In January of 2011 I joined the team at the Ministry of Education of Puntland as the Gender Technical Adviser within the framework of the EU-funded Integrated Capacity Development for Somalia Education Administrators (ICDSEA). I left my job with HIVOS in The Hague and headed for Somalia with my 4-month old babygirl and husband. I was excited: I was coming home!
One of the assignments I was given was the Accelerated Female Participation in Education (AFPE) scholarship funds program- an EU-funded affirmative action program meant to enable some of the most marginalized girls in Puntland to access education by providing them with a special kind of a scholarship packet that covered everything a female student would need from sanitary kits, to school books, to school uniforms and such. The selected 186 selected girls were from all levels of education; lower primary to university. The AFPE funds program, which by the way is still ongoing and doing very well 3 years on, is by far one of the few education projects in Puntland that I am most proud of. It is one of the very few projects that have made significant impact on peoples lives. I argue in this article that more of such initiatives are needed in Puntland in order for progress to be seen and felt. I am lucky to have been involved in the AFPE project from the start; from orientation, to setup/inception, to planning, to design, to implementation, to monitoring and evaluation as well as audit and impact.
I have by now gotten to know most of the 186 vulnerable girls who have been awarded this scholarship. But I knew them by name only and by picture and we spoke often on phone. However between December 2012 and April 2013 I had the privilege to go on a monitoring fieldtrip from Garowe to Mudug region of Puntland by road in order to monitor and verify the names, personal details and school performance of the 36 girls in Mudug region who were awarded the scholarships. This scholarship program was the first of its kind to be implemented in Puntland, it was unique and it had many qualities to it; it was gender-sensitive, its was child-friendly and it covered all of the regions in Puntland making it a fairly distributed and this included some of the most remote villages in the State.
The AFPE package covered: registration fees, tuition fees, fees for uniforms, some small fee for snacks, shoes, exercise books (two dozens), pens, pencils and mathematical set, sharpeners (in dozens), exam papers, school bag done twice a year and Sanitary Kits. The Sanitary Kits provision was a big helper for the girls, please read my other articles on how Sanitary Kits helped the girls.
WHERE THERE IS A WILL, THERE MUST BE A WAY
Around 11am on the 8th of December 2012, I started my roadtrip to Mudug region which included visits to the towns Jariiben, Semade, Balibusle, Harfo, Bacaadweeyn, Galkayo, Bursalah and Galdogob in order to monitor the 36 AFPE recipients. These girls were described to be vulnerable and some of them were living with disabilities, or were from IDP background, or were orphans having lost a father or a mother or both. I knew that their families were living in abject poverty and extremely poor. There are multiple challenges facing facing these families some were living with disabilities, others were known beggars while others were extremely malnourished. Yet others were internally displaced having left their own homes elsewhere in Somalia due to conflict or drought.Others were going through all challenges all at the same time and that is where the AFPE fund made the difference.
It took me 10 hours to reach Jariben and the entire monitoring mission trip lasted some 15 days for me to completely cover and to conduct the verification/monitoring/impact analyses trip.
Everywhere I went I came across extremely poor families living in huts and make-shift houses. In Semade village I met one of the most vulnerable AFPE beneficiaries and maybe also the most inspiring; a young orphaned girl living with her only surviving relative- her aunt. The aunt was sick and in fact bed-ridden and she had 4 orphans of her own to look after. I took some time to listen to this family and I am till today still moved by their life story. I sat with them in their makeshift hut and they offered me a glass of the only food they had; a cup of lukewarm tea. I was grateful and I threw away the pen and paper and listened. The family was extremely poor but they were rich in the heart and the entire family had such a profound respect for education.
The only new clothes I found in that home was the uniform and the polished school shoes and these were placed in a special corner in the home. The family explained that their daughter was the only one who was in school. I was deeply moved by this because the family had many sons in the family. I think that poverty and limited resources do not always get in the way of one’s dreams as long as one gets necessary support from the right people. The families i met did not have enough food to eat. They were often wearing old worn out clothes or rugs and i think that they probably had never bought new clothing for their families.
I could relate to this family’s story because I too grew up with limited resources and school was a luxury in my family of 14. I am the only one in my family of 14 who, despite the extreme hardships of school, managed to finish her education upto university level and even pursuing a career in PhD. A close examination of lives at a moment during the AFPE enabled me to take a glimpse something of what such large abstractions as “girls education,” “vulnerability,” “challenges,” “poverty,” and “scholarship funds” actually meant in real life and in the the daily reality of these people’s lives.
And then there was little Amina in Semade. I was most struck by what I saw in Amina’s home. Amina lives with her aunt in a little hut. Both her parents are deceased. This family didnt have mattresses, sheets or even any furniture. The floor was bare, sandy with the famous red soul found in this part of the region. I saw a plastic bag hanging on the wall of the hut, dangling neatly. I could see in that bag that it contained the uniform and school books of Amina. I was really moved by this because this symbolically illustrates something big; the lifted bag up there was placed so high so as to keep the uniform and school stuff clean and away from all potential dirt and soil. To this family, education was of paramount importance.
What I am trying to show in this article is that, however unlikely it might seem, the most neglected and the most marginalized in society can excel in education, with a little push. Some of the AFPE scholarships recipients are actually the ones who are doing extremely well in many classes I visited throughout Puntland, throwing an unexpected light on some of the expectations of the mainstream. In a particular case in Mudug, the only student to get an A grade was infact one of the AFPE funds recipients. If you have knowledge, let others light their candles with it!
Below is a summary of the broader outcomes of a short study i did on the impact of the AFPE funds on the lives of its recipients.
IMPACT OF THE AFPE SCHOLARSHIPS
Other than the monitoring, I was deeply interested in the impact the AFPE funds made on the lives of these families so I asked questions about how beneficial these funds for the families I and collected case studies. I wanted to explore what the felt impact was of the AFPE scholarship funds on the lives of the recipients/the parents/the schools and lastly the community. The AFPE Scholarship Funds have positively impacted the lives and living conditions of its recipients, their families as well as their schools and communities in the following ways;
Feedback from the AFPE recipients
- It has secured funding for school, scholastic needs of some 186 very needy girls in Puntland
- It has built the self-confidence of the girls because they now all have uniforms, shoes, school bag, school stuff
- Because the girls have sanitary kits, they are less absent from school and more active when in school
- Because there is less absenteeism, there is better attendance and performance of the students in class, in school
- Parents are now more involved in the school lives of their children
Feedback from parents/guardians
The scholarships programs at supporting extremely poor families with many (needy) children. As such it has lifted a burden off of the shoulders of these parents.
- Because the AFPE funds covered needs of female students, it enabled parents to send their other kids to school
- Reduced the conflict of opinions about payment of school fees for the girl-child within household
- It has removed the constant worry of child expenses from the family such as the uniform, shoes, bus fare, pocket money, and school fee.
- Because of the AFPE scholarship program, there is a very big hope invested in the recipients for a brighter future
Feedback from schools and community
- The scholarships encourages parents to send their child to school because of available opportunity
- The AFPE has increased girls enrollment. Parents are more aware of the benefits of educating their daughters
- It has uplifted the economic empowerment and development of needy students and their daily access to schools by providing pocket money
- It has encouraged the community to be alert for this and other scholarships—-awareness, positive impact
- It has added to the family income and thus family financial progress
- It is the only scholarship which supports needy girls
- The AFPE scholarship is very important in that it has many advantages for the school as well as for the society
- It had created competition, it has encouraged other girls to search for scholarships online
- It has minimized the number of orphans and other needy girls who are not able to pay fees/attend school/get an education.
The set-up and implementation of the AFPE funds for vulnerable and needy girls in Puntland was very successful. According to the parents and guardians of the AFPE recipients, the number of girls benefiting from the AFPE scholarships must be increased from 186 to perhaps 350 or more next year because there are more needy girls than 186 in Puntland. They advised to also add boys because there are money needy boy out there as well. All the parents agreed that the program was effective and had a positive impact and influence on the girls, because it covered everything young girls need in order to go to school like school fee, uniform, books, sanitary kit and many other necessities. Whereas parents prior to the scholarships worried about whether they would be able to pay the fees and to provide for their child now with less burden they have more time to invest in the child meaning more quality of education for the child. Generally all parents appreciated the scholarships, noted its benefits, and thanked the EU for the support and the Ministry of Education. They promised in writing to support their daughters even more so that she will be able to continue her education and even reach university level and graduate.
The IDP girls in Puntland are successful, because someone believed in them.
The girls living with disabilities in Puntland are successful because someone believed in them.
The orphans in Puntland are successful because someone believed in them.
The children of Puntland living in abject poverty in the inaccessible villages are successful because someone believed in them.
A successful person is a dreamer whom someone believed in.