What if teens living the world's invisible spaces could join their peers in the global community
"Inclusion elevates us all."
The Gulf of Aden on the coast of Somaliland
Lazily scrolling through my news feed last summer during a rare moment of hammock-lounging downtime, a curious headline caught my attention. Something about the president of Somalia wanting to develop their tourism business to help boost their economy. I confess, I had little knowledge of Somalia, but the words “Somalia” and “tourism” somehow seemed incongruent.
Somalia and civil war? Congruent.
Somalia and al-Shabab? Congruent.
Somalia and refugees, pirates, drought? All congruent.
But Somalia and tourism? Incongruent.
Closer scrutiny, however, revealed the article wasn’t about Somalia at all. Correction: Somaliland.
Somaliland? A Disney-esque theme park outside Mogadishu, perhaps? A cultural exhibit at a Festival of Nations event?
According to Google, Somaliland is a country located in the northwest corner of the Horn of Africa. After breaking away from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland formed its own nation with a well-functioning democratic government, military, police force, and even currency. Throughout the continent, Somaliland is noted for its peaceful atmosphere and stability, but remains formally unrecognized by the rest of the international community. With its natural desert beauty, white sandy beaches along the Gulf of Aden, ancient caves filled with 7,000 year old Neolithic art, friendly people, and an overall chill environment (if desert heat is your thing), other than being located near one of the most volatile regions on the planet and, of course, being totally unheard of, Somaliland has everything a budding tourism industry needed.
I swung out of my hammock. Adventure was calling.
By August, my plane was touching down in Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. My GSD travel partner, Andy, and I were met by our friendly, English-speaking guide, Bedri, for a week of blazing across deserts in our land cruiser, climbing through the ancient caves of Las Geel, collecting shells along the beaches of Berbera, buying exotic fabrics in the markets, eating goat curry on the patio of our luxury hotel, petting camels, and more. It was an adventure that would send Indiana Jones into a jealous fit.
The highlight, however, was a serendipitous visit to the Abaarso School— a private boarding school for Somaliland’s best and brightest. We spent an hour chatting candidly with adorable girls Amira and Nimco, and awesome guys Abdisalam and Abdiqani. These kids were bright, funny, and so cool. They spoke perfect English, and shared their thoughts on everything from which countries they were following in the summer Olympic Games in Rio, to the latest episode of Game of Thrones, to the nail-biting drama of the Trump vs. Hillary US presidential election.
Like teens everywhere, they had all the latest social media apps on their smartphones— but what struck me was, despite being so informationally connected to everything going on internationally, they were unrecognized by the rest of the world. Unrecognized teens living in a country nobody knows about, in a corner of the world that nobody really thinks about (unless it’s something bad being reported).
I wondered what it must have felt like to be one of these brilliant kids watching the world from their TVs and devices with all they have to offer— yet unable to participate. How can this generation of future leaders contribute to the world if they are not included?
These questions catapulted us on another spontaneous adventure as the four teens toured us around Hargeisa, introducing us to important and interesting sights. From shopping centers, hospitals, and national monuments, to arcades, amusement parks, and ice cream parlors, it was part Somaliland tourism commercial, part digital “message in a bottle.” A shout out to the rest of the world, proclaiming: Hey! We are here! We are fun! Notice us!
After I returned to the US, I stitched together a little music video of our adventure, threw it up on YouTube, and emailed it to the teens. They forwarded it to everyone they knew, and over the following weeks we watched in anticipation as the view counter climbed. Would it go viral, we wondered? Would there be comments back from kids on the other side of the world who saw their “message in the bottle” and were excited to include them in their lives somehow?
Unfortunately, the video stalled out around 200 views— reaching the extent of their networks— but we will keep trying. The rest of the world needs these kids to join them. It won’t be a party until they get there.
Welcome to Somaliland tourism commercial
How do you think the inclusion (or exclusion) of these teens will help shape the global future of your generation?
See what GSD teen Operatives have to say.