“We have lost two generations of children to war. The Somali child cannot wait for another generation.” –Somalia’s Education Minister Maryam Qasim
Mustafa Abdishkr is one of the brightest student’s I have met in 12 years of teaching. I first found him in one of my English classes in Kuala Lumpur. At the time, Mustafa was preparing for university in Malaysia. Originally from Somalia, he had left the country’s instability to seek higher educational opportunities that were lacking in his home country. Five years later, he is preparing to return to Mogadishu with a master’s degree. He contemplates the opportunities that Somalia now offers.
“Education is the growth business for Somalia right now. Government assistance is available to almost anyone who wants to start a school.”
Mustafa is seeking to bring his education back to his home and invest his effort in cultivating the young minds of Somalia. He is the model of what Somalia needs.
Good news is beginning to flow from Somalia. This east African nation has faced decades of political and social instability. When the media spotlight is cast on Somalia, it is usually negative. We get the idea that this region is one of the most dangerous on earth. Which has been true in the past.
The regions civil chaos essentially brought Somalia’s educational system to a halt. Education ended for years. Those students who sought education and knowledge were forced to leave their homeland. Only those fortunate enough to have sponsorship to study abroad were able to achieve higher education. Now, there are more options for young Somalis who seek educational betterment. The tide is shifting, but there is much work to do.
This is Somalia’s situation: a complete lack of an educational system perpetuated the political and social instability of the nation. Education needs to be at the forefront of leadership in order to bring far-reaching progress and stability to Somalia . The signs that education is sprouting in Somalia are there.
When knowledge grows, isolationism retreats. When isolationism retreats, stability can return. A good educational foundation is ready to expand from Mogadishu. Somali universities are sitting exams and graduating students. Add to this, the Go2School program’s high ambition of getting one million primary school students actively enrolled in school. The UNICEF donor-funded program administered by Somalia has fallen under criticism for potential corruption, but this attitude is focused on the instability of the past. Let’s try not to cast the judgmental eye on Somalia yet again. There is enough negativity about this program coming from inside Somalia. Let’s take a chance for change and promote some positive ideas about Somalia! These huge steps are a divergent trend from the past few decades, and they are significant steps in the right direction.
Ahmed, 58 – “Children want to learn and go to school, but parents can’t afford to pay the fees. Parents would be so grateful to receive assistance to send their children to school. If the young Somalis learn something while they are young, then they will be able to take part in the progress of their mother country.”
The answers to the tough questions about education must come from within Somalia. Outside tinkering in the country since the early days of colonialism have left their scars on the country. Even when well intentioned outside help has come, it is often lacking in local insight. For example, Mustafa talks about a situation he witnessed growing up in Somalia.
“The U.N. came in and built a school for us. In the design of the school were basketball courts. The curriculum for physical education included playing basketball. The teacher would take us out to play basketball and try his best to get us to learn and follow the rules of the game. The students would go through the motions of playing until the teacher walked away. Once he was gone the basketball became a football and play and exercise would take off.”
This shows a small detail that leads to a big problem. The citizens received the well-intentioned building of a school gratefully. However, it came with a bitter after taste in the fact that the outside agency had not bothered to learn enough about the local culture to know that a football pitch would be much more appropriate. As Mustafa sums up,
“It was an appreciated gift that showed they cared, but the basketball courts showed they didn’t care enough to learn who we really are.”
Outside assistance is appreciated, but it needs to come from local organization. Somalia needs help, but genuine help that empowers Somalia to manifest its own solutions.
The words of another Somali man who had to seek education and stability outside of Somalia put the situation in precise perspective.
Khalaf Farah, “Our people need a good system, which empowers the people through peace building, protection of human rights, and by providing them with proper knowledge and skills that enable them to solve their internal problems. We need a good system to build the capacities of conflict resolution, consultation meetings and discussions on specific issues and public concerns.”
This is the system that Somalia’s next wave of educators will develop, as long as young men like Mustafa return to offer their assistance.
Lead Photo: Farah Abdi Warsameh/AP photo
Photo: Oxfam East Africa/Flickr