Somalia

Severe drought in Somalia having a catastrophic effect on children’s education

Maurine Akinyi

A fourth failed rainy season in Somalia since 2020 has resulted in the country being gripped by drought which is threatening the lives of over 7.7 million people.

Over 86% of Somalia's population depends on agriculture and animal herding for a living and the drought and other pressures, such as conflict and the economic impact of Covid-19, have led to huge vulnerabilities amongst the population.

One of the effects of this current crisis can be plainly seen in the area of children's education. An estimated 3 million children are thought to have dropped out of school to help support their families. Boys help their fathers push donkey carts and sell water inside the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps or any other casual job that can at least make a dollar for the family, while girls assist their mothers at home with housework and childcare if they are not out looking for casual jobs.

This is extremely worrying as Somalia already had a very low proportion of children attending school, with only 24% percent of children accessing formal education. This low percentage is linked to a lack of safe schools, an insufficient number of trained teachers, inadequate government support and the fact that drought and conflict are driving thousands of people to leave their homes.

Many teachers have abandoned the profession because of a lack of stability in their employment due to a lack of resources and incentives. One teacher I spoke to at Dollow Primary School said, "Teaching is not a stable job. Today you will have work and tomorrow you will have no children to teach. You are forced to look for another job."

This has resulted in a worrying teacher to student ratio and indeed many schools have had to close because of a lack of teachers and now also water scarcity. Water is essential for schools to remain open, and without safe, clean water, children are exposed to poor sanitation, which can lead to disease.

This 'perfect storm' of negative drivers is limiting children's chances to realise their future aspirations. During a recent visit to Dollow Primary School, I met two promising students -- Kowsar Mohamed Abukar (16) and Sadaq Osman Hussein (15). Kowsar wants to be a pilot, while Sadaq wants to a civil engineer. Kowsar and Sadaq are among the fortunate few to have the option to attend school, as opposed to children from IDP camps, whose families view education as a competing priority with addressing their basic needs like food and water.

Building a future for Somali children

Trόcaire is working in Somalia to ensure that as many children as possible have the same opportunities as Kowsar and Sadaq. Over twenty schools have been renovated by Trόcaire, benefiting over 5,546 students at both primary and secondary level. Support has included new classrooms, learning materials, the provision of dignity kits for the girls, monthly teacher incentives, new toilets and handwashing facilities and restored water systems.

Lessons are now going on uninterrupted in permanent, suitable structures that protect the children from the harsh weather conditions. Trόcaire continues to ensure that all supported schools have the basic essential teaching and learning materials in accordance with the Somali curriculum. We are engaging the community through awareness and mobilisation activities designed to encourage families and communities to send their girls and boys to school. Trόcaire has recruited and trained community facilitators who now mobilise communities and raise awareness about the value of education to encourage parents to enrol their children in school. Every student's enrolment or re-enrolment is celebrated.

Creating a safe space for children

In order to encourage attendance, it is absolutely essential that protection and safeguarding is of the highest priority so that the children are provided with a safe environment, particularly in places like the Gedo region where instability is high. Trócaire's education and protection teams work together to ensure that protection mainstreaming and safeguarding are completely integrated into our education programme. This protection and safeguarding work includes child protection and psycho-social support (PSS) training for all teachers and community education committees; the establishment of girls' clubs in all funded schools; the introduction of mechanisms for reporting occurrences of abuse and referral paths for protection services; and ensuring schools are safe for children through regular safety assessments.

Our partnership with Caritas France, Kindermissionswerk, Misereor and Irish Aid, together with support from the public in Ireland, has ensured that these children are now able to learn in a secure environment and can look forward to building a brighter future.