MOGADISHU, Somalia

When Somalia announced the closure of schools in March to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, students like 17-year-old Halima Astur lost all hope.

“I knew that this meant I would not receive the relief food I get from school every day. As a displaced person in my own country, I have no home, and such help from foreign nations boosts my morale in school and the will to live and change my country,” Astur said.

“As children, we had lost all hope of completing our syllabus, and for some, even our education, because everything was uncertain. The coronavirus’s effect on displaced communities and our education as Somali girls was very hard.”

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), COVID-19 has worsened enrollment figures in Somali schools which were already low and even lower for girls, with only 30% of the country’s children in school and 40% of that figure girls.

Astur said she was considering getting married after receiving a proposal from a local businessman.

“My mother was okay with it, but my teachers managed to change my mother’s mind, and now I am glad they made that choice. I don’t belong in the kitchen. I want to change my country. I am really happy to be back in school.”

Faduma Hawo, 16, said she is glad to be back at Daynile Primary and Secondary School.

“I am happy to be back in school. I would like to thank my country for realizing that education is important. We are social distancing. We wash our hands, wear masks and are taking all recommended healthcare measures. This should not hinder our education. If I could talk to the president today, I would tell him to continue supporting girls’ education.”

Tahil Xirsi, 18, dreams of becoming a doctor.

“I cannot become a doctor if I am not in school. I am always happy to be in school, and the resumption of our studies has rekindled my dreams of becoming a doctor who can save lives in my country.”

Niciima Najma, who is 17 years old, wants to grow up to be a teacher.

“The four-month school closure was so long. I want to grow up to be a teacher and focus on empowering girls like me. I am fortunate that my family lacks nothing, but I have many friends who are girls who are facing many challenges, and I would want them never to lack anything in life, and that is by teaching them and empowering them. I want to either study in Canada or Turkey after my education in Somalia.”

“You can see the excitement in the students’ eyes. They are yearning to study and stay in school. They are really happy to be back in class,” Hussein Mohammed, a young Somali teacher, told Anadolu Agency.

UNICEF Somalia has lauded the reopening of schools in the country, saying in a statement that doing it “safely is critical and an important step in giving children the opportunity to continue learning.”

“Across Somalia, schools have started reopening and children are returning to class. We’re proud to work with the government and to help schools put in place measures to reopen safely,” it added.

The World Food Program (WFP) has also announced that it is bringing back the school meals program as schools have reopened in Somalia.

“It is important to resume school feeding to support education and provide a social safety net for those in need,” it said in a statement.

To support the return to school measures, nations are streaming into Somalia to help with funding gaps in the education sector.

Turkey, Germany and the US are among the countries that have recently contributed to supporting radio programs that are appealing to children yet educational and provided funds for constructing learning centers and cover teachers’ salaries with a focus on ensuring that out-of-school children, especially nomadic pastoralists, have a chance to get an education.

Somalia and Turkey have recently been holding talks on educational affairs to enable Somali students to get enrolled in institutions of higher learning in Turkey.

On Sept. 10, the Somali Cabinet of Ministers ratified an agreement on education cooperation between the governments of Somalia and Turkey that will see thousands of Somali children benefit from Turkish education aid.

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