In Somalia, schooling continues for IDPs and incoming children amidst drought crisis
By Eva Gilliam
Nearly 100 young Somali children flip through paperback books with as much excitement as if they were reading the latest comic book hot off the presses. The pages, however, are covered with maths and science formulas and handwriting exercises.
“We have 200 children in this school,” says Mohamed Mohamud Osman, a teacher at Wabari School in an IDP camp in Mogadishu. “100 of them come in the morning shift and the rest come in the afternoon shift.”
Schools for the displaced
Having fled from fighting in their villages, most of the children at the Wabari School have been living in the Siligga camp for nearly a year, where they’ve received food and medical assistance.
There are 155 IDPs schools in Mogadishu operating since September of last year, serving over 37,000 students. With the current drought crisis, however, hundreds of thousands of new children have shown up and continue to arrive at refugee camps every day, as tens of thousands Somali families leave their homes in search of food and water.
Many of the newly arrived children to the camps suffer from severe acute malnutrition and do not have the strength or means to attend the activities at schools like Wabari School. After a few months, however, with access to nutritional and medical treatment, they will be healthy enough to attend school. The next challenge will be finding space.
Creating spaces for learning
“In some cases there have been massive influxes of communities and school-aged children into urban areas where there aren’t school facilities to absorb them all,” explains Lisa Doherty, UNICEF Somalia Emergency Education officer. “We will have to install additional learning spaces in schools where they will have to absorb additional children, and we will have to recruit and train teachers probably very quickly to fill the gaps.”
“Somalia had one of the lowest enrolment rates in the world with less than 30 per cent of children attending primary school before the crisis,” explains Ms. Doherty. “We’re anticipating even worse figures as schools try to re-open in September. But if we activate our emergency response, we can make a huge difference.” An estimated 1.8 million children between five and 17 years of age are not attending school in south and central Somalia, so providing learning opportunities in safe environments is critical for the longer term stability and growth of the country.
Education is key
UNICEF Somalia Representative Rozanne Chorlton emphasised that schools are key to any emergency response, as they provide a safe place for children to come to learn, as well as access safe water, sanitation and other vital services.
An assessment, conducted by the Education Cluster, co-led by UNICEF and Save the Children, was carried out by 14 NGOs and their partners to assess conditions at 589 community schools, IDP schools and private schools. Data was collected from head teachers, community education committees and education umbrellas of grassroots organisations.
The findings indicate that school feeding, provision of learning materials and teacher incentives and additional learning spaces are the top priorities to ensure that children can access learning opportunities - many for the first time.
“After decades of neglect and lack of funding, educational opportunities for children in Somalia are already dire,” stressed Ms. Chorlton. “It is imperative that we do everything we can to make sure the situation does not get worse.”
Education Cluster partners are scaling-up emergency education activities to meet the needs identified in the assessment and require over $20 million to do so. Yet funding gaps in the education sector have reached their highest levels in the last four years.
Support is urgently needed to establish temporary learning spaces in IDP sites and in host communities. They also need water and sanitation facilities, school kits of essential education and recreational material to 435,000 children, and incentives to 5,750 teachers.
Plans are also underway to provide food rations through schools which will benefit learners and their families and provide an incentive for children to stay in school, or to enrol for the first time.