Students at school in one of the UMCOR- and IBC-supported “Child-Friendly Spaces” in Korsan, a camp for internally displaced persons near Mogadishu, Somalia.
Photo courtesy of IBC
By David Tereshchuk *
May 14, 2013—As Somalia struggles to meet the daunting task of recovering from decades of raging civil strife and no effective government—not to mention the recurring blows of drought and famine—few challenges are greater than that of education.
More than 72 percent of the country’s adults are illiterate, and formal basic primary-school education for children is only sparsely available. In fact, in most rural areas it is nonexistent. Among the small number of children who do enroll in school there is a high dropout rate because parents often cannot afford to pay school fees. It is a struggle for families to afford both learning materials for their youngsters and food for the whole family.
UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has partnered with Turkey-based International Blue Crescent (IBC) and is supporting IBC’s mass mobilization campaigns in Somalia. The campaigns are designed to sustain basic education provisions, especially for the most deprived populations—notably the country’s many uprooted families who are classed as internally displaced persons, or IDPs—and to develop new local efforts that will pave the way for a much fuller education service for all in the future.
The IDP camps of Jamacadaha and Korsan, on the outskirts of the capital city, Mogadishu, form the focal point of this initiative. It involves the provision of what IBC calls “child-friendly spaces.” In these spaces, some 600 children are now benefiting from free primary education. The program employs 40 teachers in four schools, with base salaries assured for a period of one year. It also includes an incentive program aimed at enhancing and sustaining the schools.
With the overarching aim of preparing the camps’ younger generation to become the leaders of tomorrow, there is a dedicated effort to offer students an alternative to engaging in conflict and to direct them into rewarding academic performance that can brighten their lives.
“We are happy to support this work,” says Francesco Paganini, UMCOR’s recently appointed executive secretary of International Disaster Response. “It represents early seeding—organic growth from the ground up—for a new civil society in a nation that has been engulfed in civil strife for over two decades. Everything begins with education.”
While Somalia prepares to re-enter the international community with its newly recognized government, the people of Somalia face the daunting task of rebuilding communities that for the last 20 years have known only war and instability. The provision of primary education is a crucial component to helping Somalis rebuild their lives and their country.
The IBC program includes practical steps to achieve these aims, including mobilizing the camps’ communities and sensitizing religious and political leaders with regard to girls’ school enrollment as well as that of boys; serving free school meals to further encourage students to attend class; providing basic essentials of the classroom, such as desks, blackboards, and textbooks; and ensuring that the schools’ water and sanitation needs are fully met.
One of the teachers in Korsan is teenager Nasteha Farax. Explaining the community-integrated mission on which the education initiative is based, she says, “These children are the leaders of tomorrow; they need to be in school for a better future.” She adds: “As well as that, I myself also need a job.”
The long-term practicality of the project is heartening for IBC Vice President Muzaffer Baca. “We are changing hope into reality,” he says.
A gift from you will help children and their families in the IDP camps of Somalia and elsewhere in the Horn of Africa. Please give to International Disaster Response, UMCOR Advance #982450 and earmark your check: “Horn of Africa Crisis.”
* David Tereshchuk is a journalist and media critic who regularly contributes to www.umcor.org.