Interview with Jürgen Feldmann Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, Berlin, 7.9.2018

After 25 years of conflict, Somalia no longer has a functioning school system. In the camps of Mogadishu, not even one in ten children receives formal education. For three years now, Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe has supported children of displaced persons with educational vouchers. Without this help, the children of the East-African, civil war-dominated land, have no chance to learn how to read or write. What follows is a conversation with Jürgen Feldmann, who is responsible for the project of the evangelical charity in Somalia.

The rate of school enrolment in Somalia is among the lowest in the world. How many children can participate in this educational project?
In recent years, we have set up 30 so-called temporary learning facilities together with our partners. This is not a fixed building but rather a type of tent equipped with benches and boards. Every facility has four classrooms, with every class consisting of approximately 24 children. At this time our project is supporting 2,880 children from extremely poor families. We set strict criteria for admittance into the project because otherwise we cannot provide for all children on account of our limited capacity. In the camps alone there are 45,000 to 50,000 children of school age! They are not going to school because their parents cannot afford the fees or because the school´s location is too distant.

How does the project work?
In the majority of school projects, students are supported with equipment, teaching materials and books. However this helps, above all, the school and reaches only those children whose parents can afford the fees. Our goal, however, is to ensure that children of internally displaced persons also receive an education. This often means households with single mothers, pregnant women, older family members and/or many children. We speak of households because they are often not homogeneous families; it is often the case that families consist of other persons such as orphans, or those who were separated from their parents while fleeing. We want to facilitate their entry into education. For this reason our project works differently: the learning facilities are operated by a teachers collectives. Each collective operates its learning site like a small business. The teachers are themselves displaced persons, who worked in this profession before their flight and thus have a certain qualification. They earn an income of about 100 dollars per month through this work, a figure barely above the living wage. The children who are beneficiaries of this project receive an “education voucher“ that entitles them to attend classes. The teachers collect and exchanges the vouchers in return for their wage.

Do the children who are beneficiaries of this project go to school for several years?
We work in emergency aid and do not have a regulated environment like that of a normal development project. Our primary goal therefore is to ensure children can go to school in the first place and are not completely excluded from the education system because they have had to leave their region of origin. But of course, our goal is also that the education they receive corresponds to certain standards. This is difficult given the fact that after almost 25 years of conflict, no school system actually exists anymore. The new government is rebuilding the system and we are in contact with the Ministry of Education. This relates to records of school results, which children need to enter the next class; let´s imagine a family has fled their area to Mogadhishu. If the situation back home improves itself, the family will go back there. It is possible for a child to go to a temporary school for a few weeks and then return home with the family. If there is a school at home, the child has to show that he also went to school during his time in Mogadhishu. At the moment there is no instrument for that. We want to give these children as complete a school education as possible.

You say 45-50,000 children in the camps need schooling. Is the project of Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe the only one of its kind?
Not anymore, our approach is now taken up and implemented by other organizations, and the European Union also supports educational projects. However the need remains enormous. Our surveys show that the school enrolment rate in Mogadishu is 19 percent. The national average is 40 percent, but this includes Koranic schools, which do not teach all the subjects that are important for a job seeking. If you look at how many children of displaced people actually have access to formal education, then that’s suddenly only 8 percent. This 8 percent usually live near permanent schools and have parents who can pay the school fees. That’s not even one in ten children.

What does this all mean for this generation of children?
The children who are currently going to our schools are between 6 and 12 years old. In truth, however, there has been no school education in Somalia for 25 years! Only 20 percent of the official schools are open, and some are using teaching materials dating back to before the crisis, i.e before 1992. An estimated 60 to 70 percent of all children of every generation since 1992 have been excluded from class. If you walk through a city in Somalia today and see young people, you can assume that seven out of ten did not receive any formal education. Even then, the rest have only limited education. Those who have been well educated have received their education abroad, mostly in Ethiopia, Kenya or India.

Are there any current efforts to expand the school projects?
We have reached the limits of our capacity. Naturally, we will strive for further funding. Expanding the project to 6,000 children, for example, would mean that we would also want to guarantee a place for the children in the following year. That is difficult – and therefore not sustainable. However, we are trying to publicize the project so that this approach will be adopted by other organizations and more funding will be available.