Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The spirit of Ramadan and Eid in Somaliland before the advent of Wahhabism
Bashir Goth
Living with the perpetual fear of the Somali cultural heritage and the tolerant, almost native Islam being eroded by torrents of alien and jihadist movements of Salafism, Tabligqhi and Al Ittihad Al Islam, which are all different variations of Wahhabism, I thought it might be useful as the Eid draws near if I set down my childhood memories about the tradition of Ramadan back home, particularly as my son like so many others who have not seen the home that is their birthright and find it hard to relate their parents practice of Islam ,with the distorted image that they encounter everywhere at the present time.

Once I started jotting down the outline, the memories of Ramadan nights in my native village and every town of the Somali people living in Somaliland, Somali region of Ethiopia and Djibouti and even Southern Somalia to some extent, charged my mind. Defying both time and distance, I presently found myslef sitting in Daa’uud Yaakhi’s tea shop in my native Dilla village, amid mesmerized audience, enjoying Ramdan nights as they knew it for centuries, clapping to the tone of the African drum, chanting the chorus of the anecdotal Ramadan Qasida Yaa Khyaral Anaami and enjoying Islam as they found it fitting to their culture and their heritage.

Already swept by nostalgia, I tried to relate to Omer my memories of Ramdan in Somaliland. Although I marshalled all my efforts to make him feel the beat, tone and taste of Ramdan as I knew it as a child, it was too distant for him to get the feel of it, but I could see that he found some excitement in the idea of Islam imparting some fun for children and not all grim and gloom as he sees it today. Read more on also under the title "A time when our religion belonged to us" at Onlineopnion also also WardheerNews also tharwaproject
Editorial: Remembering Annalena Tonelli as the epitome of human pride
As the people of Borama, Awdal region of Somaliland, commemorate the 2nd anniversary of the brutal assassination of Annalena Tonelli on the 5th of October, they do so with less self-flagellation this time than the pervious anniversary for three good reasons. The first is that the criminal hand that robbed the light from the blind, the hearing aid from the deaf, the healing touch from the terminally ill, the hand of mercy from the destitute, the disowned and the orphan; the main culprit for the killing of Annalena Tonelli is behind bars in Hargeisa central jail. The man suspected to be the evil doer, Abdirahman Indha Adde, was the ring leader of the Al Qaeda cell that was recently arrested in Somaliland while trying to deliver another death and liberate his colleagues in terror who are waiting trial in Hargeisa prison for the slaying of Annelena and other humanitarian workers.

The second reason for Borama people's sense of atonement is the functioning of Annalena Centre, comprising Annalena's TB Hospital, Annalena School of the Deaf and the Blind and the other facilities she created for the care of AIDs patients, orphans and the poor. The big worry of the local people at the time of Annalena's murder was whether these facilities would survive their founder's death. On the second anniversary of her death, however, Borama people are proud to see Annalena win over evil from her grave thanks to the selfless efforts of devoted individuals who saw themselves as the chosen custodians of the legacy and heritage of a great humanitarian worker. Read more on Awdalnews.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Annalena Tonelli found her bliss in becoming one with the poorest

Bashir & Hashim Goth

Awdalnews Network, 8th Oct. 2004—“Annalena Tonelli was a mother, a sister and a friend that the people of Awdal had lost” read statements written on billboards carried aloft by residents of Borama, Somaliland, to commemorate the first death anniversary of the law-trained Italian woman turned humanitarian worker who was gunned down by an unknown assassin in her hospital in Borama on 5th October 2003, 33 years after she had tied her destiny to the sick, the poor and the infirm among the Somali people.

In a rare show of sympathy and love for a foreigner, the Muslim people of the town of Borama gathered at the Annalena Center, the complex structure containing the voluntary projects set up by Annalena Tonelli, chanting her name and grieving their loss in the death of an unparalleled voluntary worker who was thrown into their midst by destiny alone. 

Speech after speech, religious scholars, elders, women, patients, doctors, students and government officials all paid glowing tributes to the good deeds and personality of Annalena.

“Annalena was a good person who helped our sick and the poor,” said Sheikh Saweer, one of the religious personalities who attended the commemoration, “ her killing was an aggression that was contrary to the teachings of Islam. Our prophet said that anyone who killed a person, a non-Muslim as such, who was under his protection will never smell the scent of paradise.”

Sahra Abdillahi Faja, who heads the Anti-circumcision Team set up by Annalena, said “ we feel pain deep inside whenever we remember the killing of Annalena. I don’t think we will ever get a person like Mother Annalena. We have been orphaned by her death.” Sahra’’s team feeds 46 women who quit their profession as circumcisers and their 39 children.

Head of the Annalena TB Hospital, Saeed Yusuf, recalled how people rebelled against Annalena’s TB campaign at the beginning of her work in Borama.

He said that when people came to know about Annalena’s arrival in 1996 some 300 persons showed up for the first day but only 17 of them remained after they realized that they were being tested for TB.

“This is how much stigmatized people felt about the disease,” he said, noting that after one  year the patients have reached un manageable number and those who tested negative thought that they had been cheated, thinking that they were really TB patients but the hospital somehow didn’t have a place for them.

Yusuf added that in 1997 alone Annalena Hospital treated 1600 people as outpatients, 8300 in-patients and more than 25,000 went under medical check up for the disease.

 Who was Annalena Tonelli?

At the prime age of 27, Annalena Tonelli had everything it took to have a successful future in her native Italy. The beauty, the brain and prospects of life filled with the glory and glamour that any young woman of her age could have dreamed of in an affluent and sensual society. Annalena, however, had destiny cut her vocation for her long before she even had made her spiritual odyssey to Africa. She was destined to follow her heart’s calling , her rendezvous with the poor, the sick and the destitute in the most obscure and forgotten places on earth..

Young, adventures and armed with a law degree and a strong will to fearlessly follow her passion and calling, Annalena left behind the land of renaissance and enlightenment, the cradle of European civilization to the acacia covered deserts of Africa in the ‘Heart of Darkness’.

She spent 33 long years in healing, comforting, consoling and most of all giving hope of a life beyond the confines of destitution to TB ridden patients, abandoned HIV/AIDS victims, blind and deaf children and poverty stricken mothers. From the moment she landed in Kenya in 1969, she had her fate and future mission tied to the Somali people, first in the Somali region of Kenya and later into Somalia and eventually Somaliland where her sainthood met the savagery of mankind.

Although she deservedly won the attention of the international community for her charitable and humanitarian work, Annalena Tonelli, or Mother Annalena as the people of Borama, Awdal region of Somaliland, where she was killed but venerated by the thousands of the region’s people as saint, preferred to call her, chose to remain and live nameless – “I am nobody”, is what she told to UNICEF officials visiting her TB hospital in Borama, thus prompting Maggie Black, a UNICEF consultant and a UK-based writer, to title her tribute to her as “Death of “Nobody”.”

“I live out my service without a name, without the security of a religious order, without belonging to an organization, without a salary, without paying social security for my old age… I have been living in the service of Somalis. But I have friends who help me and my people, especially those on the 'Committee Against World Hunger' in Forlì,” said Annalena Tonelli at a meeting in the Vatican on the occasion of the ‘International Day for Volunteers’ in 2002.

Great deeds, however, seldom remain invisible and such was the case when contrary to her wishes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) named her the winner of the Nansen Refugee Award in 2003, an annual humanitarian award given to individuals or organizations that have distinguished themselves in work on behalf of refugees. The UNHCR said it had picked the 60-year-old Annalena Tonelli in recognition of her selfless dedication in the service of Somali community, the majority of them returned refugees and displaced people.

A qualified teacher of English in high schools in Kenya, Annalena Tonneli began her voluntary work as a teacher in Kenya’s northern Somali region. Noticing many of the students and parents suffering from TB she went back to school and took certificates and diplomas in tuberculosis, tropical and community medicine and in leprosy in Kenya, England and Spain respectively.

Annalena’s pioneering work in TB treatment

Annalena started her pioneering work of treating TB patients in outreach clinics and hospitals to support her fight against TB among the Somali nomads. Working first among Somalis in Kenya, she moved to Merca in the South and eventually to Borama, Somaliland. There she set up a 250-bed TB hospital with the funding of her family and friends, mostly in her hometown of Forli, who raised $20,000 per month. As Maggie Black wrote, Annalena’s pioneering treatment of outpatient TB was taken up by the World Health Organization, WHO, which conferred her hospital special status as a TB center par excellence. The hospital also organized visits of surgeons that have restored sight to almost 4000 people.

Annalena also began work against female circumcision known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Knowing the cultural sensitivity of the issue which many Somalis  mistakenly believe as a Koran sanctioned tradition, Annalena included a religious cleric in her anti-circumcision team.

Among the most significant projects set up by Annalena in Borama was a School for  blind and deaf children, a rare phenomenon in the neighboring Horn of African countries.

One of the projects that raised some eyebrows among the local community, however, was her work to provide care to HIV/AIDS victims. Though the majority of the local Borama people admired her work and her courage to provide shelter to such patients who were abandoned by their close relatives due to the stigma attached to the disease, some religious hardliners had shown hostility towards her work and accused her of attracting all TB and HIV/AIDS patients from far places to their hometown.

One year after she was shot under the cloak of darkness in her hospital by an unknown assassin, Annalena’s legacy survives in Borama with all the facilities she set up carrying her name.  

There are 271 TB patients registered at Annalena Hospital, 134 of them as in-hospital patients and 137 as outpatients. When Annalena died the total number of patients under treatment were 377, 188 in-patients and 189 outpatients.

The hospital structure consists of six wards, a laboratory, one x-ray and one-storey administration building. She persuaded 28 women circumcisers to abandon their work and seek other ways of livelihood. She used to pay the fees of 70 children from poor families including some of the children of women circumcisers who quit their profession on her advice. Now the institution still pays the fees of 50 of these students.

A total of 263 students are enrolled in the Annalena School of the Deaf. They include 77 deaf, 43 boys and 34 girls, and 6 blind children in one class by themselves. There are also 180 other orphan and poor students, 131 boys and 49 girls, who have their own separate classes.

The Annalena Center, comprising the hospital, the schools and another facilities, are still funded by the same sources and other charitable organizations and individuals. Some local organizations and charitable people have also donated some equipment and other items, even the buildings have been enlarged by funds allocated by Annelena for that purpose.

A gesture of gratitude:

As a gesture of gratitude and a strong determination to show the world that Annalena’s killing was the action of a misguided murder, the Town Council of Borama named all the projects set up by Annalena after her. Today, there is Annalena Hospital, Annalena School of the Deaf and the Annalena Center. Overlooking the center is also Annalena Memorial Statute, set up by Borama people to immortalize the name of the woman who chose to live anonymous during her lifetime.

It is an irony of life that the fame and glory that Annalena tried to evade in her life time had to haunt her in her death, but with the honest intention of upholding the memory of good deeds and inspiring others “…to see the beauty inside somebody,” as Annalena did according to Joe Morrissey, a teacher for a school of the deaf and blind in Nairobi. That she didn’t live as “..a foreigner or gal in a world where kin and clan are  paramount” as expressed by Maggie Black but with her blood soaking the African earth, her good deeds giving healing and hope to thousands and her name resonating in the mouth of the deaf, the blind and the destitute of Borama and beyond, Annalena had found her eternal bliss in becoming “…one with the poorest.”