Somali who fled war fights back through education

Somali who fled war fights back through education

Himila Relief and Development Association (HIRDA UK), an African diaspora organisation based in Leicester, is working to help increase the number of children who can go to school in the Gedo region of Somalia.

Managing Director, Guleid Osman Mohamed, who had fled his home country of Somalia during the civil war, believes in the importance of raising awareness of education. It was this passion and commitment to learning that led him to study in Europe where he first came across the work of Himila Relief and Development Association, which had its head office in the Netherlands.

He was so inspired by their work that he went on to set up HIRDA UK in Leicester: “I wanted to join HIRDA because it was a diaspora-led organisation working in education and health. I admired it” says Guleid.

He has since secured funding from Comic Relief’s Common Ground Initiative, which is co-funded by the Department for International Development, and works with UK organisations run by people of African heritage with strong emotional, cultural and political links to their country.

Through harnessing the experiences and strength of the Somali community living in Leicester’s St Matthew’s estate, Guleid has helped make a huge difference in his homeland.

He enlists the skills, expertise and dedication of the Somali people forced to leave their country because of the war. This diaspora group on his local Leicester estate are passionate about making a difference and through their fundraising efforts and tireless campaigning,
HIRDA UK has been able to fund three secondary schools in the Gedo region, and provide 171 places for young girls, 17 of whom are disabled.

HIRDA UK is focused on improving education in Somalia and is working hard to develop an improved curriculum, train teachers, support community committees to manage schools, and encourage local leaders to raise awareness of the importance of education. As a result, there will be a new curriculum, dozens of newly trained teachers, and a significant uplift in girls and disabled students enrolling and doing well in school in Somalia.

Education holds a powerful place in Guleid’s heart. Forced to flee his home when the Somali government began to collapse, Guleid knew that schooling would be his saving grace. That was why he chose only to take his prized possessions, his books, rather than his clothes when he fled. “I loved my education. I believed it was a weapon,” Guleid explains. “I knew I could buy clothes anywhere, but if I lost my books I couldn’t get them back.”

The civil war had deep reverberations across Somalia, especially within schools. The lack of an established government post-conflict meant no formal curriculum or educational policy was established. The Gedo region in Somalia has only three public secondary schools, and teachers are often poorly trained or not trained at all. In addition few parents are able to afford the school fees. Enrolment in secondary schools across Somalia is low, with less than 30% of children in education. This especially affects young girls or disabled children.

HIRDA UK has also become a welcome presence in the heavily-deprived St Matthew’s Estate in Leicester. The estate, once notorious as Britain’s second poorest council ward, is renowned for high unemployment and struggling families. HIRDA UK runs weekend homework classes at Pela Primary School, and also summer play schemes to engage young people on the estate.

As a Somali who fled the war Guleid has an invaluable understanding of his homeland and reaches out to the communities in the UK and abroad. “We have all seen what has happened to Somalia”, he says. “That’s why people appreciate our work, because of its mutual benefit both here and in Somalia.”

Guleid adds, “When people in Somalia realise I am diaspora, they appreciate it. They listen to me because I’m from the outside, with a different view. Every time I go back to Somalia, it gives me more energy to help on the ground. I’m really motivated every time I return.”

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