volunteers are ready to help put up the playground, mechanics, engineers and constructors have promised technical support and supervision. A few people also promised to contribute with a ice-cream machine for the children who will use the Happy Parks. The support has been overwhelming, inspiring and very touching.

The implementing organisation: Action for Gender and Development (AGAD) NGO Puntland

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou

The organisation behind the Happy Parks project is called Action for Gender and Development (AGAD) and it has its head office in Galkayo, Mudug region of Puntland. AGAD NGO is a young organization that is working on the important topics of Gender and Development in their broadest forms; human rights awareness, child protection, education, displacement issues and girl's leadership. For more information please refer to our website Strategic local and international partnerships with for example the Dutch United Nations Student Association (SIB) as well as with the TFG government, the Puntland government, the private sector and civil society will be critical to the successful design and implementation of this post-conflict reconstruction project in order to make it as sustainable as possible. Strong alliances will be forged with other Somali civil society stakeholders in the country as well. It is widely known that Somali civil society had a great representation in the previous Somali peace talks and have also played a significant role in Somalia’s development and humanitarian needs in the past 25 years.

Rebuilding Somalia must include the continued active participation of all its civil society because these can play vital roles in, among other, channeling and dissemination of information; advocating norms, values, and standards; encouraging power-sharing among competing interest; contributing to good governance; providing the means for interaction and confidence-building across the lines that divide parties in conflict; and encouraging and participating in socio-economic activities aimed at mitigating disparities. Action for Gender and Development (AGAD) NGO has implemented projects such as income earning activities; identification and implementation of quick impact micro-projects; and capacity building activities towards the re-integration of ex-combatants, refugees and displaced persons into their communities. Given the weak capacity of the current government of Somalia, there is an urgent need for NGOs to formulate and promote alternative development strategies that are friendly towards both children and the environment, and are rooted in Somali context and traditions.

Sahro Ahmed Koshin Founder and Executive Director Action for Gender and Development (AGAD) NGO Puntland

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Take action! This post was submitted in response to Voices of Our Future 2012: Frontline Journals.


Dear all, Thank you for dropping by. I am sorry i am late with my assignment. It was beyond my reach and i could not post it any sooner. I promise to do better next time. I look forward to catching up wit you and to reading your stories. I will be travelling back to Somalia and thus to my base/office and to a more stable life next week after holidaying/recuperating as well as lobbying and fundraising for girls' education in Somalia.

I had actually initially planned to write about girl's education in Somalia and also informed my mentors about this but later changed to this topic because, as the assignment said 'Correspondents should think about a topic that they are passionate about--maybe it's something that impacts them every day, or impacted them early on in life? Is there change that is happening in their community that they want to be a part of?'. I am passionate about this topic just as much as i am about girls' education. The reason i chose this new topic is because it is something that impacts me as well as confronts on a daily basis; i had moved back to Somalia 2 years ago with my little daughter and husband. Everyday single morning as i prepare myself for work, i wish for the 1000th time that there was a day care here i could take her to so that she could play with other kids, or perhaps a children's park she could play and have fun, or some children's creative is for this reason that i initiated this project not so long ago and it is the best thing i have ever done.

Founder of the We Are The Generation Of Possibilities Movement #WeAreTheGenerationOfPossibilities #Somalia Twitter: WorldPulse Community Advisory Board Member Goodwill Ambassador Globcal at:

Hi Sahro, I wish you a lot of luck in getting this program going. As you say, kids need time to play, interact, and, well, just be kids. Likewise, finding innovative ways to support families and providing these sort of parks or children's creative centers will play an important role in rebuilding Somalia.

Looking forward to your upcoming journal entries and hearing your voice shine through these stories.

Best, Jenn

"The secret of happiness is freedom, and the secret of freedom, courage." -Thucydides, ancient Greek historian & author

You have an amazing project here Sahro and I can see the passion you have for the subject. I would have loved it if you had incorporated a more personal tone, like you have in your note above "Everyday single morning as i prepare myself for work, i wish for the 1000th time that there was a day care here i could take her to so that she could play with other kids, or perhaps a children's park she could play and have fun, or some children's creative center.....", which would make this story more personal. It's your voice and personal experience that we also want to hear about!

Great job with the flow and layout of the assignment. One quick note, when posting photos of children, you must be absolutely sure that you have permission from their parents/guardians. Just good to check!



"Tell me then, what will you do with your one wild, sweet, and precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Great work, indeed this project will contribute to a quality population of future youth.Most importantly having both girls and boys appreciating each other (gender equality). I have learned a lot

Good luck Sahro

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."

Sahro, It is truly amazing what you have created and are implementing with the Happy Parks Project in Somalia! I am inspired by your creativity, your concrete initiative and your passion for the work you are doing. Thank you and please keep sharing the progress! Jocelyn Edelstein.

So happy to see a fellow Horner dedicated to peace! Your insight on how peace can only be built with the active participation of all civil society is right-on-the-dot! Looking forward to learning more about what you are doing. I'll definitely be checking out your website!

Keep up the great work!

Your sister from Eritrea!



This is such an exciting project, and it makes such an important contribution to the future of these children as they develop who they are. Growing up with some happiness could make all the difference in who they become!


Leslie Stoupas

Congratulations on your noble project, Sahro. The children need this very much for them to experience being real children. The conflict and violence have robbed them of their childhood . I wish that your project will cause the healing of those childhood wounds. I can imagine that you are a very busy woman. Running an NGO and looking for funds to be able to deliver your mission takes a lot of your time. Better late than never.

Good luck, Sahro.

Cheers from the Philippines Paulina

What an exciting project you've got here Sahro. Congratulations on filling an important gap in your own life, and in the lives of so many children in Somalia. Bringing smiles to the faces of children will go a long way to bring peace and a bright future to your corner of the world.

I wish you all the best as you continue working to bring this vision to reality-- keep us updated! -Scott

Scott Beck

Great Project, Great post from a Great Person, well done dear you are a HERO and will always be! The last thing I remember in my childhood was gunshots and screams and never got the pleasure of playing in happy parks :-( Thank you so much sis for taking this initiatives. As its been said "People will forget what you give them but will never forget how you make them feel"

Well done!

Dear Sahro -

I enjoyed reading your piece - centered around this innovative idea and vision of happy parks and creative play areas for children that could transform many post-conflict societies. I love how you place your focus on the children: their energy and healing as the leading force for reviving society.

In terms of the construction of your piece - I noticed that you start with a lot of facts and figures and analysis - then in the middle you speak to your own personal experience and passion with your own daughter. I encourage you to kick off your frontline journals with a compelling personal angle first - then weave in some facts and analysis later in the piece. A frontline journal pulls people in from the personal voice and story. More people will read your story if they feel they can relate to you first. Then, the facts and figures will mean more to them, and they will trust your voice more because they know the author. Also, your idea of the happy parks comes later in the story. It is such a strong idea I would put it in the first or second paragraph - and even lead with it in the title! A revolution is in the air with children's laughter!

I am so impressed with your work and passion - and how far you have moved this project. It is destined to happen!

With great respect and admiration,

Jensine Larsen World Pulse

Dear Jensine, Very good to hear from you and what an honour that is. Thank you for your constructive feedback. I am here to learn and indeed i have learned alot. I am going to try and rewrite that article- for effective learning from this unique experience. Thanks to you and all the good writers here for their guidance and support!

Peace, Sah

Founder of the We Are The Generation Of Possibilities Movement #WeAreTheGenerationOfPossibilities #Somalia Twitter: WorldPulse Community Advisory Board Member Goodwill Ambassador Globcal at:

Thank you for taking this great initiative which enable children to be children even in a situation of war. Reading your story, I realized how much we take some things for granted, for instance that we have such playgrounds at every preschool in my country and how children can play in the yard here in Zimbabwe. I would never have guessed that what we have as a given could be a privilege elsewhere and so thank you for opening my eyes to be that sensitive. I wish you success in your project and hope you secure the future that you hope for, for your children.