19 August 2013

No school, because you’re a girl

Samia was eleven years old in 2009, when she was forced to drop out of school. Her parents could no longer afford to pay school fees for all of their children. In Somaliland, traditionally, boys’ education is the priority. She recalls, “I was getting ready for school as normal. Then my mother told me that I would not be going; only my brothers can go to school". This is her story.

Samia's father – a mechanic – had fallen ill and was no longer able to work. The family had no source of income and sacrifices had to be made. Her five brothers remained in school. The girl’s education was sacrificed. She was obliged to stay at home to run the house and nurse her father – simply because she was a girl.
 
Holding on to dignity  - When I dropped out of school I did'nt want my friends to see me helpless at home - © SOS Archives
Not enough being ‘a gifted girl’
 
Every morning as the young girl prepared her brothers for school, she longed to join them. She could not believe that her dreams of a formal education were shattered; she knew that she had the capacity to advance in school.  Quality of life in Somaliland is highly influenced by access to primary education, without it, a live of poverty and dependence is the norm.  Samia’s destiny was to do household chores and care for her ailing father. 
 
Every time she saw her former classmates she avoided them.  "I used to be second to none in all the school examinations. My friends would call me 'the gifted girl'.  When I dropped school, I felt so much pain; I didn't want my friends to see me helpless at home. I was so lonely."
 
Her mother then desperately sought casual work in Berber, the town nearby, with mixed results. A year later, things got worse. Her father died due to HIV/AIDS related complications and her mother was also diagnosed with the disease. The stigma of their parent’s HIV/AIDS infection forced her eldest brother to run away from home.
 
Samia desperately needed financial support to keep food on the table, not alone keep her siblings in school. The psychological strain had become too much to bear. Even if she managed in the short-term, her chance to further her ability to read, write and advance a career appeared out of reach. She was a girl, in a community where female discrimination was the norm. “I wish my country can be enlightened on the education of girls. We are highly discriminated when it comes to education priorities,” she said.

The path to a bright future -boys and girls together making their way to school in Somaliland © C. Lesske
 
Making the right to education a reality

She now has good reason to believe this will happen. Two years after her parents removed her from school, she managed to return to the classroom. This happened as a result of her meeting with a social worker from SOS Children’s Villages who quickly identified the various needs of the family. Practical support including psychosocial counselling was provided. Samia’s brother was encouraged to return and become the family breadwinner through the provision of a business setup grant. His small successful workshop now generates enough income to support the family. This has ensured that the boys and the Samia can attend school.   
 
SOS Children’s Villages is a partner in a wider community project that is engaging with communities in Somaliland to highlight the importance education to all children. Efforts are also made to help people understand the causes of HIV. They are assisted in the treatment and care of those affected. Through better understanding the stigma attached to it is also being addressed.Samia, is one of many girls in the community who have been re-enrolled in school and provided with the materials needed to prosper. Now girls in Smaliland can do what others take for granted. They can access school to experience a love of learning as they read, write and prosper.

The girl's name has been changed to protect her identiy