Mike McArthur’s “vacation” to Somalia was filled with shocking sights

Last winter, Mike McArthur went to Somalia as an aid worker, helping the sick and starving in that desperate war-torn country. The 26-year-old second generation pro-lifer, youngest son of Bill and the late Laura McArthur (President of Toronto Right to Life for two decades), says that working in a Third World country was an invaluable learning experience. Although it was dangerous and frightening, and cost him $10,000 in lost wages, he doesn’t regret a moment.

Mike first encountered sick and starving people three years ago. His employer, CITY-TV in Toronto where he works as a cameraman, sent him on an assignment to Ethiopia to film the plight off people in refugee camps and the United Nations military efforts to fly in food relief.

There he saw shocking sights, such as 250,000 starving and sick people crammed into one refugee camp with only one doctor to care for them. He also saw another sight that impressed him –young people like himself , from all over the world, giving time to help as non-medical aid workers in this hot, arid country.

Back home, after CITY-TV’s five part news serial ran, Mike’s memories of Ethiopia faded. His fast-paced work consumed his time and energy. However, in April 1992, his beloved mother Laura, who had been ill at home, died. He and his Dad, Bill, missed her terribly. Still, he says that her illness and death taught him not only about the suffering of the sick, but also about the pain of grieving families.

That’s probably why, several weeks later, when he saw a CNN documentary on Somalia he suddenly remembered Ethiopia. He decided than that he wanted to do something active to help. Through a contact at work, he linked up with The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Oshawa, Ontario. It is an organization run by the Adventist Church with humanitarian projects worldwide, especially in Third World countries. They wanted Mike to do an aid worker rotation for three months in Somalia.

He left last January 25, and flew to Mogadishu. Here he was driven to Cadale, a village of 3,000 where ADRA runs a large outpatient clinic that also serves surrounding villages. People often walked a distance of four miles to the clinic and would line up at 5 a.m. waiting for it to open at 9 a.m.

Mike worked as a bandage nurse, along with native Somali doctors and nurses and a few professional medical missionaries. He saw conditions and diseases unseen at home, such as whooping cough, tuberculosis, chronic malnutrition, worm infestation, dysentery and war wounds. Quickly, he learned on the job to give needles for tuberculosis, to stitch wounds, to help in the pharmacy and to assist at births. He was especially moved by the suffering of the children, of whom sixty percent die before the age of five.

Still, there were compensations for the long clinic hours. As an aid worker, he was invited to Mogadishu for several strategy meetings with United Nations “top military brass” and in Cadale, to meetings with village elders, attired in tribal dress. “It was a strange, exciting experience to be part of these groups p like something out of a spy movie,” he recalls.

The threat of being killed from sniper or mortar fire was always present – night or day. Aid workers, women and children were favourite targets of random shooting by clans of warlords, who fuel the violence in Somalia. Protected at all times by two armed security guards, he has to sleep in a protected compound t night where darkness fell at 6 p.m.

In the evening he says, “I’d read a lot and often thought about Mom. But during the night, I’d often lie awake in terror as gunfire frequently broke out near my bedroom window.” In fact, towards the end of his rotation, the violence escalated so much that he wrote a goodbye letter to his family in case he didn’t get home. He says, “You have to wonder about human nature when people can be so violent towards each other and be so evil.”

Back home as we chat, tall, good-looking Mike shows me his bandaged arm, fractured in a recent mountain-biking accident. Smiling, he says, “This is nothing. In Somalia I might have had a leg blown off. Now I don’t worry about little things anymore, but try to put everything in perspective.”

He’s still at home with his Dad, Bill, who, after Laura died, became a valuable fulltime volunteer, working on special projects with Campaign Life Coalition. However, Mike may not be home for long. “I’ve got the bug to go overseas again,” he says. “I guess when you grow up in a healthy moral family you learn to care about people’s suffering and about evil. I’d like to go back to a Third World country and try to make a small difference.

That’s probably a lesson he learned at home, from loving, pro-life parents.