Education - Mine girl's dream takes root
Girl mine victim's dream for education takes root
Nairobi, December 2004 - In 1995 an eight year old girl faced an audience of hundreds of people from all over the world at an international conference in Geneva and spoke passionately about her plight caused by a landmine that had blown of her legs at an early age.
The venue was an international landmines consultative meeting organized by the UN. The girl was from Northwest Somalia (‘Somaliland’) and she movingly told participants how her life had been changed by the incident when she was just four years old.
Undeterred and unfazed by the audience before her, the little girl went on to make her case heard not only for her sake, but for other victims of landmines: she informed her audience that although she had thereafter obtained artificial limbs, her desire for an education had not been met as she was unable to attend school because the one nearest to her home in Hargeisa, ‘Somaliland’, was on top of a rocky hill about one kilometre away. Obviously, her disability made the hike impossible and hers was a plea for hearing.
Her plea did not go unheeded and luckily for her, UNICEF was represented by its then Deputy Director, Dr Richard Jolly at the conference and she got to meet him. Soon, word of her moving predicament got to the UNICEF Executive Director who as a result pledged UNICEF’s assistance to Faduma. In July 1995, Dr. Richard Jolly, directed then head of UNICEF’s Somalia office, the late Pierce Gerety, to ensure Faduma Bihi received her right to education.
Thereafter, UNICEF’s office in Somalia went to work and considered various options that would enable Faduma to attend school. The options included: home tutoring, arranging transport support, moving Faduma’s family closer to a school or building a small community school in Faduma’s name, within a short walking distance from her home. The latter was eventually selected as the most suitable and least disruptive to Faduma’s life, as well that of her guardians.
Since Faduma had already lost both her father and mother, it would also mean that she would not be plucked out of her community. In addition, such a school would also hold out benefits for Faduma’s friends and numerous other disadvantaged and out-of-school children in her neighborhood. Luckily for UNICEF, the local community also bought into the idea and pledged material and financial contributions.
By February 1996, words had turned into action: two classrooms, one early childhood care room, one office room and one watchman’s room had been constructed turning into reality the dream of Faduma going to school. By September 1996, the school had 196 pupils of whom about half were girls with three out of four teachers in the school being female. Today, eight years later, the school has five teachers of whom one is female. Faduma too has grown into a mature 17-year-old now attending a secondary school. Her yearnings not only gave her hope, but also extended opportunities to many other children.
The construction of the school was more than just a UNICEF effort. It also involved the local Ahmed Dagah community, the Hargeisa city mayor’s office and the local Ministry of Education. The community’s contribution was through the donation of 6000 square metres of land and planting of trees in the school compound. The Hargeisa mayor’s office donated $21,328, school furniture and took care of landscaping while UNICEF contributed $32,102 to cover 70 per cent of costs of building materials. The Ministry of Education in turn pledged to cover the recruitment of a school head, three teachers and one watchman and the recurrent budget of the school.
UNICEF currently provides textbooks, teacher's guides and education kits to the school. It also supports the training of teachers on the new curriculum.
Faduma Bihi is now in the first year of Ilais Secondary School about five km northwest of her home in the Somaliland capital Hargeisa. The foundation UNICEF and her community laid for her and other children has not been in vain. It has also been a lesson on the challenges that many children maimed by landmines face and the need to support them and their communities.
Faduma who has four brothers has been under the care of aunt who also has seven other children to care. Having grown in time also means that Faduma has grown in perspective.
Currently and as the world continues to wage war against landmines at the Nairobi Summit on a Mine-Free World, away in Somaliland, the little girl who addressed a conference in Geneva years ago has grown older and is a member of women’s organization called HAN in Somali, literally translated into '' Women with Disability and Children’s Organization.'' Faduma’s dream is to be a politician: '' I want to take up the fight against the manufacture of landmines,'' she says.
For a girl who eight years ago moved UNICEF to build a school for her and her community, her latest dream could still be achieved, and the world needs to take notice of her yearnings and those of others like her.