Clay Aiken

PRNewsFoto/U.S. Fund for UNICEF

Clay Aiken believes that Somalia's children need a better future.

"There hasn't been much discussion of Somalia since the early 1990s in the U.S.," the UNICEF goodwill ambassador said Wednesday, speaking from the northern outpost of Somaliland in the East African nation.

"The American population kind of got a bad taste of Somalia in the early '90s and hasn't really had much interest in the country since."

Aiken pointed out that, while Somaliland, which declared its independence in 1960 (but hasn't yet been officially recognized as a separate country) is relatively peaceful, those living in poverty-stricken southern Somalia are still suffering the debilitating effects of a civil conflict that began with the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991.

Most recently, a flareup between an Islamist insurgency and the Ethiopian-backed Somali government has killed thousands over the past year.

"It's the most dangerous place for a child to be," Aiken said. "In the lower part of the country, southern part, I feel it's a more desperate situation than any place we've ever been."

"In Somaliland, you really do have a sense of people who really want to help themselves, who want to do better, who want to effect change for themselves, that is very hopeful."

The pop star, who was appointed a UNICEF ambassador in 2004, also traveled to war-torn Afghanistan last year, where he visited various schools, a health clinic, a women's literacy center, a program for reintegrating former child soldiers into society and water and sanitation centers.

In Somalia, UNICEF has, among other things, teamed with local organizations to establish programs for treating malnourished children, set up temporary classrooms for more than 7,000 kids whose lives were affected by the ongoing violence and instigated a cleanup campaign to improve water and sanitation facilities with methods ranging from handing out more bars of soap to extending the country's water pipelines.

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