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Life skills-based education builds young Somalis' self-confidence

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Njoki
Youth mentor Muna Ali shares knowledge while facilitating a 'study circle' session with peers in Hargeisa, Somalia.

By Denise Shepherd-Johnson and Maureen Njoki

NAIROBI, Kenya, 12 July 2010 – Muna Ali Hirsi, 24, is a vibrant and motivated life-skills mentor who works with young people aged 12 to 21 in north-west Somalia (Somaliland).

To see and hear her lead a lively discussion with 20 youths on the challenges they face in their community – against a backdrop of conflict and instability – it is hard to believe that Ms. Hirsi used to be timid and retiring.

“I was very shy,” she recalls with a smile. “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.”

Invaluable information

Ms. Hirsi’s life changed in March, when she took part in a two-week training session in life skills-based education in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

© UNICEF Somalia/2009/ Morooka
Ibrahim Jama, 18, is one of the youth participants benefiting from the 'study circle' sessions through which Somali youth mentors are sharing knowledge and skills with their peers.

Life skills-based education aims to develop young people’s skills in self-awareness, problem-solving, interpersonal relations, leadership, decision-making, effective communication and coping with difficult situations. It also provides them with civic education and invaluable information on such issues as HIV and AIDS, drug and substance abuse and female genital mutilation.

Some 180 young adults participated in the training with a view to sharing their knowledge with other young people in their communities. Participants came from five youth groups in Somaliland and Puntland (north-east Somalia). Thirty were selected as youth mentors, and Ms. Hirsi was among them.

The training helped her gain self-confidence and the skills to assist others. “I can even speak on national TV,” she says. “I can raise awareness and speak about my opinions.”

Exploring options

As a life skills-based education mentor, Ms. Hirsi leads ‘study circle’ speak-out sessions on topics selected by young people themselves. In a youth centre at the State House settlement for displaced people, members of Ms. Hirsi’s study circle want to talk about migration.

State House is home to over 3,200 families; 80 per cent of its population is between 11 and 24 years of age, and only 10 per cent of them can afford to attend school. The young people explain that many adolescents drop out of school because they cannot afford to continue with their education, and some see migration as their only hope of a better life.

Ms. Hirsi then guides the group to examine the many risks entailed in illegal migration and the other options and opportunities open to young people.

Youth participation

The life skills-based education programme gives young people a chance to learn from one another and equips them to improve their lives, build their self-esteem and make well considered decisions. 

Inspired by her training as a mentor, Ms. Hirsi notes: “I want to teach other young people, especially girls, to be confident … to participate in family and country decisions. The community has socialized girls not to demand for their rights to education [and] participation. Through the study circle speak-out sessions, I have learned it’s OK to speak for myself, and I want to help other girls to be able to do so.”

With generous funding from the Government of Japan, UNICEF started rolling-out this activity in 2009 in northern Somalia with the aim of reaching out to 10,000 young people – reducing their vulnerability to all forms of violence, abuse and exploitation by providing them with the necessary knowledge and life skills. 

Denise Shepherd-Johnson contributed this story from the UNICEF Somalia Support Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. Maureen Njoki provided reporting from Somalia.



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