By Lisa Hill, Communications Manager, UNICEF Somalia 

A girl sits in a classroom, smiling while looking off camera.
Ayan, who has a physical disability, was encouraged to continue her education with support from the UNdaunted program. [©UNICEF Somalia/Hill ]

Ayan is graduating from grade 5 this year – a normal rite of passage for some, but for Ayan it was once a distant dream.  

Ayan was initially interviewed in May 2022 as one of the 38 students at a primary school in Puntland, Somalia, supported by UNICEF’s UNdaunted program. The program seeks to help students with disabilities get into the classroom by training teachers, helping remove stigma through community education and supporting students through many ways – from financial to extra classroom support. Ayan has a condition known as clubfoot, which turned her feet sideways at birth, and causes her difficulty when walking. This year, we went back to the school to ask Ayan how she was doing. 

With the Alternative Basic Education (ABE) program, Ayan was able to catch up on missed education. ABE is a flexible educational approach for marginalized children that have been unable to access formal education because of factors like their location, their distance from school, the language of instruction, their health and/or the cost of school. She would only be in grade three without ABE. 

“I am happiest when I study with my friends at school. My favorite classes are still Religion and Arabic,” she says. Focusing on the future keeps Ayan motivated during her walk to school. Each step is made with effort and increasing pain, but this does not deter her. Getting an education is the most important thing to her at the moment. 

Ayan’s favorite classes are taught by the Head Teacher, Said Jama Hersi. “Creating a safe learning environment for students with disability is an important part of a teacher’s work,” he says. “This involves talking to the students about being inclusive, not bullying others and encouraging slower learners.” UNICEF has trained eight teachers at the school to support and advocate for children with disability. There are a total of 48 schools participating in the UNdaunted program in Puntland. 

Said Jama Hersi is a head teacher at Ayan's school. He was provided training to better accommodate students with disabilities in the classroom. “Creating a safe learning environment for students with disability is an important part of a teacher’s work,” he says. [©UNICEF Somalia/Hill ]

UNdaunted in Somalia is funded by the Government of Canada to support the education of children with disabilities, especially girls. Mr. Hersi has been trained through the program to identify and support children with physical and mental disability. “I am glad that Teacher Hersi helps me study the lessons. Now, a second teacher helps me with extra study time,” says Ayan. 

UNdaunted trains education officials, teachers and Community Education Committees (CECs) on modalities of educating children with disability. The CEC conducts advocacy with stakeholders in the community to support children with disability, to help end stigma and encourage enrollment.  

The program draws upon UNICEF’s development and emergency programming experience and strategies for targeted gender-responsive education practices. UNICEF also advocates for mainstreaming gender and disability at the policy level.   

Ayan was interviewed in May of this year, since then she has graduated from grade five and will be starting grade six. [©UNICEF Somalia/Ayene]

“UNdaunted is a very important intervention for children with disability. One thing to consider is to integrate it with health interventions,” says Maryan Maxamad Cilmi, CEC Chairperson “Stigmatization is a big issue,” says Maryam. The CEC conducts social awareness activities to combat this.” She sees that the community is more accepting of children with disability but adds that more awareness activities and social work needs to be done. 

Ayan’s mother, Xaawo, is delighted that her daughter can attend school thanks to UNdaunted. She sees a new, lighter mood in her daughter these days. She sees her reading over assignments on days her feet hurt too much to walk to class. 

“I am happy to graduate from grade five. Now I look forward to grade six,” says Ayan. With every day that passes, she is inching closer to realizing her dream of becoming independent and supporting her family and community. 

UNICEF is thankful for the support of the Canadian Government for this program. 

Ayan's learning journey