By Iman Morooka
BOSSASO, Somalia, 26 May 2011 – In classroom number two at a primary school located in Shabelle camp for displaced people in Bossaso, Deputy Headmaster and maths teacher Abdijabar Odol Mohamed has neatly written down a set of quizzes on the blackboard.
He reads one of the questions out loud. The children raise their hands and compete to answer. Mr. Odol points at one of the students, who eagerly shouts the correct answer. “Bravo!” he says.
New classrooms, improved learning
Mr. Odol has been working at Shabelle School for five years. He says that the condition of the school significantly improved about six month ago after a new building was constructed. Before that, classes were conducted in a tent where children were exposed to Bossaso’s harsh weather.
“You can’t compare what we have now with how it used to be. Now we have good space for the children to learn, we have classrooms and furniture, toilets and hand-washing facilities.” says Mr. Odol.
There are now 305 children – 234 of them girls – enrolled at the small school. It runs two shifts, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon, to accommodate the increasing number of students. The effect has been startling.
“Children are learning better now. We have a better environment and enrolment has doubled because children prefer to spend their time in school,” says Mr. Odol.
The settlement around the school in north-eastern Somalia hosts 1,250 families displaced mainly by conflict and food insecurity in the south of the country. Many are Bantus, a minority ethnic group, which adds to the vulnerability of those living at Shabelle camp. They are often marginalized and discriminated against and as a result have less access to basic services.
Supporting displaced children
Mr. Odol himself is a member of the Shabelle community. He came here in 1998 from the Somali region in Ethiopia. He has since settled in the camp with his wife and 12 children and is one of five teachers working at the school, which earns him about $60 a month.
Although the incentive he receives is not much, Mr. Odol says that he will keep teaching in his community. “I want to continue to teach these children, my children,” he says. “I hope that the children I teach will grow up to know how to help themselves and their families.”
Thanks to contributions from the Governments of Netherlands, Spain, and Japan, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and UK Department for International Development, UNICEF has been able to continue supporting education for displaced children in Somalia.
UNICEF is constructing classrooms, training teachers, supplying learning and teaching materials and school uniforms, and distributing vouchers to families to ensure that children are released to spend time in school instead of working to support their families. UNICEF is also providing financial incentives for teachers.
“For children to receive education, we have to ensure that there are teachers in schools. As government authorities and local communities don’t have the financial capacity to maintain regular salary payments to teachers working in schools for displaced children, UNICEF is helping to pay incentives to over 1,100 teachers across Somalia,” says UNICEF Education Officer Salad Dahir.
At Shabelle School, each child has a complete set of textbooks and learning materials that have been provided with UNICEF support.
The teachers’ efforts to educate children in their community are also being supported by UNICEF-trained volunteers who work as Community Education Committee members – intermediaries between the community and school management.
“When we get information from teachers about school children who stopped attending class, we go to convince their parents, so that they send their children back to school,” said Fatuma Hashash, member of the Committee in the Shabelle community.
“Children normally have to pay fees to receive education. At the camp, we don’t have to, so we need to make sure that we use this chance to educate our children,” she added. “Later on, they can work and find jobs based on what they have learned in school, and they can ensure that their children will also be educated.”