Removing Barriers to Learning in Somalia

Mercy-USA for Aid and Development with the support of Educate a Child (EAC) and the government of Somalia began a comprehensive education project in Somalia last year to support thousands of students in some of the poorest parts of Somalia. We are facilitating teacher training to help build capacity among local teachers. Materials and curriculum are being distributed and implemented. We’re offering specialized curriculum to students who are academically behind their peers due to a myriad of factors, allowing them to return to their appropriate grade level faster, without stigma.

We are also rehabilitating and expanding school buildings including adding new classrooms, providing new furniture, building latrines and hand washing stations to promote disease prevention. The private lavatories will provide girls with the needed privacy at school that they deserve as they grow up. 

Since 1993, our field staff has been providing healthcare and other humanitarian services to their neighbors in these hard-to-access rural parts of Somalia. This makes us successful in building capacity within the community for positive development with particular attention to girls’ education. One of our primary goals is to increase enrollment among girls in each community and inspire them to strive for higher education.

Closing the Gender Gap in Schools

According to UNICEF, Somalia has one of the lowest school enrollment rates for primary-aged children in the world. Only 30% of Somali children are in school and of that 30%, less than half of them are girls.

Faced with extremely limited resources and within a traditional social structure where a boy grows up to be a man who will support a wife, children and his parents in their old age, families often prioritize their sons’ education. Additionally, scarcity of female teachers, inadequate space for learning and lack of private bathroom facilities for menstruating young women contribute greatly to the school gender gap between boys and girls in Somalia.

One of the primary goals of our education projects in Somalia is to increase enrollment among girls in each community and inspire them to strive for higher education.

We are supporting schools with infrastructure improvements such as building new classrooms, bathroom facilities and clean water wells, as well as providing teacher training and specialized curriculum.  Girls who are of menstruating age receive a feminine hygiene package that includes undergarments and supplies to keep her comfortable and able to attend school every day of the month. We have formed local community committees that focus on identifying out-of-school children and finding ways for their families to overcome whatever obstacles they face in not sending their children to school.

Hawo’s Story

Hawo, a nine-year-old girl in south-central Somalia, is one such child. She is the only girl with seven brothers. A Mercy-USA supported Community Education Committee (CEC) team in her region found her working at home during school hours. She told the committee that while she longed to attend school with her brothers, her parents thought the school wasn’t safe for her. The CEC members spoke with her mother and helped her understand that the improvements we have made to the school facility itself left no excuses to exclude Hawo from school. They explained how Hawo would be given specialized curriculum that would help her catch up with her grade level peers within a short time, eliminating the stigma of her being too old to enter first grade at 9 years old. The CEC team assured her that there are private bathroom facilities for girls and that Hawo would sit at a desk with other girls comfortably on par with the boys in the classroom. Her mother was convinced and Hawo began school for the first day of classes in August, 2019. Her joyful proclamation was the answer to every obstacle that was overcome with this project, “When l finish school, I want to become a doctor and I will help my parents and my community.” 

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Too Young to Be Working: Nasro’s Story

Mercy-USA’s Somalia Educate a Child program found 10-year-old Nasro tending a shop on the streets of Mogadishu on a day when other children like her were attending school. She told our Community Education Committee that she had left school after second grade because her mother lacked the school fees for her. “I am out of school because my mother can’t afford the fees, books and other things for all four of us. I am working to help my siblings go to school .” Nasro’s mother is a widow who supports her children by taking in washing. Since fees for school institutions range from $30 to $70 a month, educating all her kids was impossible.

Mercy-USA CEC members intervened for Nasro and because she is an orphan, her fees are waived. Our project provides her books, supplies and makes it possible for her to attend a school with improved facilities. Nasro’s favorite subject is science and she is catching up quickly in the subject with the loving support of her teacher, Fahmo Hassan. The little girl still worries about her mother struggling to care for the family while the children are in school, but she knows–even at the tender age of ten–her capacity to help her mother in the long run will depend on her ability to gain knowledge and skills through education.

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Accelerated Learning Program Helps Students Who Had Been Forced by Circumstances to Curtail Their Education

In Somalia, herding livestock is one of the major sources of livelihood and requires families to move from one area to another in search of pasture. 14-year-old Abdirashid, (right) had previously attended school in Kahda district about five miles outside of Mogadishu; however, his attendance was not consistent as he had to take care of his family’s livestock. He missed a great deal of school and he was eventually forced to drop out.

For many students like Abdirashid, access to school became even more difficult during the recent years of drought as families were forced to move further into rural areas where there are no schools. On several occasions Abdirashid tried to persuade his parents to allow him to remain behind to continue with his studies. “My parents needed my help in caring for our livestock and I could not convince them to allow me to continue my education,” he said.

Six years of devastating droughts later, Abdirashid’s family realized that the keeping of livestock will remain a continual struggle so they sent him back to Kahda district to stay with his aunt and resume his education.

While very happy to return to school, he felt upset about resuming learning at the 3rd grade level at the age of 14. Fortunately, his aunt learned about the free Accelerated Learning Program offered at Ainushamsi primary school.  Under this program, children are given intensive courses for a year to recover lost schooling time.

Mercy-USA is currently running five Accelerated Learning programs in south central Somalia. Abdirashid is very happy to be studying alongside other kids his age without stigma or embarrassment. He told us, “my lost hope is rekindled with this program.”