Somaliland – There is a corner in a part of the world commonly associated with the worst kinds of upheaval that is quietly making some surprising positive change happen, while all around it there is turmoil.
Close to the very tip of the Horn of Africa lies Somaliland. It is a place that few outsiders know a lot about. Mention Somalia and images of war or famine will almost certainly come to people’s minds. However, for more than a decade, whilst disasters of various kinds have struck its Somali neighbours, Somaliland – a largely autonomous entity within greater Somalia – has been steadily and mainly peacefully making things happen.
Signs of development
The region is very dry, home to a population principally made up of pastoralist communities and a place not blessed by huge amounts of natural resources. Throw in the turmoil that has beset the region for decades and the refusal of the international community to collectively recognise its claims to statehood and the odds in its favour are not great.
Despite that, there are visible signs of development: the burgeoning infrastructure and commerce in the capital Hargeisa, and the evidence of activity in rural areas shown by the numerous sign-boards of various international organisations that have sprung up along the thin corridor of roads leading to the barren interior of the country.
Limited options for girls
My own journey took me into the heartland of rural Somaliland where traditional values based on Islam and pastoralism run deep. The work of CARE International focuses on strengthening opportunities for rural women and girls. Growing up as a girl in rural Somaliland has tended to mean a fairly limited set of life options as early marriage beckons, along with a hard life centred around the domestic sphere of children, animals and the home.
Until recently opportunities for women and girls to participate in life beyond the home were extremely limited. However, change is in the air as CARE International UK is part of a major investment in getting girls into school, so that – with a proper education – future generations of women can engage more deeply with social, economic and political life.
A quiet revolution is taking place
A few years ago the Somaliland education system was on its knees after the break-up of the former Somali state and the conflict that this engendered, resulting in huge damage to infrastructure and to closure at various times of core services, including schooling.
Had you been lucky enough to have got to school in a rural area you would almost certainly have been a boy.
Today, however, in schools up and down Somaliland, a quiet revolution is taking place behind the packed desks which are now being filled by the brightly-coloured uniforms of school girls.
“I want her to go to university”
On my visit I met with some of these girls in the remote rural primary school in Habereshey and talked with the mothers with daughters in school, some of whom were themselves taking adult literacy classes. One of the mothers, Fatima Ali, proudly showed off her own ability to read and write and also to be able to use her mobile phone to make money transfers.
“Since I have started to take classes my attitude towards my daughter’s education has changed completely,” she told me. “I now check what she has been doing and make her study at home. I want her to go to university.”
Training the teachers
Such dreams are not so far-fetched as they may sound. CARE is supporting young women from villages to become primary school teachers and encouraging them to return to their villages to teach the next generation. I caught up with the first batch of trainee teachers who CARE is supporting using money provided by the UK government. The majority were young women, something previously unimaginable.
Ambitions running high
Back in Habereshey, though, I discovered ambition could run even higher. When I asked one student what she wanted to do when she left school, she told me:
“I want to be the Minister of Education!”
Her boast was a reference to the fact that the recent Minister of Education was a women, Zamzam Abdi Aadan, and she was a role model whose example had set a new high bar to which this girl aspired.