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Al-Shabaab Threatens Future of Somalia and Somali Children

Radical Islamist groups desperately want more members to strengthen their forces. They target the most vulnerable people, including children, and offer false hope, guidance, support, and stability, often in unstable countries. One of the most prominent groups that recruits young children is Al-Shabaab, an organization based mostly in Somalia and Yemen. Al-Shabaab has blossomed and gained much control over education and Islamic centers in Somalia. It is fitting that the group is called Al-Shabaab, meaning “the young ones” in Arabic, due to the group’s obsession with recruiting vulnerable young children to become merciless fighters.

Somalia became an independent republic in 1960. Democracy was short lived, and in 1969, Mohamed Siad Barre seized power and formed a military dictatorship. In 1991, Barre fled when the capital, Mogadishu, was captured by enemy militants. Somaliland again declared itself independent, and armed factions in the south fought for the capital, with Ali Mahdi Mohamed taking power after thousands of civilian deaths. His lack of leadership experience created a national struggle with famine and disease, leaving many feeling hopeless and desperate for aid. Crime rates, especially kidnapping, rose drastically, and education rates dropped. These desperate circumstances created the opportunity for Al-Shabaab to grow. Al-Shabaab offers security, a feeling of belonging, and strength in a place where uneducated young people are feeling alone and neglected.

Al-Shabaab was established in December 2006, fighting to turn Somalia into a strict Islamic state. Al-Shabaab was once the hardline militant youth wing of the Islamic Court Union (ICU). In 2012, Al-Shabaab allied itself with Al Qaeda. Today, Al-Shabab is believed to have around 7,000 to 9,000 members, comprised mainly of kidnapped Somali boys. The group is led by Ahmad Umar, and is responsible for many bombings, killings, and attacks, including a truck bombing in Mogadishu in October 2017 that killed more than 270 civilians and injured nearly 300 in what is East Africa’s deadliest bombing recorded in history. The group has killed over 2,000 people in the past three years alone.

In September 2017, Al-Shabab issued an order for hundreds of children, some as young as eight years old, to train to fight on the front line. Children are forcefully taken from their homes, communities, and schools. Those who are unwilling to join the recruitment campaign often flee their homes, usually alone and scrambling to find a way to survive. It is estimated that almost 500 children have fled their villages in attempt to escape Al-Shabaab recruitment in the last couple of months. Not only does Al-Shabaab torture children, but they also antagonize the elderly. Al-Shabaab has kidnapped leaders of villages and other elderly people who refused their requests to give up children from their villages.

Al-Shabaab also attempts to indoctrinate youth by integrating their own teachings into schools in regions within their control. In September, Al-Shabaab members raided two schools in the Buurhakaba district in an attempted kidnapping of 50 children. They threatened to beat the teachers that resisted and caned any children who disobeyed. The members gave the schools ten days to hand over 25 children, aged 8 to 15 years old. As of late 2017, the children had not been handed over.

Terrorist groups all over the world like Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and ISIS not only disrupt a generation, but entire countries’ futures. Children who grow up under Al-Shabaab’s teachings may teach their children the same corrupted values, creating a cycle of abuse. Research shows that children easily become fierce fighters and refuse to leave their new lives that give them a false sense of security. Although the international community has made strides in regressing militant groups’ recruitment processes, ongoing conflicts continue to serve as a hub for child soldiers. In the words of Yoka Brandt, Executive Director of UNICEF, “We cannot give up on them. We can rebuild shattered lives and shattered societies. As we heal these children, we also heal divided societies by erasing the stigma that released children face and building peace and, most importantly, hope.”




Fay Alzahrani is a junior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School in Terre Haute, Indiana. This is her first year as a part of the Communication Task Force at STAND. Born in Saudi Arabia, Fay Alzahrani currently studies abroad in Terre Haute, IN.

Relentless Killing Continues in Yei Region of South Sudan

*Content Warning: The following piece includes graphic content, including descriptions of sexual violence*

For the past 4 years, South Sudan’s violent civil war has raged the town of Yei, a small, ethnically diverse town located directly south of the capital of Juba. Since its independence in 2011, the youngest country in the world has faced extreme violence.

Yet South Sudan is no stranger to violence, having been party to the Sudan Civil War, prior to independence. This war was Africa’s longest-running civil war, lasting 22 years, and the history of this war and tensions between combatants are as relevant as ever in the current context. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), is the coalition of rebel groups that currently governs South Sudan. It was founded in 1983 and led by freedom fighter John Garang. Riek Machar, the most recent Vice President of South Sudan, was a combatant in the Sudan Civil War, joining the SPLM/A in the early 1980s, but later creating a spinoff group called SPLA-Nasir to advocate for a fully independent South Sudan.  

Today’s civil war in South Sudan was sparked in 2013 by tensions between today’s SPLM/A leader and current President Salva Kiir and his former Vice President Riek Machar, but quickly turned into a ethnic violence between the region’s two biggest ethnic groups – the Dinka and the Nuer. Brutal, violent attacks are consistently committed, with suspected motives of ethnic cleansing. In December 2013, disagreements between between Machar and Kiir grew even more chaotic and violent, leading to a civil war that has caused immense internal displacement and insecurity in the region.

The United Nations has reported that the SPLA is abusing South Sudan citizens. These reports arose after bodies with bonded hands were found in Yei in the past year. Recent investigations additionally concluded that soldiers from the SPLA had tortured, killed, mutilated, and raped women and girls in front of their families. Since the massacres began, millions have been forced to flee the country in order to survive. In fact, around 60-70 percent of Juba’s population fled between July and September 2016. Those trying to escape have also targeted by the SPLA. In total, at least 114 civilians were killed between July 2016 and January 2017.

When Brigadier General Chol Deng Chol, the leader of the government security forces in Yei, was questioned about the Yei killings, he stated, “The only people we fight are the rebels. This is when the killing occurs. We don’t kill our own civilians in our own country […] They pretend civilians were killed, when the people killed were rebels.” The current situation in Yei has become so serious that the United Nations has expanded and opened a peacekeeping base in the region. However, previous humanitarian intervention efforts have resulted in the South Sudanese government restricting foreign aid, including food aid, from entering the country.

37-year-old Suzanne Minala is one of many who have been abducted by the SPLA in Yei. She was held for 30 days, and was beaten and raped daily by those who abducted her. When she was finally released, she returned home to find that four of her relatives had been slaughtered in her garden. While it is unknown who killed Minala’s relatives, she firmly believes that SPLA soldiers committed the atrocity. When interviewed by the Associated Press, Minala said, “the government doesn’t want to hear about crimes because they kill people.”

South Sudanese citizens still need our help. Until the government pays attention to their people, the South Sudanese have no one to turn to. Yei is still facing some of its scariest days and the South Sudanese government must prioritize reorganizing the SPLA and disciplining soldiers in order to minimize civilian casualties and atrocities.



Fay Alzahrani is a junior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School in Terre Haute, Indiana. This is her first year as a part of the Communication Task Force at STAND. Born in Saudi Arabia, Fay Alzahrani currently studies abroad in Terre Haute, IN.

Cholera Outbreak in Yemen Becomes Worst in History

In the United States of America, the average American child’s worries include tricking their mother into letting them eat ice cream before dinner, and making sure to watch their favorite TV show after school. Children in Yemen, where there is a cholera epidemic, have very different worries. Cholera is a bacterial disease that can infect the intestines and cause severe diarrhea, which can lead to dehydration and sometimes even death. This disease can be traced back to the year 1563, and began to appear in the United States in the 1800s. However, because Americans had the right resources, it quickly disappeared and there hasn’t been a deadly case since. Although this disease is easily treatable, Yemen does not possess enough resources or aid to help its victims. Simply boiling water could get rid of the bacteria that causes Cholera, yet people are still dying from this disease every day.

Believed to be the result of man-made acts, Cholera has stolen around 2,000 innocent lives in the span of less than 6 months in Yemen. The country’s ongoing civil war has made aid delivery very difficult. Cholera became a prominent issue in April, and it has already become the worst in history. To put this in perspective, the second worst was Haiti between the years of 2010 and 2017, where the number topped 800,000. In Yemen, this number was surpassed in a mere six months. Those who are more vulnerable or prone to struggle with this disease are ones who are weak and helpless, including young children, starving and malnourished people, and pregnant women and their fetuses. More than half of Cholera victims are younger than 18 years old, and 26% of those children are younger than 5. This epidemic is also robbing unborn children of their lives, before they even have a chance to start them.

Because Yemen is still in the midst of a three year civil war, pitting the Houthi rebel movement against the Saudi-led coalition that stands by President Hadi, the country has not prioritized aiding citizens affected by this epidemic. More than half of the country’s hospitals and clinics have been shut down or destroyed due to bombings and airstrikes. This leaves Yemeni people with no one to turn to in their time of need. Organizations such as World Health Organization and UNICEF have partnered up to act and provide health care in efforts to save lives, and UNICEF has already donated more than 4 million packs of rehydration salts, and 800,000 bags of intravenous fluids. Despite their work, the continued conditions of the war-torn country have also made delivering vaccines and aid extremely difficult, and in July of this year, the United Nations and WHO suspended their cholera vaccine plan in Yemen. George Koury, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen, stated that It was decided by the professionals that all the risks and the potential problems may outweigh the benefits of administering the vaccine.”

Without increased action, Yemen will continue to suffer from this epidemic and looming famine. Given the lack of access to clean water, sanitation systems, and solid infrastructure, there is no way Yemenis will be able to combat this crisis on their own – but you can help! If we ensure that the United States acts to end the conflict, we can limit the amount of destruction in the country, and pave the way for humanitarian aid and action. Check out STAND’s work to alleviate the crisis and get involved by visiting our #YemenAid action page here.


FayFay Alzahrani is a junior at Terre Haute South Vigo High School in Terre Haute, Indiana. This is her first year as a part of the Communication Task Force at STAND. Born in Saudi Arabia, Fay Alzahrani currently studies abroad in Terre Haute, IN.