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A Team of Selfless Drivers Risk Lives to Provide Free Ambulance Services in Somalia

In the chaotic city of Mogadishu, where bombings and gun attacks are far too frequent, there is a team of volunteer ambulance drivers and medics, a new hope for humanitarian aid. Aamin Ambulances, the largest free ambulance service in the city, funded by Somali business people and advocates, has been operating for 17 years. Abdulkadir Abdirahman Adan, started the service when Ethiopian forces backed by the US clashed with the Islamic Courts Union and a period of intense conflict in Mogadishu began.


Adan was a dentist amidst the chaos and despite being approved to work internationally, he chose to stay and help the people of Mogadishu. Starting with just one second-hand minivan, Aamin now has a fleet of almost 20 vehicles and operates a 24/7 hot line. In August alone, they responded to 175 emergency cases. The mission goes beyond responding to terrorist attacks, it also provides urgent care for sick children, mothers in labour, accident victims, and others in need. The team receives at least 36 calls daily through its hot line, which operates 24/7.


However, the healthcare sector in Somalia remains weak with limited public hospitals and expensive private facilities that many cannot afford. Aamin operates on a very tight budget without government or financial support from donor countries. Due to financial constraints, Aamin can only employ a few salaried staff members, while most drivers receive only a small amount of pay, but only once enough funds have been put towards the essentials to keep the operation running, such as fuel and medical supplies.


Mogadishu, which serves as the federal government's headquarters and is the main hub for international aid operations, is frequently targeted by insurgent attacks. One of the most deadly attacks occurred in October of 2022 when two car bombs exploded near the ministry of education. The second explosion happened just as medical teams were arriving, resulting in 121 deaths and hundreds of injuries.


Rashid, an ambulance driver working for Aamin (a local ambulance service), was struck by the second explosion. He was transporting eight survivors from the first explosion when his ambulance was hit by the second. Rashid was thrown out of the vehicle and lost consciousness. When he woke up, he found himself in a hospital. Unfortunately, all the survivors he had been carrying had died.


Rashid lives with his family in a small rented house in one of Mogadishu's impoverished suburbs. As a father of five, he hopes to eventually secure a salaried position within the Aamin team, which only senior drivers are privileged to have. Currently, he earns around $180 per month but sometimes goes through tight months without receiving any payment at all. During those times, he relies on credit or seeks help from his parents to buy food.


Rashid suffered serious injuries in the blast with shrapnel wounds on his leg and genitals. He has a limp and experiences PTSD symptoms such as recurring flashbacks, but despite the dangers that these everyday heroes face, and the very little that they are repaid, Aamin staff show great bravery and patriotism. Abdulkadir Abdulahi, another ambulance driver, says that witnessing such tragic scenes often breaks their hearts but they remain committed to helping their fellow citizens.

 

References:

Dahir, Abdi Latif. “Free Ambulances in Mogadishu, Thanks to This Determined Dentist.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 20 May 2022, www.nytimes.com/2022/05/20/world/africa/somalia-free-ambulance.html.

Huon, Patricia. “In Somalia, a Free Ambulance Service That Saves Lives Operates on a Shoestring.” The New Humanitarian, 8 Sept. 2023, www.thenewhumanitarian.org/news-feature/2023/09/06/somalia-free-ambulance-service-saves-lives-operates-shoestring.

 

Mae Sacamy is a student at Queen's University and an Outreach Coordinator for WIIS-Queen's. The opinions of this blog post are reflective of the author and are separate from the organization, Women in International Security Queen's Unviersity (WIIS-Queen's).

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