Monday, July 19, 2010

AMISOM education initiative takes off in Somalia

By Guled Mohamed

Student enrollment is rapidly outpacing expectations at an AMISOM pilot school project meant to encourage parents of Jazeera village in southern Mogadishu to bring their children for free primary education. Initially just nine students signed up for the program. Within 30 days the school roster had 97 names, and now 210 students are enrolled.

The parents have not been left behind either. Many adults have registered themselves to take advantage of the free public education, which has been absent in Somalia for the last 20 years since the ouster of former president Mohamed Siad Barre.

The latest AMISOM programme marks a step by the peacekeeping mission to battle illiteracy in Somalia. Statistics on Somalia’s literacy rate are scant, but one estimate by UNICEF says just 24 percent of females between the age of 15 and 24 can read in the country.

Education became a luxury after Barre was deposed, leaving many poor Somalis like the people of Jazeera and their children uneducated.

Now the education-hungry villagers and their children are posing challenges to AMISOM, which is struggling to provide them with books, desks and other educational materials.

Despite the lack of supplies, students are eager to attend class. Hani Ahmed, a 9-year-old girl, is elated by the opportunity to attend the start-up school, which has yet to be named.

“We did not have a school around before this was opened,” she said. “This school was started by elders and AMISOM. I learn English and the Quran at the moment. The school is free. We don’t pay anything. I want to study hard in order to get a job when I finish school.”

Located in the expansive Wadajir district of southern Mogadishu, the population of Jazeera has sharply risen over the years as many civilians flee violence in other parts of the chaotic capital. Security in the area is better than other parts of Mogadishu in large part due to the presence of the Jazeera training camp, where AMISOM peacekeepers train Somali government forces.

Due to lack of resources the students of Jazeera school have been forced to study in a refurbished former sweets factory. During the morning children attend classes on the Quran, English, mathematics and geography, while parents and other adult learners attend similar classes in the afternoon.

Funds are in short supply too. “We urge well-wishers to support us,” said Abdullahi Ibrahim, one of volunteer teachers. “Our country has been ravaged by illiteracy, but if many students get an education it would have a positively impact. Extremism will be checked and our children will not be easily lured into fighting or even brainwashed.”

Maj. Nelson Ahebwa, an AMISOM peacekeeper with the Civil Military Unit, or CIMIC, is one of the pioneers of the project. CIMIC launched the initiative, and Ahebwa is happy to see their work paying off as increasingly more Somalis enroll their children and themselves in classes.

“This is my happiest day in life,” said Ahebwa, who has already begun groundwork for similar such school in other areas of Mogadishu. “When I first met the elders last month, many were skeptical, although they seemed really interested. The number of students has shot from nine to nearly a 100 within month. We will lobby for support from donors and agencies like UNICEF to assist the students and the school.”