Education - Tents to the rescue of Somali children
By Denise Shepherd-Johnson
Hargeisa, Northwest Somalia ('Somaliland'), November 2006 - 13 October 2006 marked the first anniversary of the opening of a school for internally displaced children of the State House settlement in Hargeisa Northwest Somalia (‘Somaliland’). The settlement has existed for 15 years but it was only in 2005 that the school, State House Primary, was opened to serve the community.
The school is one of five in the area established by UNICEF in partnership with the Norwegian Refugee Council with funding from the European Community. Ten teachers (three of them female) serve the five schools. UNICEF support includes the provision of teacher training and the provision of school tents, text books, education kits, school registers and floor mats.
The pupils, many of whom have lived their whole lives in the camp, are the children of Somali returnees from Djibouti, Yemen and Ethiopia: people who fled the country during years of conflict.
State House Primary School, housed in a large tent, accommodates 60 children aged 6 -14 who sit on large mats on the floor and attend classes in two shifts. Taught in groups of 30 (15 boys and 15 girls), children participate in either the morning session (from 8.00 a.m. - 12.00 p.m) or the afternoon session (from 1.30 p.m. - 4.30 p.m)
At government schools, fees are around US$1.00 per month. Uniforms, exercise books and pens are extra. At State House Primary the education is free but limited to one child per family. With 2000 families in the camp, school places are at a premium.
Asha Hussein is the mother of ten school-age children but only her ten year old son is able to attend. Nevertheless, Asha, who recognizes the benefits of education, awaits the day when the school can expand to take more children and says she’ll happily send her eldest daughter (aged 14) when the opportunity arises.
“I couldn’t afford school fees, uniforms or books but here everything is provided. The children are so excited about going to school…They have promised to take more children when they get more tents…I would like to send my 14 year old to school. If I open a shop [my daughter] cannot help. Education is important even for shop keepers. I never went to school but I’d like my children to go to school”
With only 20% of Somali children attending school (and only 35% of them girls) UNICEF and its partners are promoting basic education, especially for girls and the disadvantaged, as part of a "back to school" campaign. Schools are created as 'convergence points' to improved access to services (water and sanitation, health awareness and promotion) as well as child rights. At State House Primary the provision of clean water and separate sanitation facilities for boys and girls are important to ensure that children stay in school.
Sanitation and hygiene education also reaches far beyond the school compound, helping to influence the community and encourage neighbourhood clean-ups. Consequently, when UNICEF supported the community with 100 latrine slabs community members dug the latrine pits.
Environmental science happens to be the favourite subject of 11 year old Nimo. At State House Primary she also studies mathematics, the Somali language and Arabic. The subjects are part of the UNICEF-supported ‘primary alternative education’ curriculum developed for children who cannot afford to attend formal primary schools. Before State House Primary was established, Nimo was fortunate enough to attend a government school 1km away but her friend Ayan (also aged 11) had only experienced life at home, assisting her mother with daily chores.
Nimo says she wants to be a teacher when she grows up. Some of the male pupils, who formerly made a living as shoe-shiners, now dream of becoming doctors and teachers. It’s apparent that State House Primary School is opening up a world of possibilities for the internally displaced children living in the adjacent settlement.