– a diver’s paradise in the country of colours
East Africa – a place that I’ve been to many times on my travels for the SOS Children’s Villages and where I was able to get to know most of the regions. But Djibouti was a place I never managed to visit.
Recently, though, a SOS Children’s Village was finally built there, too. My colleagues and friends were at the opening ceremony – among them was Andrea Vyslozil. And I was lucky enough to have Andrea write a guest entry for my blog With Jeanne across Africa.
Since Andrea’s father had worked in the organisation for decades, she has always had a very special relationship to the SOS Children’s Village worldwide. When she heard that there were plans of traveling to Djibouti, she was immediately very excited and eager to join, especially because she wanted to experience the beautiful nature along the coast of Djibouti as an avid diver. So Andrea saved up for her plane ticket, went on an amazing trip to the Horn of Africa and returned with incredible impressions of the region. Here is her travelogue:
“Oh yeah, Djibouti! Where is that again exactly?” is a common reaction when I tell my friends about this rather unusual destination. This tiny country is indeed in the Horn of Africa and is squeezed in between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somali country. Tectonically speaking, it’s exactly where the African and Arabic plates meet. Djibouti is only about half the size of Switzerland. The bay which it’s surrounded by is regarded as an inside tip among divers and fans for sighting wales – an absolute must-do for me as a keen amateur diver! It doesn’t necessarily attract too many tourists (yet) though.
Djibouti is land of extremes. The climate there is extremely dry and in the summer the air temperature can reach up to 50° Celsius in some parts of the country (the water temperature in the bay is close to 30° Celsius, so nearly as warm as bath water). Northwest of the capital is Lake Assal which lies 155 meters below sea level. It’s the lowest point in Africa. The landscape seems almost surreal – not one spot of green, just black lava rocks, turquoise-blue water and a gleaming white crust of salt. That’s because the lake water is one of the saltiest in the world with only some waters in the Antarctic having a slightly higher level of salt.
The country’s unemployment rate is high and its poverty gap is wide. Aside from these unfavourable circumstances, however, Djibouti is a country full of potential. Ethiopia has been reliant on its small neighbour Djibouti as a trading partner since losing its last sea border to Eritrea. Hundreds of trucks are driving across the border into the west every day and thanks to the Chinese’s’ affliction for investing, the strategically most important roads are in a surprisingly good condition. In addition, there are jobs available in the port and on large cargo ships.
Unfortunately, there is still a lack of adequate education in many areas which makes it harder to actually get one of these jobs. Young school dropouts and Somali refugees in particular barely have a chance of entering the job market in Djibouti. And for this reason, some turn to a life of crime. The waters off the Djibouti coast are overrun with pirates which is why the shipping industry is investing high sums of money into the defence against them. So trying to prevent these things from happening is not only more sensible but also much more economic in the long run which is why the Verband Deutscher Reeder (VDR), a federal umbrella organisation for maritime shipping in Germany, decided to help finance the creation of a training centre in the SOS Children’s Village in the poor district of Balbala,. “It was very important for us to offer people in the region an alternative,” says VDR president Michael Behrendt.
The E-learning centre was opened just in time for the Islamic New Year (End of October). The “Young Talent Promotion Centre”, its official title, has several computer labs equipped with laptops and televisions as well as a library. Furthermore, there are common rooms where people can exchange experiences and socially interact with each other. Even though the centre is primarily aimed at young people who want further training, it is meant to be there for everyone regardless of age, gender or background. With the support of a professional staff, young people are given the basics of how to use a computer, how to write their CVs and applications and how to give them access to online language courses etc.
The first test run was a total success, and even if it was still slightly disorganised, the children were enthusiastically clicking away and eagerly observing the reaction on their monitors.
But the E-learning centre is not the only new SOS project that was initiated in Djibouti. In 2010, the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development urged the SOS Children’s Villages worldwide to “build a Children’s Village in Djibouti.”
Four years later, it has now become a reality. The first SOS Children’s Village in Djibouti lies in the northern city of Tadjoura and which was financed by German funds. This location was deliberately chosen to help the Afar minority in particular.
The new village is well-integrated into the neighbourhood, directly beside a mosque and just a few meters away from the ocean. Resembling an Arabic bazar, the houses on the small property are built closely together. The walkways in between the houses are narrow and their high walls create a shade. The architect installed Persian wind towers in between the houses which act as a “cooling chimney” for aerating the sanitary installations. Currently, there are about 100 orphans who now have a home and are being looked after.
The SOS school in which they are being educated together with many other children from Tadjoura, Afar and Somalia is only a few minutes away on foot.
Now that my journey has come to end, I wish all pupils and up-and-coming talents in Djibouti a great start to the (Islamic) New Year. And above all, I wish them good luck for their future! – because as a well-educated and young generation they can help to secure a bright future for the Horn of Africa which in turn can help bring prosperity to their society. But especially because learning is fun!
Andrea’s travelogue is such a great contribution. Whether it be describing the beautiful nature in Djibouti, witnessing the inception of two new SOS facilities or giving valuable insight to the organisational structure behind it – thank you so much! And we would like to congratulate everyone who helped realizing the SOS Children’s Village Djibouti and is helping to make it work.