Somalia’s war orphans educated for free.
In a crowded classroom in the capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, children shout out words in English as their teacher points with his stick to a blackboard.
Like many schools in Mogadishu and elsewhere in the country, resources are extremely tight and children are used to making do with what little books, pencils and papers their teachers can find.
But unlike other school children who go home in the evening to spend time with their families and play with friends, almost all of these children stay in the centre, sleeping and eating alongside a growing number of students joining their ranks.
The children are all orphans or children who have lost contact with their parents and relatives during Somalia’s protracted civil war.
Biri Centre, set up in 2010, is one of a handful of locally run charities working to help the children, many of whom are used to living on the streets. There are currently almost 800 students registered at the centre.
When Somalia’s government was ousted in 1991 and the country spiralled in civil war and chaos, orphanages and child care centres went the way of many other public facilities in the capital. They were abandoned and left to disintegrate and collapse.
In the two decades of conflict that followed, the number of children left without one or both parents has ballooned, producing a generation of war orphans left for relatives to care for or to fend for themselves if they have none.
As Nasra Abdulah Yasin, programme manager at the school explains, without the financial support of a family, most face a very uncertain future.
“Our main objective is to gather all these children together and give them schooling and care to build their future. If we didn’t help these children to have a chance in life we would be creating a huge burden for them and the state so we set up the centre to try and deal with the large number of children who have lost their parents,” she said.
Teachers at the school try their best to match the education the children would get at a normal school and classes in maths, science and languages are taught alongside singing and play acting.
But with the number of children referred to the centre growing by the day, Yasin says the teachers and the managers of the centre have tried to raise its profile to help bring in more funds. Currently they only receive donations from the local community in Mogadishu but hope to expand that to international donors over the next few months.
“We need help from Somalis and Muslims all over the world. We’re asking them to donate to the charity to help these children at the Biri Centre,” Yasin said.
The United Nations children’s organisation UNICEF estimated in 2009 — in the most recent available data that there are over half a million orphans in Somalia. The figure is likely to have risen significantly since then with ongoing violence and last year’s debilitating drought.