INTERVIEW/Veteran Taiwanese technician embracing challenges of Somaliland

01/04/2021 07:05 PM
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Mars Shiue (in white polo shirt) visits a local farm in Somaliland / Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland.
Mars Shiue (in white polo shirt) visits a local farm in Somaliland / Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland.

Taipei, Jan. 4 (CNA) As most Taiwanese were celebrating the arrival of 2021 at home, a small group of Taiwanese experts were 8,000 kilometers away, gearing up to carry out technical assistance projects to help a new foreign partner.

Fitting of their new environment, members of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland planned nothing more than a simple dinner gathering to welcome in the New Year, said Mars Shiue (薛烜坪), chief of the technical mission, in a written reply to CNA questions recently.

"The spirit of New Year's Day celebrations is hardly felt here as Somaliland follows the Islamic Calendar," Shiue said, noting that for them, Jan. 1 was a work day like any other.

The technical mission formally opened its headquarters in Hargeisa on Dec. 1, a few months after a Technical Cooperation Framework Agreement was signed between Taiwan and Somaliland -- a self-declared state in East Africa considered by most countries to be part of Somalia.

The framework agreement was an extension of closer ties between the two sides that also included the establishment of reciprocal representative offices in the third quarter of 2020.

The mission is composed of four experts who specialize in health care, information and communications technology, and agriculture and have considerable hands-on experience in providing assistance overseas, according to Shiue.

Among the projects to be carried out by the mission in early 2021 are improving the quantity and quality of local fruit and vegetable production, enhancing e-government services, and strengthening health care for pregnant women and newborn babies, he said.

A demonstration farm will be the centerpiece of the agricultural support program. New vegetables and fruits will be tested and those found suitable cultivated on a wider scale, and training and workshops will be provided to improve field management techniques.

Details of what the other projects will entail and how they will be carried out are still being discussed, but preparatory work, such as identifying participating agencies, consolidating resources, and conducting the necessary surveys, has been completed, Shiue said.

Mars Shiue (second right) poses for a photo with Taiwan
Mars Shiue (second right) poses for a photo with Taiwan's top envoy to Somaliland Allen Lou (second left) and other members of the technical mission / Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland.

Working overseas

Members of the team may have experience providing technical support overseas, but each new posting still requires the need to get acclimated to new surroundings, including overcoming cultural differences and other technological barriers.

One of them is that internet signals are not that stable in Somaliland, especially in rural areas, but internet speed is relatively strong in urban centers, and that comes in handy when the Taiwanese experts, including Shiue, make video calls home.

Outside of their work, there is not much to do, especially with their families back in Taiwan. "Expats have to adapt to a monotonous and simple lifestyle. We need to adjust our mentality," he added.

Yet there is a lighter side to living in Somaliland, a place that Shiue said is full of surprises, especially on the streets.

"There are so many tankers carrying water that go back and forth on major roads in Hargeisa, while donkey carts transporting containers of water are a common sight in smaller alleys," Shiue said.

Donkey carts transporting water in Hargeisa / Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland.
Donkey carts transporting water in Hargeisa / Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland.
A camel walking along the road in the outskirts of Hargeisa / / Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland.
A camel walking along the road in the outskirts of Hargeisa / / Photo courtesy of the Taiwan Technical Mission in Somaliland.

This is because about 700,000 households in the city do not have tap water due to the rapidly growing population and the lack of infrastructure, resulting in a cost of water that can be 30 times higher than in Taiwan.

Drivers also have to watch out for animals such as sheep, camels, cows and even tortoises on Hargeisa's streets.

But for Shiue, an agricultural expert, the attraction of being overseas has been the work itself and the sense of achievement gained when seeing the people in rural communities he helped gradually change their lives.

Prior to Somaliland, he has been assigned to Palau, Swaziland (now eswatini), Saint Kitts and Nevis, and the Solomon Islands, according to Taiwan's International Cooperation and Development Fund (TaiwanICDF), which oversees Taiwan's technical missions abroad.

Shiue acknowledged that challenges lie ahead for his new mission in Somaliland due to the region's political instability and slow pace of economic development, but said they can be overcome through comprehensive planning and preparation.

"Luckily, through extensive discussions and onsite surveys with the Somaliland side, challenges have slowly turned to driving forces for the three projects," he said.

"I believed the projects will proceed smoothly after their directions and details on implementing them are ironed out."

(By Emerson Lim)

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