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Bringing educational opportunities to the most vulnerable communities: Sahara’s story

Concern has supported communities in Somalia for 33 years. Somalia once provided free and inclusive schooling up until university. However, years of conflict, climate change, and instability have devastated the education system and affected people’s ability to cope.

Our programmes work to address people’s needs in an emergency, and seek to build the resilience of affected communities, so that they are better equipped to cope in the future. A critical part of this work involves helping to ensure vulnerable children have access to quality education, and a protected, safe environment to learn and play.

Sahara now attends a Concern-supported school in Mogadishu, Somalia. 

Today, Somalia has one of the lowest primary school enrolment rates in the world. Just 30 per cent of all school-age children have access to learning opportunities. Over three million children remain out of school. Those in South and Central Somalia are particularly affected, and among rural communities, the situation is even worse – only 17 per cent of children are enrolled in primary school, mostly in NGO-run temporary learning centres.

For Sahara, the first chance to experience an education came when she was 13 years old. By then, most children in the UK will already have at least eight years of schooling behind them.

Sahara’s mother died when she was three years old. She lives with her father and grandmother in the Medina district of Mogadishu. Then, Sahara’s father travelled to Puntland looking for work, over 900kms away from their home.

She told Concern what life was like growing up at home:“I wanted to go to school but we were too poor. I would do work around the house, cooking and cleaning. I didn’t go out much or have friends because other girls my age would tease me. It was difficult.”

With 70 percent of Somalia’s population made up of young people under the age of 30, providing the opportunity of education for children like Sahara is critical.

Through a Concern-supported education programme, Sahara and her family received invaluable support that allowed Sahara to go to school and receive an education. Concern provided a uniform and books for Sahara, and liaised with her local school to get an exemption from paying school fees.

At 13 years old, Sahara began classes in Grade 1 at Jabuti School. Now, she has a friend, Falistine, who lives beside her,and is in Grade 3 at the sameschool. Together, they do household chores and then sit and talk about all sorts of things. Sahara has also taken up playing volleyball –“It’s something fun to do when I’m free,” she said.

It’s easy to tell by her demeanour that Sahara is enjoying school and making the most of this life-changing opportunity many of us take for granted – she is bright eyed, attentive and responsive in class.

“It’s great now,” she said.  “I have mastered reading and writing in the Somali language and basic maths. I would like to go to university and train to be a doctor. I want to help other people.”

When Concern asked Sahara what she would wish for the future of Somalia, she replied, “I just want it to be happy and peaceful. There used to be fighting and bullets flying all around – now that has gone.”

And when asked about her own future, she responded without hesitation: “If I get the opportunity, I would like to be president one day.”