By Zerihun Sewunet
Galkayo, Somalia: Being the only child in her family with a disability, Kafia Noor, 16, struggled growing up in a rural area near Galkayo, Somalia. Kafia speaks very slowly about how grateful she is to have come to school at Xaar Xaar Primary School for the first time in her life.
She says she doesn’t depend on others, but she is grateful for the support she has received from her family.
“I am happy to have been born in a family that understands and supports me,” she says. “They don’t treat me differently because of my disability.”
Kafia and her family used to live in an area where there was no school nearby, and she had never set foot in a classroom. Their village was chronically affected by droughts; the most recent is the 2022 drought which has left 7 million people in Somalia needing humanitarian assistance. Kafia’s family lost all their livestock.
“We travelled by foot and public transport for days to reach this camp,” she says.
Kafia and her family settled in Xaar Xaar camp, a sprawling settlement outside Galkayo home to nearly 4,000 people, primarily children and women. Despite enduring displacement, Kafia had a chance to fulfil one of her dreams: enroll in school. Xaar Xaar Primary School was close to the camp and provided an education to 500 displaced and host communities children.
Kafia was placed in a special class for out-of-school children to monitor her progress. She was among 20 students in the class who had missed the chance to learn when they were younger and were keen to make up for a lost time. Their classes take place from Saturday to Wednesday.
Kafia says she had never imagined having the chance to learn when she moved with her family to Xaar Xaar. Thanks to the UNdaunted program in Somalia that UNICEF implements with funding from the Government of Canada, Kafia and other children with disability receive scholarship support in the form of school fees, uniforms, sanitary kits and learning materials. The program trains teachers in pedagogical skills, renovates infrastructure such as latrines and classrooms to make them disability-friendly, and promotes community awareness and support.
“When we came here, I never thought I would go to school,” she says. “I am thrilled as the school is close to where I live.”
Kafia walks to school with her friends.
“I don’t walk at the same pace as the others, but that doesn’t make me give up.”
Kafia says she wants to help children like her in future. With her dream of becoming a medical doctor, Kafia is optimistic about her future if she completes her education.
“I go to school to gain knowledge and attain something meaningful. I want to support my mother and my family,” she says. “The teachers encourage me. They tell me I will achieve my dream if I am educated.”
The UNdaunted program in Somalia has been working since 2021 in Somaliland, Puntland and Galmudug.