Sunday January 10, 2021
Downtown Hargeisa in the Maroodi Jeex region of Somaliland. Photographer: Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP via Getty Images
While most Taiwanese were celebrating the arrival of the new year at home, a group of Taiwanese experts were gearing up to conduct technical assistance 8,000km from home, in the Horn of Africa.
Members of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland had a simple dinner on New Year’s Eve, said Mars Shiue (薛烜坪), who heads the mission.
“The spirit of New Year’s celebrations is hardly felt in Somaliland, as the country follows the Islamic calendar,” Shiue said, adding that New Year’s Day was a working day.
The mission formally opened its office in the capital of Hargeisa on Dec. 1 last year, a few months after a Technical Cooperation Framework Agreement was signed between Taiwan and Somaliland — a self-declared state which many governments around the world consider part of Somalia.
The agreement was part of the establishment of closer ties between the two nations, including the opening of the Taiwan Representative Office in Somaliland on Aug. 17.
The mission comprises experts on healthcare, information and communications technology, and agriculture.
Its four members arrived in Somaliland after having gathered considerable hands-on experience in international projects, and would work with local partners to improve local agricultural production, e-government services, and healthcare for pregnant women and newborns, Shiue said.
A demonstration farm would be the centerpiece of the agricultural support program, Shiue said, adding that the mission aims to introduce food crops suitable for production in the local drought-prone semi-arid climate.
The farm would also conduct training and workshops on field management techniques, he added.
Despite the members’ extensive experience abroad, the team still needs to get used to the new environment, and work to overcome cultural and technological barriers, Shiue said.
While fast, wireless Internet is available in urban centers, connectivity in rural areas is weak, he said.
Outside of their work, there is not much to do, Shiue added.
“Foreigners living in Somaliland have to adapt to a monotonous and simple lifestyle. We need to adjust our mentality,” he added.
Yet there are bright sides to living in Somaliland, a place that Shiue describes as full of surprises.
“There are many tank trucks carrying water to Hargeisa, while donkey carts with containers of water are a common sight in small alleys in the city,” Shiue said.
Most households in Hargeisa, a city of more than 1.2 million residents, are not connected to water lines, as infrastructure development has fallen behind population growth, he said.
Water costs are up to 30 times higher than in Taiwan, Shiue added.
Shiue, an agricultural expert, said that he is grateful to work abroad and see how his work can change people’s lives for the better.
Before heading the mission, Shiue held posts with Taiwan’s International Cooperation and Development Fund in Palau, Eswatini, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the Solomon Islands.
Shiue said that challenges lie ahead for the new mission due to the region’s political instability and lack of economic development in certain areas, making comprehensive planning an utmost necessity.
“Luckily, through extensive discussions and on-site surveys with the Somaliland side, challenges have slowly turned into driving forces for the three project areas,” he said.