Representatives from governments around the world met at a conference in London last week to talk about the future of Somalia, where a recent famine and years of conflict have left nearly a third of the population in crisis.
In a briefing note, A Shift in Focus, Oxfam called for the development of a strategy that prioritizes the interests of ordinary Somalis.
What are those interests?
Our partners fanned out across the capital of Mogadishu and other parts of the country to ask, and what struck me was the frequency of one answer: education. People want their kids to have a chance to go to school—and a chance at the hope and possibility education promises for a new generation and the future of Somalia. Those are no small cravings in a country that has known nothing but strife for decades.
“We need support to strengthen local and community-owned administrations, and help us to build schools and hospitals,” said Haawo, a 50-year-old woman.
“The international community should provide huge humanitarian support for the ordinary people, with support for free education and scholarships in order to educate a large number of young people who will play key roles in the future of the country,” said 28-year-old Amino.
“I wish they will live without conflict and with free high quality education,” said Mohamed, 52, of his children.
But for many families, realizing the dream of education often means making the most painful of decisions: choosing between your children. Sa’ido, a 35-year-old mother who lives in the Benadir Region, has six children but eking a living from selling charcoal provides her with barely enough resources to send just two of them to school.
“The conflict, especially, has prevented us from sending our kids to school and earning enough for our daily food,” she said. And added to her concerns about the children she can’t afford to educate are her worries about those who are getting an education.
“I feel really frightened when I’m sending my kids to school…,” said Sa’ido.”…I wonder whether they will come home or not because the violence is increasing in the city.”
For Ahmed, a father of seven children, it’s not just the daily struggle to feed his family that weighs on him, it’s his inability to scrape together the fees to send them to school. At 58, finding a job in Mogadishu has been an enormous challenge.
“…In the morning I go out as a man who goes to a job, but the reality is that the life of my household relies on friendly begging to family and friends,” said Ahmed. “My children don’t go to school due to lack of proper income to pay the school fees.”
Shown in a picture standing on a rubble-strewn street, his brow deeply furrowed, Ahmed and his hopes speak to the urgency of Oxfam’s call to focus on ordinary folks, folks whose dreams are no different from our own.
“Children want to learn and go to school,” said Ahmed. “In the future, I am hopeful my children will have success and fortune with a high quality education (with) which they will live in peace.”