We’re building a new UNICEF.org.
As we swap out old for new, pages will be in transition. Thanks for your patience – please keep coming back to see the improvements.


UNICEF and Japan support improved education and health for vulnerable Somali children

By Mike Pflanz

BURAO, Somalia, 13 January 2011 – Teacher Faisal Ahmed turns from the blackboard and asks his class of eager teenagers about metres squared and metres cubed. In the third row from the front, Hibaq Abdirahman glances down at the math textbook on the desk before her, then shoots her hand up to explain the difference between area and volume.

VIDEO: UNICEF Somalia Chief of Communication Denise Shepherd-Johnson reports on steps supported by UNICEF and the Government of Japan to improve education and health care for vulnerable Somali children.  Watch in RealPlayer


When Hibaq, 14, was a baby, her family returned here to Somaliland, settling in a camp for displaced people 12 km from the city of Burao. They had spent four years in neighbouring Ethiopia as refugees from war in their homeland.

“When we arrived, there was nothing at this place. There were no schools – the first class was under a tree,” explains Hibaq’s mother, Halima Ahmed. “Now, it is very different.”

Textbooks provided

Abdulqadir Koosaar Primary School, composed of four single-storey buildings arranged around a wide playground, is only a five-minute walk from Hibaq’s home. On land that was empty scrub a decade ago, there are now seven classrooms for 424 boys and girls aged 7 to 15. Classes are taught by 12 teachers whose salaries are paid with support from a UNICEF-funded incentive scheme.

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Pflanz
Hibaq Abdirahman, 14, smiles during a math lesson at Koosaar Primary School near Burao, Somaliland, in north-western Somalia.

In Mr. Ahmed’s math class, 22 boys and girls share a dozen textbooks that facilitate learning. “It allows us to move quickly and to learn more,” the teacher says.

In the school storeroom across the playground, the shelves are lined with math, Arabic, Somali, religious studies and social sciences textbooks. Footballs are gathered in a corner, next to skipping ropes and inflatable globes. Chalk and notebooks are stacked neatly on a table nearby.

Education for the most vulnerable

“You must realize that the people living here are among the most vulnerable. Some cannot afford even a pencil or a notebook for their children at school,” says Ali Abdullahi Ibrahim, headmaster at Koosaar since 2002.

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Pflanz
Boys learn math in a class at Koosaar Primary School near Burao, Somaliland.

Most of the essential supplies at the school are supplied with funding from the Government of Japan. Since 2009, Japan has supported UNICEF’s efforts to improve services for vulnerable and displaced communities in Somalia, including access to basic education.

More than 400,000 school-age children and over 10,000 teachers across Somalia have benefited from materials provided through Japan’s contributions.

‘Generous contributions’

"Schools in Somalia lack even the most basic teaching and learning supplies, such as exercise books, chalk and recreational items that help teachers to provide child-centred education in primary schools," notes UNICEF Somalia Chief of Education Mette Nordstrand.

© UNICEF Somalia/2010/Pflanz
Vaccines are prepared during a UNICEF- and World Health Organization-supported Child Health Days campaign in Be'er village, Somaliland.

"But recently, thanks to generous contributions from donors, UNICEF has been able to provide such essential supplies to about 70 per cent of school children in the country. As a result, the quality of education has improved and more children – girls in particular – were able to go to school because of the reduced cost of education," adds Ms. Nordstrand.

“Now I can see that I can learn more,” says Hibaq. “I want to go to university, and my choice is to be a doctor to help people in my community.”

Essential health services
In a country where basic health care is also scarce, UNICEF provides essential drugs and vaccines to a nationwide network of primary health facilities – along with health outreach initiatives that help the most remote communities in this society of nomadic herders.

An hour’s drive south-east of Hibaq’s school, and then 45 minutes’ walk along dusty paths, lies the village of Be’er, home to some 250 families. One recent afternoon, a dozen staff from the Somaliland Ministry of Health gathered to help a queue of mothers and their babies waiting for a twice-yearly Child Health Days campaign.

Under this UNICEF-World Health Organization initiative, children under five are tested for severe malnutrition, and referrals to local treatment programmes arranged where necessary. In addition:

  • Children are immunized against measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio
  • Oral rehydration salts (ORS), used to prevent diarrhoeal dehydration, and purification tablets to ensure safe water are distributed
  • And mothers are advised on best health practices.

Contributions from the Government of Japan in 2010 helped UNICEF provide refrigeration and equipment for storing and preserving vaccines, as well as the vaccines themselves, ORS and water-purification tablets distributed during Child Health Days.



UNGEI website

The site of the United Nations Girls' Education Initiative
UNGEI banner
New enhanced search