HARGEISA, Somalia, 14 January 2010 - Until the most recent school semester, every textbook at Sheikh Nur Primary School was shared by at least four students. But thanks to a new supply, students can now follow their lessons in their very own textbooks.
UNICEF - with funding from the Government of Japan - is supporting over 180,000 school-age children and 3,000 teachers around Somalia. During the current school year, UNICEF will be providing textbooks and school supplies - including blackboards, chalk, pens, pencils and exercise books, as well as registers, maps, and recreational supplies.
Sheikh Nur School is one of 790 schools that benefited from this recent distribution Of supplies.
Hodan, 10, is one of the 1,700 students enrolled in the school, which is located in one of the poorest neighbourhoods of Hargeisa: "I want to become a doctor when I grow up because my mother wants me to help people. I know that I have to study hard to succeed in my dream," she said.
'Once a country of warlords'
UNICEF is currently the sole provider of textbooks and school materials for primary schools in Somalia, and is training teachers and community education committees, and supporting incentives for teachers to help keep schools open.
UNICEF's goal is to help communities reduce dropout rates and increase new enrolment. In some schools, there are only one or two textbooks for the entire school. "Strengthening our support to education is important to ensure that parents keep sending their children to school, especially those families that are struggling to meet their basic needs," said Safia Jibril, Education Specialist for UNICEF Somalia.
Almost half of the population of the country, or about 3.6 million people, are now facing a humanitarian crisis caused by ongoing conflict, prolonged drought and high food prices. The timely provision of essential supplies is pivotal to ensure better access for Somali children and women to quality services.
In December, at a ceremony to hand over the donated supplies, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Japanese Embassy in Kenya, Seiji Okada said, "Although Japan was once a country of warlords, now it has become a developed country thanks to our education and good schooling system. We are very glad to support your school to ensure that you receive good education, and to prepare you to lead the future of your society."
A vital lifeline
With funding from the Government of Japan, UNICEF also supported Maternal and Child Health Clinics (MCHs) and Health Posts around Somalia, providing around 1.2 million people this year with free supplies of essential medicines and vaccines.
At Sheikh Nur MCH in Hargeisa, regular vaccinations, growth monitoring, as well as primary health care services are provided daily to people like Khadra Ali, a mother of three whose husband has been having trouble finding work. She comes for vaccinations and prescriptions.
"I now make sure to vaccinate my younger child, after my older son got measles, because I didn't bring him for vaccination on time," she said.
As quality health services are extremely limited in the country, these primary health care facilities are a vital lifeline to vulnerable children and women.