Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor
|A Happy Day at Restore Hope Orphanage 1993.|
|Khadija and me at Dar Al-Hijrah, August 4, 2016|
|Somali Child in Mogadishu|
|Khadija's Feed the Children ID|
It was October 24, 1993. In celebration of United Nations Day, U.S. Navy Admiral Jonathan Howe, the Special Representative for Somalia to UN Secretary General Butros-Ghali was scheduled to visit the orphanage along with other dignitaries and high-ranking military officials from various countries.
Security was tight due to the orphanage's location near the so called Green Line, a dangerous no man's land dividing Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia into North and South between warring factions.
That day, a large area around the orphanage compound was secured by the U.S. Marines and there were several armored military vehicles strategically positioned inside, outside and around the orphanage's compound.
|A Somali Youth Approaching a Mogadishu Security Checkpoint|
Inside the orphanage, a great deal of time before the arrival of Admiral Howe and his entourage, a unit of the U.S. Marines took position in several corners inside the building, first floor, second floor, entrances to second floor, on the roof, front and back entrances of the orphanage compound. There was a large contingent of media personnel from around the world.
The visit lasted about 45 minutes. Guests toured the Center, interacting, playing, singing, and taking pictures with the children and staff. Then everyone departed.
It was through our program that we, along with Feed the Children, provided everything for the children: food, medicine, clothing, education, recreational activities to keep them off the streets during the day where their would be role models were killing and looting.
However, at the end of each day before nightfall, we released the children to their extended families. We worked diligently to locate the children's closest kin and place them with relatives so that they would not be institutionalized, but grow up in a family environment. On top of that the security situation would not have permitted us to keep the children at the orphanage compound after dark. Clashes, shootings, mortar shelling and looting were the norm. It would have been strategically impossible to evacuate over 2,000 children. The consequences would have been devastating if fighting broke out.
The sun was setting, it was getting dark. I was getting ready to close. I sent my guards to secure all gates and doors of the compound when I came to find out that two U.S. Marines were forgotten, left behind.
My first thought was: "No, it is not possible."
I walked down to where they were positioned, I saw two very young soldiers, one black and one white, holding tight onto their weapons, seemingly alarmed. They were very young, I guess maybe between 19 and 21 years of age.
I thought: "Oh my God! What now?"
I went up to them and told them that everyone of their group had left, but in reassuring them I said to them: "Don't worry, I am American like you. These are my guards, and I promise no one will harm you. Come with me and I will take you to safety to the Italian Military base which is the closest."
I felt they became a bit relaxed but they told me that they must follow rules and must stay where they were last known to be.
Night was approaching. It was unsafe for me, too, to be trotting around. Mogadishu was in the hands of armed militia who took the city hostage. Throughout the night you would hear gunfire and random rockets being fired. There were security checkpoints set up by local police, however, in the darkness if anyone halted you to stop, you were doomed if you stopped, and you were doomed if you did not stop, because there were also some checkpoints set up by thugs for the purpose of looting and rape. In the darkness, with no electricity, you could not distinguish the good guys from the bad ones. So you do not stop, never. You take your chance of avoiding bullets raining down on you as you flee.
The U.S. Military base was in Mogadishu South, we were in Mogadishu North. But I had to do what I had to do.
I got my driver ready with my pick up truck, loaded the back with armed men, some of my security guards, and left for the Italian Military base, which was nearest to the orphanage.
Needless to say that to approach any military base, day or night, was very dangerous. Fortunately my vehicle was easily identifiable with Feed the Children's flag and logo on the doors, plus they knew me. The gate opened and I drove in. I asked to see the General who was in charge of the base, presented to him the situation. Right away he summoned one of his captains, who with some soldiers, quickly got into an armored vehicle and followed me to the orphanage.
Before we left the Italian Military base, the General communicated by radio, I believe first with the U.S. Military base in Mogadishu South, and then following instructions he radioed the head of the Nigerian Military Contingent, which was based at the old port of Mogadishu also not far from where we were. We headed there.
The Italian General tried to see if it was at all possible that the two Marines could be air lifted by helicopter back to their U.S. base in Mogadishu South. Usually airlifts were done by flying over the sea to avoid ground area. By flying over the Green Line there was the danger that militia would shoot rockets to bring the aircraft down.
The head of the Nigerian Military expressed concern as there was a ban for airlifts at night, but said that they would stay in communication by radio with the U.S. Military base, and in the meantime the Nigerian base would host the two Marines for the night and take them to the U.S. base in the morning. And so it went.
After I had secured them in the Nigerian's safe hands, it was my turn to try to get home safely. While all this is happening, I was expecting my son, my first born.
I am grateful to God that He has given me the opportunity to do good. My faith teaches me that ".... If anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind" (Quran, Chapter 5, Verse 32). I guess I got double of that.
I would also add that the U.S. Marines adopted the orphanage, which was named after the UN Operations in Somalia: Operation Restore Hope. When we first occupied the building, which was an old Catholic private boarding school, and my elementary school as a child, the walls were riddled with bullet holes and marked with war related graffiti. The roof and the structural support were in pieces. U.S. Marines and Sailors began helping. They even shared their MREs (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) with the children, if we ran out of food. To honor their involvement, we painted the center with the colors of the U.S. Marines: GOLD and SCARLET. I hold them dear in a special spot in my heart. Semper Fidelis!
It's been 23 years since that day and I always ask myself: "Where are those two Marines now? They must be in their late forties, fathers or even grandfathers. Would they remember me?" Who knows, but I wish I could know.