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Baidoa school brings cheer to girls

© UNICEF/2007/CKMinihane
Students at the Doctor Abdalla Derow School for Girls in Baidoa.

By Christine Kapka

May 2008, Baidoa, Central/Southern Somalia – Emanating from a modest but completely refurbished building in the small town of Baidoa, one can hear the sound of a thousand voices resonating in song and echoing throughout the town every day. Yet only a few years ago, the only sounds of life from this plot of land were the resident chickens living amongst the ruins of the deteriorated and abandoned Doctor Abdalla Derow School for Girls. Today, songs from the students in the newly built institution bring life back to a once dreary and depressed part of town and to its citizens. Here, the teachers say, the girls sing from the sheer joy of once again being in school, reading books, and having a safe and clean place to learn.

“The rebuilding of the girl’s school by UNICEF was such a blessing to everyone in the community, and even to those who live far from here and travel to school every day from outside the district,” said Hawa Abdulahi, the school’s headmistress. “Before the refurbishment the whole neighborhood was sad. Everyone was miserable. The children had nowhere to go and were mostly in the street or were working all the time. It has, very simply, changed our neighborhood dramatically. People seem happier; but most importantly the children are clean and productive and they are learning and happy.”

Destroyed after the fall of the government in 1991, the school was rebuilt to the delight of the town by UNICEF in 2005. The only girl’s school available free of charge, the Doctor Abdalla Derow School for Girls offers education to the extremely poor and vulnerable segment of the population. This means that girls normally unable to even think of ever attending any type of schooling due to lack of funds finally have a chance to fulfill a long awaited dream. At the prospect of fulfilling this dream, young girls rushed with alacrity to apply for a coveted spot in the only free schooling program in town.

“After the school was rebuilt the radio announced that they were taking students without charge,” said 13 year old Fortuna, a student at the girl’s school. “My mother took me to sign up but there were so many people, I wasn’t sure I would be accepted. But I am here. I really like looking at the maps and learning where the different towns in my country are located and where other countries are. I’m finally meeting children my own age and making friends. I enjoy learning and like to tell my mother what I’ve learned when I come home from work.”
Like many children, Fortuna must work to help support her family. Now, however, she splits a shift with her sister, working only in the afternoons selling tea in the local market and attending school in the mornings.

While UNICEF provides all materials, books, pencils and furnishings at the school, all teachers work at the school on a volunteer basis.

“Even though we are not paid, we get a lot of experience and learn so much from the children. We all love to teach and take pleasure in watching such joy in learning.” said Sara, one of the teachers.

The girl’s school offers standard education and additional teachings in hygiene and nutrition. These both have made a dramatic difference to the health and well being of the town. In particular, worm infestations have been dramatically reduced in the area as well as colds and flu. Nutritionally, the girls are learning not only how to cook but what to cook, providing the students and their families the knowledge of a more balanced and healthier diet. Thus, the more than one thousand students who attend the girl’s school, which includes 387 orphans, are living healthier, happier lives.

“These days we are trying to mobilize the community into generating funds to provide a medical dispensary for the orphans who attend the school and have no medical care,” said the head mistress. “This is like their home but we don’t have the facilities to treat medical problems and we don’t have the money to send them to the local hospital where someone would have to stay with them constantly to care for them and feed them due to lack of hospital staff and food.”

There are many orphans in Baidoa, almost all of who lack any type of medical care and most lacking any type of formal schooling. But the fact that they want to go to school is something most children probably wouldn’t understand in developing countries.

“Almost every child in this country is actually begging to go to school,” said Hersi Mohammed, UNICEF Education Officer. “Unfortunately, it’s just not possible. There aren’t enough resources right now to build, maintain, furnish and supply the necessary amount of schools at this time. That’s why this refurbished school means so much to the whole community. Now these children, who would probably never have had any type of education, can go to school and learn in a safe, clean environment. My wish is to see enough educational facilities developed here to accommodate all the thousands of children that are pleading for an education. I wish for them the chance to have their dreams come true.”




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