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Temporary schools bring a sense of normalcy to young Somalis displaced by conflict

UNICEF Image: Somalia, Temporary schools
© UNICEF Somalia/2008/Warfa
Displaced children in a tented classroom in Afgoye, Somalia.

By Misbah M. Sheikh

ALONG THE AFGOYE ROAD, Somalia, 7 March 2008 – Saadia, 18, last saw her husband more than a month ago, before fighting in Mogadishu forced her to flee with her newborn baby to safety some 15 km outside the capital.

“I fled with my neighbours when mortars started falling in our street,” she said. “I don’t know where my husband is because he was on the other side of town at the time, but at least he knows I am safe; that our son is safe and that I am attending primary school.”

It may seem odd for an 18-year-old to be attending school in a tent along with dozens of smaller children, but much about this situation – hundreds of thousands of displaced people living together in overcrowded huts – is indeed odd, and sad.

Somalia has been in turmoil since 1991 with the fall of the regime of Said Barre. Late last year, the situation took a turn for the worse. Fighting intensified between government and opposition forces in Mogadishu, leading to the displacement of an estimated 600,000 people. Many found their way to safety along the Afgoye Road. Saadia was among them.

UNICEF Image: Somalia, Temporary schools
© UNICEF Somalia/2008/Warfa
Children outside a tent school in Afgoye.

A promise fulfilled

UNICEF Education Officer Maulid Warfa visited Afgoye Road last November, when thousands were fleeing the capital every day.

“Right under this tree, we promised these families that we would find a way to install schools for their children,” he recalled on a recent visit back to the camp.

By January of this year, UNICEF and its partners had erected 28 tented classrooms, which now school more than 7,000 displaced children along the Afgoye Road. “I just wish we had more tents so we could accommodate all these children sitting outside,” added Mr. Warfa.

For her part, Saadia is appreciative of the small breath of normalcy. “I didn’t have anything to do but take care of my daughter and worry all day,” she said. “Now, at least I can concentrate on learning, reading and writing.”

UNICEF Image: Somalia, Temporary schools
© UNICEF Somalia/2008/Warfa
Saadia, 18, attends class with her daughter in a temporary school.

Education contributes to saving lives

UNICEF launched an appeal last year for close to $50 million to provide life-saving assistance for almost 1 million people affected by violence, drought and disrupted livelihoods in Somalia.

“Education, while not seen as life-saving, does contribute to saving lives,” noted UNICEF Representative in Somalia Christian Balslev-Olesen, “because it provides a safe and healthy environment for children to learn, to occupy their minds, while we occupy ours with ensuring that they have clean water, adequate sanitation and enough to eat.”

The 28 temporary schools are not an ideal long-term solution; for that, UNICEF continues to work with donors and partners to address the root causes of Somalia’s chronic discord. In the meantime, however, these tent schools are ensuring a fundamental right for children in an environment where far too few rights are upheld.




February 2008:
UNICEF’s Misbah Sheikh reports on emergency education along the Afgoye Road in Somalia.
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7 March 2008:
UNICEF Representative in Somalia Christian Balslev-Olesen speaks about the challenges of educating and protecting women and girls in the war-torn country.  
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