It’s been the making of many leaders; the revival of Somaliland’s most prestigious and successful boarding school offers a unique place for east Africa’s brightest students. But urgent investment is needed to ensure the future of the British Empire’s ‘farewell gift’
In 1957, in his school, Ali Mahdi was asked to envision and write about Somaliland in the year 1999. A gifted Mahdi imagined: “Big railway junctions materialising from nothing, and multitudinous railway lines from all parts of the country focusing on the national Port, Berbera. The exploitation of the mineral wealth, at last achieved, and great industrial cities growing up around the newly-built factories, and the small village of Las Anod, becoming the Birmingham of the East. Hargeysa, still being the Capital, increasing in size and challenging the older cities of the world in a splendour, glory and renown.”
Mahdi was the product of Sheikh Secondary School – the farewell gift, which the British Empire left behind for the citizens of Somaliland. The school was built on the evergreen highlands of Sheikh; a small town in the northwestern region of Somaliland. Because of its cool climate throughout the year, it was deemed as a serene and apt residence for education seekers. The British invested in this boarding school by outsourcing qualified teachers on good salaries, providing a fully equipped library and laboratories, and selecting students who were regarded to be cream of the crop.
The school gained remarkable status and was considered prestigious, similar to Eton College. A considerable number of Somaliland’s prominent leaders, including the current president, Mohammed Ahmed Sillanyo, were some of the early graduates in the 50s.
Unfortunately, after 56 years Somaliland is nothing like Mahdi has foreseen. The country has gone through various changeovers in the last 50 years, including a civil war, which imploded the entire region. As a result, the education system went through a period of despair. Sheikh School was not spared from the damage.
In 2003, SOS Children’s Village, an independent charity that works to protect the interest and rights of children, stepped in, once Somaliland salvaged peace. They entered into a bilateral agreement with the government to recuperate Sheikh Secondary School. The charity sponsored students through private funds from individuals.
A survey conducted by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2008, found that one of the main reasons for not attending secondary school are lack of school fees (73.3 percent), marriage (55.4 percent), work at home (29.2 percent). Encouragingly, Sheikh students are far from these influences and are kept in safe haven, where education is a priority.
Ahmed Shawky, 25, was one of the first students who graduated from Sheikh School after it was restored. “Sheikh paved the way for many graduates to get better jobs without acquiring any university degree,” Shawky explains. He proudly shared that he was one of the top 10 students in East Africa and among the best in the world, when the results were announced in 2006.
The first 53 students, 8 of whom were girls, entered Sheikh School based on the high marks they scored in the national examination. They were also selected from the top 100 bright students who hailed from all over the Horn.
Rasala Abdikadir, one of the 8 girls who graduated years ago said, “Sheikh School is the only boarding institution in the country that provides separate accommodation for both genders.” She declared that the cultural biases have created a huge gap between boys and girls, but “girls naturally posses a talent and unquestionably can get to where boys have reached and even be in higher ranks,” she explained in eloquent English. Today, Sheikh School is housing 38 girls, despite the limited female designated buildings.
Ever since revitalising, the school has helped in producing visionaries. These graduates have the know-how factor and are able to venture into the world without the fear of failure.
Thousands of miles away from London, Khaled Abdulsalam, 24, was pleased to revel his success and reminisce the good old days in Sheikh School. He currently lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he is studying Construction Technology, but he also established his own business with three other friends, two of which are female graduate from Sheikh School. “I found the largest Somali network marketing group and we now own two franchises. We sell health products like herbal cosmetics, food supplements and health appliance from Tiens Biotech Group in Nairobi, Kenya.” Khaled’s business supports almost 30 independent distributors across Somaliland. He believes that they are supporting the health of many families, who don’t have access to adequate healthcare system.
When asked whether his business is supporting Somaliland’s economic development, he firmly said: “We are helping Somaliland youth by providing a chance to establish their own business. This will unleash their entrepreneurship potential, especially leadership skills, which the economy of Somaliland is limping for so far.” He plans to come back to his homeland, join the construction industry and one day launch his own company.
Khaled is not the only one who cannot wait to come back. Mohammed Bakal, ex-graduate, is presently in Egypt, studying for his second degree in agriculture and majoring in community development. “I’m interested in development sector as we need more work to do in this filed, especially in the rural areas where more than half of our population reside,” said Bakal, mindfully.
Students in Sheikh School never used to worry about funding their studies if they were unable to pay. SOS Children’s Village funded almost 90 percent of the fees, while parents were encouraged to contribute the remaining 10 percent. Adam Muse, Sheikh School headmaster, revealed that this no longer the case. The current economic crisis in the West is limiting contributions from private donors. “Despite the track-record and the equal opportunities we provide for both genders, many local international charities are not interested in funding secondary education,” said Muse disappointedly. He added: “Even food donation is not something they are willing to fund, as they rather focus on primary education projects.”
To reaffirm the reasons he succeeded, Abdulsalam rightfully said: “Somaliland is the best place for young people who have big dreams with good education [as key factor] because life changing opportunities are so copious and the country is still growing.”
Source: The Guardian