In War-Torn Somalia, Education Keeps Youth Away from Guns and Violence

Asad Cabdullahi MataanBy Asad Cabdullahi Mataan

Shankaroon Abdullahi’s dream is to represent her country in international women’s basketball competition. It’s a long way to come from the war-torn slums northeast of Mogadishu and a life that, for all of her 14 years, has been marked by violence and death. But she may make it.

Shankaroon, the oldest in a family of six children, grew up among the disheveled shanties of Bulomaqarey. She always had more responsibilities than her years would suggest, but those responsibilities multiplied after her father disappeared three years ago, later reported to have died Because of the need to care for her younger siblings, coupled with chronic conflict that resulted in school closures, Shankaroon never attended a single class.

In 2012, she was enrolled in Concern Worldwide’s “accelerated basic education” program, becoming one of 300 students between the ages of 14 and 17 supported by Concern annually as they try to make up for lost years. The classes are geared for those who have missed school due to conflict or poverty; they require focus and commitment from the students, who advance three grades each year. Shankaroon will join in formal primary school supported by Concern in the area after completion of accelerated basic education

Through the program, Shakaroon participated in recreational sports classes, which inspired new self-confidence along with a love of basketball. This gave birth to her hope to join the national women’s basketball team. Shankaroon also dreams of becoming a nurse after graduating from primary to help herself, family members and her community in the future.

“This was a life-changing opportunity for me,” she says. Education opens many doors that you can choose.

One student at a time, the program is fundamentally contributing to a better future for her country, which has seen decades of conflict.

Concern Worldwide has worked in Somalia since 1991, except for a short break when international staff was evacuated for about two years beginning in 1995 due to security concerns. It supports 25 primary schools, and has helped open schools in some areas where none stood before; all were opened with community involvement so sustainability would be assured.

Concern supports nearly 15,000 students, 47 percent of them girls, in six schools in Mogadishu and 19 in Lower Shabelle, south of Mogadishu. Concern also trains more than 450 teachers, about one-third of them women, and helps build the capacity of Somalia’s equivalent of parent-teacher organizations, as well as providing textbooks, uniforms and other scholastic materials.

In addition to helping Shakaroon, Concern also indirectly helped her siblings by giving her mother, Saynab Abukar Mohamed, a grant aimed at helping her set up a small business. “Previously, my children used to stay at home while I went out to wash clothes for other people,” Shakaroon’s mother says. “Now I am able to send five of my children to a Quran-based school…now I can take care of my children while doing business at home.”

Maryan Dahir, 11, is from a family of six girls and four boys who lives in Mogadishu. Her father works as a porter in a nearby market. Her family was driven from its home in the recent conflict and lives in a camp for internally displaced Somalis. “The recent conflict in the city swept away all our belongings,” says her mother, Shukri. “We had to start our life from scratch.”

Like Shakaroon, Maryam had never been to school before she became part of Concern’s education program. “I didn’t even know the alphabet,” she says. Now she can read and write, and hopes to be a nurse.

Many believe force will not bring peace to Somalia, and that among the country’s many needs, education is most critical for a people who can then become more self-determined.

“The more people who go to school, the fewer who go for violence,” says Ibrahim Ambar Oker, assistant country director in Somalia for Concern. “They realize what they can achieve—and not because of tribalism or guns. Because of an education.”