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Sihaam’s story – overcoming loss through education

UNICEF Somalia/Arete-Ismail Taxta
© UNICEF Somalia/2018/Arete-Ismail Taxta
Sihaam Said Dahir, 9, is a student at a UNICEF-supported school for children from the IDP (internally displaced persons) camps in Afgooye corridor, Lower Shabelle Region.

Mogadishu, Somalia, 6 November 2018 – When you first meet her, nine-year-old Sihaam Said Dahir comes across as quiet and shy. But in the classroom, the transformation is astonishing. Sitting comfortably among her fellow classmates, she is happy, content and eager to participate, whether it is raising her hand to answer a question or joining the school club to help bring hygiene messages to families in her community.

Just a year ago, Sihaam was nothing like the energetic student she is today. One of five children in her family, she lost her father to clan fighting in her hometown of Kurtinwarey, Lower Shabelle Region, southern Somalia. Sihaam’s mother, unable to support the family following her husband’s death, decided to move with the children to the Mogadishu area, where she hoped they might find a refuge in one of the many camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The family came to Afgoye, a 20-kilometre stretch of road with a huge concentration of IDP settlements outside of Mogadishu in Lower Shabelle Region. There they put up a makeshift house and settled in.

At the time, Sihaam was still grief-stricken by the loss of her father. She spent all day helping her mother with household chores, but she couldn’t help but notice that many children in her neighbourhood were going to school.

“One morning, I asked Mum if she could allow me go to school like other children,” recalls Sihaam. “Because I also wanted to learn. Mum smiled back to me and gave me the permission to enroll.” Sihaam was thrilled, because up until then, she had never been to school.

“Suddenly, I felt the sadness hovering over me since my father’s death was being lifted off,” adds Sihaam.

UNICEF Somalia/Arete-Ismail Taxta
© UNICEF Somalia/2018/Arete-Ismail Taxta
Sihaam and her classmates eating lunch provided for free by the school.

The school Sihaam attends is supported by UNICEF, in partnership with a local NGO, Somali Community Concern (SCC). With generous funding from the Government of Japan, UNICEF is supporting 50 schools like this for children from IDP camps along the Afgooye corridor. All these schools are equipped with safe drinking water, sanitation facilities, and provided with teaching, learning and recreational materials. Thanks to such efforts, some 10,000 vulnerable children like Sihaam now have a chance to pursue an education, many for the first time in their lives.

“We have a nice school lunch,” says Sihaam. “We have rice and spaghetti on alternate days.” For children who often don’t have enough to eat at home, the free school meal makes a big difference in their physical and cognitive wellbeing. It also attracts new students and keep the old ones in the classrooms and learning.

Besides keeping herself busy with all the course work, Sihaam joined the Child-to-Child club. One of her tasks is to bring important hygiene messages she learned at school back to her camp so that parents and children there also know how to protect themselves against common diseases such as diarrhoea.

In 2017, supported by donors, UNICEF provided education opportunities for 118,000 children and adolescents—46 per cent of them girls—affected by conflict and drought across Somalia. By September 2018, another 78,000 children had also been reached. And UNICEF is working hard towards increasing that number to 120,000 by the end of the year so that they, too, can have a chance to realize their dreams one day. As for Sihaam, her dream is to finish school and become a teacher.

 

 
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