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Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh: My fear as I leave my children to fly to heart of horror in Ethiopia

today I will travel to the heart of the worst human catastrophes to hit Ethiopia and Somalia in 50 years. And I am scared.

I am leaving my four kids in the capable hands of their dad. "Why can't we all go?" is ringing in my head. My daughter being the eldest is the most upset. Being older she knows more and is worried.

I am worried too, but this is outweighed by a natural curiosity. What will I see? Will I be able to handle it and will it change me? Will the kids be okay? What do I tell tell them when I get back? Typical mother -- the list of 'what ifs'.

Frankly, at this moment I am wondering what ever possessed me to do this? Too late. I am going. I have a tiny bag, a contact number, mosquito spray, suncream, passport and tiny rosary beads.

Blathnaid, just breathe!

Last Thursday, I sat with a team from Plan Ireland and we discussed the forthcoming campaign for September, as they spoke I was brimming with questions.

"Why is it only women and babies I see at feeding centres in famine-stricken Somalia and Ethiopia on the news?"

"Is it really the worst famine in 50 years?"

"Why does this seem so sudden?"

I started working with Plan Ireland two years ago, as I had been tormented by the bizarre tradition in some countries in Africa where young girls are held and have their genitalia cut. I did a documentary on it and it was near impossible to get the subject matter discussed.

The drought in Eastern Africa has resulted in a famine with Somalia, Kenya, Djibouti and Ethiopia in a state of emergency --but yet we only have two regions of Somalia in 'catastrophe' famine.

Who differentiates between emergency and catastrophe is up to those in authority -- all I know is that I keep seeing mothers and their babies fleeing their catastrophe. Where they go, I don't know.

So, last Thursday we decided that I would go to Africa, specifically Ethiopia, to see the feeding centres for myself and meet these mothers who sometimes have to decide which child to feed. How can you choose? Regions of Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya are in a state of emergency. Plan has feeding centres set up already. Their priority is children and pregnant women.

I spent the weekend with my family in Donegal trying to be normal. My eight-year-old asked if he could come. When I explained that it would be hard and sad he said: "Mum, I don't get scared like you. 'Voldemort' doesn't scare me".

I wont deny that I am scared. I have been to Zimbabwe where I saw the cruelty of Aids and played with children who are HIV positive and are left with elderly grandparents to care for them I have visited orphanages in Romania where children were fed but neglected of any care or attention, which in itself is a death sentence.

This will be ten times worse. Thousands of women and children already starving. Time was, I always associated famine with Live Aid and Bob Geldof. As a 16-year old I stayed up all night watching the concert on TV and I was so upset I cried.

Now, again Ethiopia is in the spotlight but I am older and supposedly wiser. My first thought is why Ethiopia again? I look at the map and realise if the situation in Southern Somalia is bad -- and it is truly, historically, awful -- the people have little choice but to try to make their way into neighbouring Ethiopia.

And so this horrific situation spreads -- a situation that today I fly to the heart of, older, wiser, full of a mother's instinct but leaving my children behind -- and scared and unsure of what terrible sights await me.

Plan Ireland is an international Children's Charity operating Child Sponsorship programs, Sponsoring Children in Africa, the Americas and Asia. For more on Plan Ireland and how to help them, go to www.plan.ie


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