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Kenya, 26 May 2010: Lifeskills-based education: giving confidence to young women in Somalia

© UNICEF Somalia/ 2010/ Njoki
Muna Ali, Youth Mentor, sharing knowledge and facilitating a study circle session with youth in Hargeisa.

By Denise Shepherd-Johnson
With reporting from Somalia by Maureen Njoki

Nairobi, Kenya, 26 May 2010 - Muna Ali Hirsi (aged 24) is a vibrant and motivated lifeskills youth mentor who works with young people aged 12 to 21 in northwest Somalia (in the self-declared republic of Somaliland). To see and hear her lead a lively discussion with twenty young people on the challenges they face in their community, it is hard to believe that she used to be timid and retiring.

I was very shy, even in school I could not participate.  I would never walk to the market alone and had to cover myself completely....I could not speak...I did not have confidence about myself...” says Muna with a smile.

Her life was changed when she took part in a two-week training event in lifeskills-based education in Hargeisa, Somaliland, in March 2010. Lifeskills-based education aims to develop young people’s skills in self awareness, problem-solving, interpersonal relations, leadership, decision-making, effective communication, coping with difficult situations, negotiation and facilitation. It also provides them with civic education and invaluable information on issues including HIV and AIDS, drug and substance abuse and FGM.

Some 180 young adults aged 19 -24 from five youth groups in Somaliland and Puntland (northeast Somalia) participated in the training with a view to sharing their knowledge with other young people in their communities. Thirty of the participants were selected as youth mentors and Muna was among them.

The training helped Muna to gain self-confidence and the skills to assist others, “I am confident about myself, I can even speak on national TV. I can speak and raise awareness and speak about my opinions” she says. Now she helps to change the lives of others.

As a lifeskills-based education mentor, Muna leads ‘study circle speak-out sessions’ on topics selected by the young people themselves. By giving young people ‘a voice,’ the sessions help to build their self-confidence and empower them to participate in their communities.

© UNICEF Somalia/ 2009/ Morooka
Ibrahim Jama, 18 years old, participates in one of the Study Circle sessions in Hargeisa. In the photo, Ibrahim is sharing the outcomes of his group’s discussions.

Today, Muna is at the SOYVO youth centre at State House settlement for internally displaced people. State House settlement is home to over 3,200 families where 80 percent of its population is aged between 11 and 24. Only 10 percent of them can afford to go to school. The ‘study circle’ wants to talk about ‘illegal migration.’  They explain that many adolescents drop out of school because they cannot afford to continue with their education and that some see migration as their only hope of a better life. Muna then guides the group to examine the many risks entailed in illegal migration and the other options and opportunities open to young people.

Muna is happy that the lifeskills-based education programme gives young people the chance to educate and learn from one another and equips them with the skills and knowledge to improve their lives, build their self esteem and make well- thought-out decisions. 

Inspired by her training Muna says, “Now I know myself better, I want to teach other young people, especially girls, to be confident…to participate in family and country decisions. The community has socialised girls not to demand for their rights: rights to education, right to participation. Through the study circle speak out sessions I have learned it’s ok to speak for myself and want to help other girls to be able to do so”

With generous funding from the Government of Japan, and with additional support from the UK National Committee for UNICEF, UNICEF started rolling-out this activity in 2009 in northern Somalia. The trained youth mentors are reaching out to at least 10,000 young people with the aim of reducing their vulnerability to all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation by providing them with the necessary knowledge and lifeskills.



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