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School is a safe haven for children displaced by famine and conflict in Somalia

By Eva Gilliam

MOGADISHU, Somalia, 30 August 2011 – Nearly 100 Somali schoolchildren flip through paperback books with as much excitement as if they were the latest comics fresh off the presses. The pages, however, are covered with maths, science formulas and handwriting exercises.

VIDEO: 24 August 2011 - UNICEF correspondent Eva Gilliam reports on UNICEF education programmes for children affected by drought and conflict in Somalia.  Watch in RealPlayer


“We have 200 children in this school,” says Mohamed Mohamud Osman, a teacher at the Wabari School, which is located in a camp for displaced persons in Mogadishu, the Somali capital. “A hundred of them come in the morning shift and the rest come in the afternoon shift. There are many more school-age children in this camp, but we can only take 200.”

Mr. Osman’s students have been living in this camp for nearly a year now, having fled from fighting in their villages or other parts of Mogadishu. He cannot even think of the many who have arrived more recently with families escaping drought and famine in the south of Somalia.

© UNICEF video
Somali displaced children attend class in one of 155 schools that have been operating in Mogadishu since September 2010, serving nearly 40,000 children whose families have fled from the south.

“Each new family arrives with at least three school-aged children,” explains Deka Maalin Hassan Mohamud, who works with International Aid Services, a UNICEF partner. “Already we are taking shifts in the classroom, and the children are also sharing pens and exercise books.”

‘A safe place for children’

But the massive influx of children all at once in recent months means tens of thousands may miss out on the new school year starting in September if immediate action is not taken.

“Education is a critical component of any emergency response,” says UNICEF Representative in Somalia Rozanne Chorlton. “Schools provide a safe place for children to come to learn, as well as access to safe water, sanitation and other vital services.”

Without a functioning Ministry of Education in most of the south, schools are dependent on the commitment of Community Education Committees – made up of local elders, parents and teachers – to keep schools operational.

Critical for stability

“In many of the regions, we’re afraid that up to half of the teachers will not return once the schools reopen because, of course, they themselves have had to migrate with their families,” says UNICEF Somalia Emergency Education officer Lisa Doherty. “We will have to recruit and train teachers, probably very quickly, to fill the gaps.”

© UNICEF video
Children in class at a school for the displaced in Mogadishu, Somalia. Initially set up for children fleesing conflict, they are now schooling those who have come to the capital to escape famine in the south.

Almost 2.3 million children, or 40 per cent of the population in south and central Somalia, are between 5 and 17 years of age. Providing them with learning opportunities in a safe environment is critical for the country’s long-term stability and growth.

“Somalia had one of the lowest enrolment rates in the world, with less than 30 per cent of children attending primary school before the crisis,” notes Ms. Doherty. “We’re anticipating even worse figures as schools try to re-open in September. But if we activate our emergency response, we can make a huge difference.”

Access to learning

As part of that response, the inter-agency education cluster in Somalia, co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children, assessed conditions at 589 community schools, displacement camp schools and private schools. The findings indicate that school feeding programmes, learning materials, teacher incentives and additional learning spaces are needed to ensure that children have access to educational opportunities – many of them for the first time.

“After decades of neglect and lack of funding, educational opportunities for children in Somalia are already dire,” says Ms. Chorlton, “so it is imperative that we do everything we can to make sure the situation does not get worse.”

© UNICEF video
UNICEF and its partners are ensuring that education is not disrupted for displaced children like these girls in Mogadishu, Somalia, whose families have flooded into the capital in search of safety, food and water.

Education-cluster partners are scaling up emergency education activities to meet the needs identified in the assessment. More than $20 million is required to do so, yet funding gaps in the education sector have reached their highest levels in the last four years.

Incentives for children and teachers

Support is urgently needed to establish temporary learning spaces in displacement camp sites and host communities – and to provide water and sanitation facilities, school kits with essential education and recreation supplies for 435,000 children, and incentives for 5,750 teachers.

Plans are also under way to provide food rations through schools, which will benefit students and their families, and provide an incentive for children to stay in school or enrol for the first time.

“I’m studying at Wabari School situated in Siligga camp,” says Dahabo Mohamed Abdi, a young student at the Wabari School. “I study Islamic studies, mathematics and science. I would like to have whatever help we could get.”



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