In a country that has endured three decades of chaos — from extremist attacks to environmental crises — the emergency responders, medics, road builders and educators are often not government workers, but young volunteers.
In this lesson, you will learn about ways that young Somalis have become active during moments of national crisis. Then you will use media literacy skills to compare and contrast news coverage of Somalia and young Somalis’ representations of themselves and their country.
What do you know about the East African country Somalia? Are you able to locate it on a map? Have you heard anything about Somalia in the news?
Search “Somalia” on the New York Times website and scan the headlines that come up. What do you notice about The Times’s coverage of the country? Are there any articles or headlines that stand out? What seems to be going on in Somalia, according to The Times?
Now take another look at these headlines through a media literacy lens. Use these questions to guide your reflection:
- Who created these messages? How many people did it take to create each message? What are their jobs? What choices did they make about the type of stories they tell about Somalia?
- What values, lifestyles and points of view are represented in these headlines? Which are left out? Why do you think that is?
- How do you experience reading these headlines? Can you relate to them? How might your experience of reading them be different from or similar to someone from Somalia, or who has family from Somalia?
Now you will read about activism in Somalia led by young people to see how they are taking the lead in creating change in their country.
Questions for Writing and Discussion
1. What are some of the crises that Dr. Amina Abdulkadir Isack has responded to? What kinds of support have she and her team of volunteers offered to victims and their families?
2. How does the Somali government view its ability to respond to emergencies? How do youth activists view the government’s response?
3. What happened in Somalia in 2011 and how have young Somalis responded? What did Dr. Isack mean when she said that “2017 was a turning point for us”?
4. Why do you think Saida Hassan, a Somali-American, founded the Gurmad Ex-control rescue initiative?
5. What is Mohamed Sheik Ali’s legacy? What does his story exemplify about the activism of young people in Somalia?
6. The article ends with the following quotation: “‘I myself could face harm tomorrow,’ Dr. Isack said. ‘So I am providing support to my people while I can.’” What is your reaction to that statement and why?
You began this lesson by looking at how Somalia has been depicted in the news. Now use those same media literacy skills to see how some young Somalis are representing their country on social media.
Choose one of the following sites mentioned in the article to do your analysis:
- The Twitter account of GurmadExCon, the rescue initiative group started by Ms. Hassan.
- The now inactive GoFundMe profile for Aamin Ambulance, Mogadishu’s only free ambulance service, that was created by youth organizers after the 2017 truck bombing.
- A TedTalk by Mohamed Sheik Ali, an entrepreneur and leader of mentorship programs who was later killed.
Then ask yourself the same questions from the warm-up and compare the messages from the New York Times headlines and those from these young Somalis. In what ways are the messages about Somalia similar or different? How can you explain these similarities and differences?