By Michael Onyiego
Somali children who once would have bypassed schooling to herd their families’ animals are now busy studying, thanks to a programme focused on rural and pastoralist communities.
SOMALILAND, Somalia, 25 November 2013 – Somali children who once would have bypassed schooling to herd animals are now receiving a basic education, thanks in part to a UNICEF programme focused on rural and pastoralist communities.
Since the programme began in March 2012, more than 3,000 children have been educated, according to Save the Children, which is implementing the UNICEF project.
“I wouldn’t have had a good future”
Nearly 45 per cent of those children are girls – like 13-year-old Ayen Noor Mohamed, who attends Xareed Primary School in Somaliland.
Ayen comes from an agro-pastoralist community in the Xareed area, a dry and sparsely populated region about an hour outside of Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa. She and her classmates study English, Somali, maths, social studies and science.
“Without school, I wouldn’t have had a good future. I would have just herded animals,” she says.
Maths is Ayen’s favorite subject, and she’s already found use for her new knowledge outside the classroom. “My family has a small shop, and I help with the calculations when I’m there,” she says.
Ayen is working hard. She says she wants to go to university one day, and study management so she can help her community manage its resources. Until then, she has time to help around the house and the shop. Class begins at 7:30 and ends at 12:30, including a 30-minute recess.
“[After school], I will do my house chores and help my mother, then I’ll move around herding our cattle,” Ayen says.
Education to “help you and strengthen you”
Ayen’s father, Nor Mohammed Yusuf, donated land for the school, he says, “so that my children and other children can get an education”.
Some mornings he walks Ayen and three of her siblings to school from their home, more than 40 minutes away. Many students walk 4–5 km to school each day.
“Education is something that can help you and strengthen you in every level of life,” he explains.
Ayen is fortunate to receive such strong support from her family. Many families here believe an adolescent girl is too old to go to school any longer, according to Xareed Primary School Head Teacher Ahmad Hassan Adan.
But, that attitude is slowly changing. Since Xareed Primary opened, Mr. Adan has seen a major shift in the community’s attitude towards female education, and about half of the school’s students are now girls.
“I try to contact each parent and try to make them understand the importance of education,” he says.
“I would have been illiterate”
Xareed Primary was built in 2010 by the Somaliland Ministry of Education, together with UNICEF and Save the Children, with the support of the European Union.
The Basic Education for Pastoralist Children programme has employed 57 teachers, trained by Save the Children. The programme has also built 26 classrooms and renovated 10.
Of course, girls aren’t the only ones benefitting from the new classrooms. Abdirashid Hussein Muhumad, 16, says he plans on going to university and studying to become an accountant.
Many students like Abdirashid are older than would be typical for their grades because they haven’t previously had a chance to study. He does not like to think about what might have happened to his life if the school hadn’t arrived.
“I would have been illiterate, and illiteracy is like darkness,” he says.