Somaliland: For Deeqa Life in Worcester Far Different from that of her Homeland


Deqa Abdirahman Aden 19of Somaliland walks in front of the Warner Theater on the campus of Worcester Academy

Somalilandsun — Nineteen-year-old Deeqa Abdirahman Aden likes politics, and, after completing her studies in the United States, she said she would like to someday return home to Somaliland to run for public office.

However, raised in an African societal and religious culture that drastically limits opportunities for women, she recognizes that career option probably won’t be available to her.

Only two women have ever risen to national ministerial posts in Somaliland, and Ms. Aden said there will probably never be a female president in her lifetime.

“In Somaliland, there’s a strong belief that women belong in the home,” said Ms. Aden, who will be graduating soon from Worcester Academy. “It is a country still dominated by men.”

Ms. Aden, thanks to $50,000 annual grants from a Michigan couple that are aimed at helping African youth, has been taking classes at the private school on Providence Street for the past two years.

“If I had continued my education in Somaliland, I would have just learned the basics,” she said. She will be attending Grinnell College in Iowa in the fall on a full scholarship. She received similar financial help offers from other schools, including Brandeis University.

A Muslim who grew up in Hargeisa, Ms. Aden has two sisters and a brother. Her parents are separated and her father now lives in Kenya.

Women in Somaliland, whose society is still based on paternal clans, don’t get the same chances as their male counterparts, she said. Young women can’t even mingle or talk with males.

“The culture is very conservative and there are separate rules for men and women,” she said.

“Here, in the United States, I’ve been able to study so many, many subjects. Now I have a chance for a good future.”

Somaliland is a semiautonomous region that, after about 20 years of civil strife, broke away in the early 1990s, from Somalia, a nation along the Indian Ocean on the Horn of Africa.

Ms. Aden got the opportunity to study at Worcester Academy because of the generosity of Lori and Harry Emmons. Mr. Emmons is a 1960 graduate of the school on Union Hill.

At the elementary school Ms. Aden attended in Hargeisa, the classes had about 60 students but the female students received very little help and attention, she said.

Despite the indifference of the teachers, Ms. Aden managed to earn the highest score on a special exam of any girl student in the country. That gave her the chance to enroll in the Abaarso School of Science and Technology, a private boarding school founded by Worcester native Jonathan Starr.

Coincidentally, Mr. Starr graduated from Worcester Academy in 1994.

Deqa with Starr Mentor and founder of Abaarso TechHe quickly became successful in the business world, and, at the age of 27, founded Flagg Street Capital, a private investment firm with more than $100 million in assets.

Mr. Starr said that he eventually “burned out,” and, in 2008, he went to Somalia to visit an uncle who grew up in the country.

Once there, he became concerned about the terrible conditions and decided to establish a school for local kids about 17 miles west of Hargeisa, a city of about 1.2 million in the northwestern Woqooyi Galbeed region of Somaliland.

The United Nations estimates that only four out of 10 children in Somaliland are able to attend school.

Though supported by the government, the Abaarso School — surrounded by a 9-foot security fence — has been threatened, on occasion, by religious extremists.

Already blessed that she was able to attend Mr. Starr’s school, Ms. Aden said she was especially happy to come to Worcester Academy.

Despite the societal realities, Ms. Aden said her mother graduated from college and is employed at the human resources department at Somaliland National Bank.

“She really understood the importance of education and she passed on her love of learning to her children,” Ms. Aden said.

She added that the whole family loved immersing itself in political talk at meal-time.

“I’d like to be a politician but I’m returning home some day and I don’t think that will be possible,” said Ms. Aden, who is also considering becoming a lawyer or a doctor. “At the least, I’d like to get involved in working in the educational system to make things a little easier for women students. I want them to have the freedom to be what they want to be.”

She said Americans should be grateful for the country they live in and the many “amazing things” that are available.

She recalled walking into a Target store for the first time and being stunned by the number of cereals available for purchase. In Somaliland, she said, you can buy only two kinds, a rather generic blend and a chocolate flavored.

Ms. Aden, who has been a member of the Model United Nations program and the debate team at the academy, said she’s looking forward to continuing her studies in this country.