Dr. Rupert Neudeck had revolutionized the humanitarian assistance by recruiting professionals of high caliber, who were effective and well accepted , well prepared, able to solve problems well and fast, and who were able to make high quality decisions and take effective actions for their implementations, writes Abdulkarim Ahmed Guleid.
The poor people have lost the great humanitarian champion who used to hear their cries, no matter whom they were or where they were. Dr. Rupert Neudeck was a courageous person who radicalized Humanitarian Assistance. He was the greatest of all times in this sector. His inspiration, determination and strong will-power to help the helpless were unique.
I came to know him in April 1980. At that time, I was in Munich working for Siemens AG. I got his telephone from a Medical Doctor, Dr Seraphim, who worked with him in his historic attempt to save Vietnamese refugees, who were travelling by boat and were refused to land in both France and Italy. He hired a ship to rescue the Vietnamese, which he called “A ship for the Vietnamese”.
Later on, he organized a team of doctors and nurses to treat and help the Vietnamese, who were in a critical situation. That team and the ship were called “Committee Cap Anamur”. He convinced both the German public and the German government to accept the Vietnamese refugees into Germany and he succeeded in his efforts.
I called him from Munich on Sunday, April 10, 1980 at 8:00am, because I was told that is the appropriate time to talk to him, since he regularly gets up at 4:00am and finishes all his assignments for the day by 7.30am. I explained to him briefly who I am, where I am from, and what I need from him. He had a general picture of what I needed and he asked for detailed information. I wanted him to help the Ethiopian Somali refugees in Northern Somalia, which is now “the Republic of Somaliland”.
The information I had was that over 45 people were dying monthly, mainly children and elderly people in a refugee camp, which was called “Dam Camp” located 18km east of Hargeisa. After four hours of discussion through the phone with him, he asked me to bring either supporting documents or an official person from Somalia, who could ascertain the facts. I had two options: to ask the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) branch office in Germany to give me actual report of the camp or to look for an informed official from Somalia. Very fortunately, I learned that the Minister of Tourism from Somalia was in Berlin for a mission.
I was also told that he is originally himself from the Ethiopian Somali Region. He was from Dhagahbour, where more than half of the 80,000 refugees in the camp came from. I called him and asked him about the refugees in “Dam Camp”. He gave me full information; then I requested him to come to Bonn to talk to a gentleman, who is willing to help the refugees and he accepted my request. I sent to him first class ticket from Berlin to Bonn and booked for him one of the best hotels in Bonn for two nights. I informed Dr. Rupert Neudeck that I got a Minister, who is well informed about the camp situation. I made an appointment with Dr. Rupert Neudeck for Saturday to come to Bonn to meet the Minister and he promptly accepted my request as well. The Minister told us two things are badly needed in the camp. The first is a medical team with medicines and the second is nutritious food for the weak children and elderly people. The Minister’s name was Mohamed Omar Jees, from a well-known family in Dhagahbour.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck was satisfied with the Minister’s information and thanked him for his efforts to come to Bonn to help the refugees, who badly needed help and promised that he would do whatever is possible. I went out to accompany Dr. Rupert Neudeck to his car. We agreed to call each other on Sunday to discuss what to do next. On Sunday morning, Dr. Rupert Neudeck told me that he had already organized a TV team to visit the camp to show the reality on the ground to the German people. He asked me to arrange a Somali speaking person, who also speaks good German to travel with the TV group. I called an Ethiopian Somali studying Medicine in Heidelberg University, who was luckily on vacation and he agreed to travel with the TV team. I immediately passed his full name, address and telephone and he was told to travel to Frankfurt Airport to meet the team that is waiting for him at a particular place in the airport at a particular time.
In the meantime, Dr. Rupert Neudeck went to his Bank and asked for 500,000 deutsche marks loan by pledging his house as guarantee. Since he was a highly respected person and well known in his town, the bank gave him the loan and he immediately ordered tents, food, and medicine and organized professional Doctors and Nurses, who wanted to go out for 4 weeks for their annual leave, to put things in proper order until replacement comes to them. He asked me to take my annual one month leave to help the Medical team and to organize the camp properly, so that the patients get the right treatment.
A cargo aircraft was chartered from France and all items were transported to France including a new Land Rover car that was ordered from the United Kingdom. Before our departure from Germany I asked the Somali government through their Ambassador in Bonn, who was very cooperative, that we want to take over the worst camp if they promised us to do our work without any interference. Within two days, we got a very positive response from Somalia.
On the 10th of May 1980, we (Dr. Rupert Neudeck and myself) traveled by train to France. Upon arrival at the main station in Paris, we took a tram and proceeded to the airport to fly to Djibouti. From Djibouti, we hired three trucks and loaded our items and drove to Hargeisa. On the 12th of May 1980, we arrived in Hargeisa and met with the Governor of the region and with all concerned officials. The Hargeisa Governor told us that he had been informed about our coming and had been instructed to give us full support. He also promised that no one will interfere with our work.
On May 13, 1980, we drove to the camp and arrived there within 18 minutes. We selected our site in the center of the camp and off-loaded all our items in the camp. I called the representatives of the different sectors of the camp and asked them to brief us about the camp and their problems. After listening to their reports, we told them how we plan to start the work with their cooperation. Next morning at 6:00am, the medical team arrived at the camp and asked the patients to line up according to the type of their sicknesses, since highly qualified doctors and nurses were in the team.
The TV team was returning to Germany the day we flew from Paris. To learn about the impact of the film, I and Dr. Rupert Neudeck went to Hargeisa post office to call Mrs. Neudeck in Germany. Earlier, Dr. Rupert Neudeck told me he had no doubt that enough money would be contributed, since he was relying on the generosity of his people when it is for a good cause. He called his wife and asked her about the result. She was so excited and started to cry out of happiness and he thought that maybe something had gone wrong. Then finally she told him that seven million deutsche marks had been deposited into the earmarked account in one single day. Dr. Rupert Neudeck and I echoed the feeling and shouted back in happiness and the officer in charge of the post office was confused and asked us, “What happened?” We apologized and left the post office with our excitement. Dr. Rupert Neudeck told me not to tell the news to the team at that time, since they were in the middle of intensive work and the refugees’ treatment should not be interrupted. The good news would be shared in the evening to energize them.
Next morning we left to Mogadishu. Dr. Rupert Neudeck decided to return to Germany to organize all the needed items for the camp. He bought the ticket to Frankfurt for the same night and I returned the next morning to my work. In the afternoon, we met with Dr. Metternich, the German Ambassador to Somalia, who was a senior diplomat with rich experience. He told us he had heard that we had a professional team in the camp. He also told us that a team of German Parliamentarians are coming and will visit the refugee camp and discuss with the team.
The Ambassador and the Parliamentarians visited us and had an interesting discussion with the team. Since our stay was coming to an end and we were waiting only for the replacement team, the doctors recommended that I should not leave the work; otherwise Dr. Rupert Neudeck should withdraw from the camp, because without Abdulkarim the work cannot be effective and smooth. The Parliamentarians supported the idea and asked the Ambassador to write a letter to his Ministry to ask Siemens AG to extend my leave as long as I am required for the work. The Parliamentarians added, “If Siemens AG does not pay Abdulkarim’s salary, we will ask the Parliament to pay his salary as long as he is needed for the work.” A week later, I received a letter from Siemens AG informing me that I am attached to the “German Emergency Doctors” as long as they need my service and my salary will be paid as usual.
We established three feeding centers in the camp; one for the children, one for the old women, and one for the old men. Within 15 days, we put the camp under control. Sick people from the surroundings and from other camps started to come for treatment and they were assisted as well.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck chartered another plane again from Paris to Djibouti and sent to us all the materials needed to run the camp with success in every aspect.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck was an extraordinary person with exceptional understanding for the refugees and other needy people. He told us that the refugees need love, respect, listening, caring, honesty, fairness, and helpfulness. I strictly followed his instructions, and as a result all refugees in the other camps asked to be taken to the camp run by the Germans.
The refugees in the camp sent out news to their respective areas back home and told their kins about the facilities and services that they get in the camp. They asked them to come and take advantage of the available opportunities as well. As a result, more and more refugees came to our camp. Since the camp was full, UNHCR requested us to take over a new camp to be opened at Adhi Caddeys, 8kms south of Dacar Budhuq on the way to Berbera. I informed Dr. Rupert Neudeck about the request of UNHCR and he told me to accept the request and start to register the new refugees. Within a few weeks, we closed the new camp with 80,000 refugees. I then opened a third camp at Tog Wajaale for the mothers who traveled long distances carrying their children on their backs. They and their children were between life and death. 3,500 mothers and their children were also registered at Tog Wajaale. Immediately, we erected tents and brought medicine and special food with a doctor and a nurse and started to save lives.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck sent by ship all the needs of the refugee camps and the Hargeisa Group Hospital. The ship was loaded with other commodities for Mogadishu and off-loaded all its cargo there. We were, therefore, forced to transport our goods by land to Hargeisa. 72 trucks, of which 60 were with trailers, were provided to us by the Somali government and our NGO was asked to supply the fuel only. We quickly loaded all the trucks and two young German engineers accompanied the goods from Mogadishu to Hargeisa; one of them traveled on the first truck while the other traveled on the last truck. The ship was carrying all the needs of the three camps and the Hargeisa Group Hospital.
All the items that were loaded for the hospital (such as beds, mattresses, blankets, bed sheets, pillows, x-rays, and electrical cables, water tankers and water related materials, generators, washing machines, etc.) were unloaded at the Hospital. The Somali government became suspicious of our commodities and assigned security persons from different institutions to travel with us and report where we take all those quality items.
All the medicines were put in our compound and all food items and tents we put in two warehouses that we hired in the center of Hargiesa. Within 24 hours, we put in place all the items and materials brought for the hospital. The security people were with us everywhere we unloaded items, be it in the Hospital or in the Camps. I thought they were some of the volunteers, who were working with us in cleaning the Hospital, in the off-loading process, or in the distribution of the different materials at different sites.
After one year, the Somali government called me to Mogadishu. I went there and I was told that I am going to be decorated with the highest Medal of Honor from the Somali Government “The Somali Star”. I have asked them “for doing what?” I was told for giving extraordinary services in the three refugee camps and by equipping the Hargeisa Group Hospital. I told the officials that I don’t deserve the medal; the person who should receive the Medal of Honor is Dr. Rupert Neudeck, who did everything for the camps and for the Hargeisa Group Hospital. The only thing that I have done is to make sure that the things that Dr. Rupert Neudeck, who mortgaged his house to obtain 500,000 deutsche marks from the bank for helping the refugees, bought and sent to the camps and to the Hospital reached their destinations safely.
I returned to Hargeisa and 10 days later, I was called from Mogadishu and told to call Dr. Rupert Neudeck to come to be awarded with the Highest Medal of Honor, “the Somali Star”. Dr. Rupert Neudeck became the third person to be awarded with the “Somali Star”. I started to enquire who recommended me for the medal and I was given the hint that the security persons made the report that they had never seen responsible person as honest and as hardworking like myself in the country. Then I told them that they do not know Dr. Rupert Neudeck. He had put the existence of his family at risk by mortgaging his house and by making his office in his HOUSE and his wife as the secretary and operation officer for all activities.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck was my mentor and hero. I traveled with him, spent enough time with him, discussed with him, and came to know very well about his rare personality. He never travelled with first class or business class ticket neither by air nor by train. He never booked for himself luxurious hotels. He used to say “the difference between first class and economy class ticket could save the lives of a few needy people”. I have no words adequate to express what I owe to him and to the Germans in my name and in the name and on behalf of the Ethiopian Somali refugees, who had been saved through his efforts and the generosity of his people.
In comparison to other heads of NGOs that I met and discussed with, Dr. Rupert Neudeck was a model for the humanitarian assistance, for which he created a paradigm shift in the nature and the course of humanitarian assistance. His commitment, motivation to help others, to make things easier for them, to reduce their sufferings, to cut infant mortality and to make sure what had been donated reached fully its intended beneficiaries made him a champion in the performance of humanitarian assistance. He recruited highly qualified doctors, nurses, and technicians as volunteers to serve short periods, maximum 4-8 weeks. This has reduced all overhead costs and saved the organization’s salary costs. This had also created a paradigm shift through his farsightedness, which made him different from his peers in the same profession.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck had revolutionized the humanitarian assistance by recruiting professionals of high caliber, who were effective and well accepted , well prepared, able to solve problems well and fast, and who were able to make high quality decisions and take effective actions for their implementations.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck heard that I was imprisoned by the Derg in Addis Ababa in July – 1990. He then wrote a petition to the late ex. German President, Dr. Richard V. Weizeckaer to intervene for my release. The late President asked the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs to send a senior diplomat to negotiate for my release in Addis Ababa. A highly experienced diplomat was sent to Ethiopia and he presented a request for my release and he succeeded in his efforts. Three days later, I was released and I returned to Germany.
Several years later, he handed over the organization “German Emergency Doctors” to others with the name “Committee Cap Anamur” and established a technical organization which he named “The Green Helmets”. Young skilled German technicians were recruited and sent out to teach young boys and girls in different countries various fields of technology. He established technical schools in different countries to help many young boys and girls to help themselves and their families.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck worked in various capacities in the following countries: Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Mauritania, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. In Afghanistan, he traveled on foot with a group of Afghans carrying essential items on the back of mules and horses. He reached the unreachable and saved their lives. He was a champion. He was another Mohamed Ali, who had never been defeated in any of his extraordinary and risky undertakings. The word impossible was not known to him too.
Dr. Rupert Neudeck left behind a legacy that will never die. Many have tried, others are trying, and many more will try to follow his foot-steps but another Dr. Rupert Neudeck will never be born again.
Ed.’s Note: Abdulkarim Ahmed Guleid headed German Emergency Doctors and served in the House of Peoples’ Representatives for six years. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter.