Khadar Bashir-Ali returned from Hargeisa, Somaliland, to the United States, where she met with her colleagues in EDC’s Washington office. A native of Mogadishu in Somalia, she manages the Somali Interactive Radio Instruction Program (SIRIP), which is heard in schools and refugee settlements across Somalia.
“As a child in Mogadishu, my education began at an Italian Catholic school. After high school, I did what was called National Service and a year of junior college. Then we moved to the United States, where I attended Goshen College in Indiana, and then graduate school at the Ohio State University. Soon after, I began teaching Italian for the Columbus City Schools.
In 1997, the Columbus community had a big influx of African refugees from Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and other war-torn countries. I was asked to become an ESL teacher. I taught middle school students and high school second language learners. Most of my students did not have first language literacy, and they often couldn’t understand math and science concepts. With the language barrier, my students also had trouble with writing and reading. Their numbers and needs were overwhelming, and their teachers weren’t equipped to help them. So I focused on helping them understand the concepts and language in those subjects.
About three years ago, when I was working in the United Arab Emirates, I met Said Yasin, who was then managing EDC’s radio instruction programs in Somaliland. He invited me to Hargeisa. I had never been to that part of Somalia, and I was really excited about the program.
I was so impressed that, despite all the chaos and the recuperation from decades of civil war, there were pockets of hope and some semblance of normalcy. EDC was providing education to kids whose parents couldn’t afford it and to children in internally displaced [IDP] settlements or from marginal communities that have been historically discriminated against. I loved that there was one certainty—school is on.
After I went to Hargeisa, I did volunteer training for teachers at the University of Burao in Somaliland. The teachers there were hungry for knowledge. Some of them were stuck in the old ways of teaching, lecturing, and leading rote memorization. In the training, we would sit in groups and discuss alternative approaches, such as “How could you teach science without lecturing? How can you teach math or science using materials from your immediate environment?”
In my EDC program, which has its headquarters in Hargeisa, we have developed a set of bilingual illustrated books for students just beyond elementary school. They are just like the ones we did a few years ago for very young readers. The books are designed to enhance the literacy levels of children, develop a culture of reading, and foster a love for books.
Schools here have about 50–80 students in a class with one teacher. Usually about three to six students sit on a bench, sharing the desk. There are no visible print materials on the walls, just one blackboard. The reality is quite different in the learning centers that are in the IDP settlements. Usually class is held in a tent, under a tree, or in a small barracks.
There are other issues in the classrooms beyond the actual lessons. Cleanliness and personal hygiene are problems in these settings, so we have worked with community groups to help train the parents on how to prevent contagious diseases; how to teach their children personal hygiene; and how to take care of the school yard, which often has debris like rusty nails. These life skills are also covered in our IRI programs.
We have a dedicated young staff of about 50, which includes writers, teacher trainers, materials developers, and monitoring and evaluation specialists. In the coming year, we will focus on literacy and numeracy in our lessons, and continue to collaborate with Ministries of Education by providing professional development opportunities for teachers, school principals, and other education officials.
The rebel forces haven’t pushed EDC out of the country because EDC provides schooling. If EDC didn’t offer that schooling, the kids would be out in the streets, and parents would be upset. For the young men, if we didn’t offer education, they would be more vulnerable and forced to join militias.”
Originally published on January 24, 2012