Choosing Education: A Somali Girl from an IDP Camp Finds Her Way to The Classroom 

By Alinor Osman and Sabra Ayres 

From a very young age, Amran Abukar Ali longed to go to school. But as the oldest child, Amran was depended on to help support the family. 

When droughts decimated the area where her family was living on a small farm in Buraley village, Amran’s family searched for better opportunities and moved to Walaweyn, 15 kilometers to the south. 

She and her mother and siblings settled in an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. They survived on the daily earnings her mother made through temporary jobs. As the only parent and family breadwinner, Amran’s mother, Sharifo, had to put her daughter to work. Amran started doing domestic chores for other families to contribute to the family’s meager income. 

Education is highly valued in Somali culture, but parents like Sharifo grapple with poor economic circumstances, forcing them to make difficult tradeoffs. 

While searching for work in the neighborhood, Sharifo heard a group of people telling the community about a new education program called Bar ama Baro (Teach or Learn), a five-year accelerated basic education program funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. She learned that Bar ama Baro (BAB) offered classes and supplies at no cost to students, and that the program aimed to empower out-of-school children like her daughter with a chance to catch up and enroll in the formal school system. 

Despite the challenges facing many Somali parents, Sharifo decided to forgo asking her daughter to work. The free classes were an opportunity neither would pass up. 

Finally at age 13, Amran was able to begin her studies. 

“I did not have a chance to get an education in my childhood,” Sharifo says. “I am so happy that one of my children is lucky enough to get this free education and, hopefully, I will be able to enroll the rest soon.” 

Amran is one of more than 100,000 students who have been enrolled in BAB’s accelerated basic education program since the project’s start two years ago. 

Roughly two-thirds of school-age children and youth in Somalia are not enrolled in school, making programs like BAB critical to expanding literacy in the country. The program condenses a typical eight-year primary cycle into four years. This allows children between the ages of nine and 17 to catch up and either join the formal school system or obtain a primary school certificate through a nationally recognized examination process. 

Working with the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Higher Education, and Federal Member States’ Ministries of Education, BAB has trained 130 teacher trainers, who in turn trained 2,700 accelerated basic education teachers and headteachers at 460 schools in 31 districts on how to work with students and other tips for classroom success. 

BAB program has also printed and distributed 772,000 copies of teaching and learning materials for students and teachers. 

“Increasing access to education is a top strategic priority for the Government of Somalia, and International Literacy Day is a time to emphasize the importance of learning the foundational skill of reading,” said Minister Farah Sheikh Abdulkadir. “We value our partnership with USAID, which enables more Somali children to access quality education services.”  

As it starts its second year, BAB has expanded to 20 new districts, making the total target districts 32 including urban and rural areas. The project is committed to enrolling out-of-school kids and youth in hard-to-reach areas. 

“Bar ama Baro is supporting the Government of Somalia to address the need of the large out of school population in the country”, said Faiza Hassan, Chief of Party. “Together we will continue to expand Somalia’s public education system so that every child has the opportunity to learn.”  

Bar ama Baro takes its name from a beloved, nation-wide, civic service-oriented literacy campaign launched in the 1970s. Drawing on that rich legacy, this program’s combination of service delivery, policy support, and systems strengthening is supporting improved curriculum, increased capacity, extended outreach, and strengthened learning supports to overage and out-of-school children in Somalia. 

“The United States is proud to partner with Somalia to create opportunities for young people,” said Larry E. André, Jr, U.S. Ambassador to Somalia. “Reading unlocks opportunities for lifelong learning and earning.  Investments in education ultimately will help ensure a prosperous, peaceful future for Somalia.” 

The project’s success can be measured not just through its impressive enrollment numbers and the number of trained teachers, but also through the voices of its accelerated basic education students, like Amran, whom it is helping to create a pathway to getting a primary school certificate and enter the formal school system or seek to continue their education through vocational and post-secondary studies. 

Amran is thrilled to be in school and her lessons are her top priority. She is an inspiration for her younger siblings, who now want to go to school, too. 

“They always come to me when I am reading my books and they try to read too. At first, they could not understand anything, but now they understand a lot and they can’t wait to go to school and get their own books,” says Amran about her siblings. 

Sharifo is proud of her daughter’s diligence and how Amran’s example has ignited a love of education within the household. 

“My other children are now asking me to send them to school, because like Amran, they too want to be able to read and do math calculations. I promised them I would enroll them next year,” says Sharifo. 

Amran completed her first year with Bar ama Baro in May, and says she expects to pass her exams with flying colors. 

“My dream is to attend university and become an English teacher to help eradicate illiteracy among my people, particularly those who are from poor families,” she says. 

Communities and parents play a crucial role in supporting a child’s education. BAB has helped set up and support community education committees to help connect out-of-school children and youth with the opportunities provided through the project and the MOECHE’s accelerated basic education program. The committees will be a critical part of keeping kids enrolled as the school year goes on. 

“Amran’s education and her future are much more important than anything else now,” Sharifo says. “I don’t want to distract her from attending her classes or studying. 

Now, when Amran is at home, her mother says she has all the freedom she needs to read her books and do her assignments, Sharifo says.

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