Supporting the Education of the less fortunate in Somalia

The importance of education is quite clear. Education is the knowledge of putting one’s potentials to maximum use. One can safely say that a human being is not one in the proper sense till he is educated.

This importance of education is basically for two reasons. The first is that the training of a human mind is not complete without education. Education makes man a right thinker. It tells man how to think and how to make decision.

The second reason for the importance of education is that only through the attainment of education, man is enabled to receive information from the external world; to acquaint himself with past history and receive all necessary information regarding the present. Without education, man is as though in a closed room and with education he finds himself in a room with all its windows open towards outside world.

This is why Islam attaches such great importance to knowledge and education. When the Qur’an began to be revealed, the first word of its first verse was ‘Iqra’ that is, read. Education is thus the starting point of every human activity.

A scholar (alim) is accorded great respect in the hadith. According to a hadith the ink of the pen of a scholar is more precious than the blood of a martyr. The reason being that a martyr is engaged in defence work while an alim (scholar) builds individuals and nations along positive lines. In this way he bestows a real life to the world.

The Qur’an repeatedly asks us to observe the earth and the heavens. This instils in man a desire to learn natural science. All the books of hadith have a chapter on knowledge (ilm). In Sahih Bukhari there is a chapter entitled “The virtue of one who acquires ilm (learning) and imparts that to others.”

How great the importance attached to learning is in Islam can be understood from an event in the life of the Prophet. At the battle of Badr in which the Prophet gained victory over his opponents, seventy people of the enemy rank were taken prisoner. These prisoners of war were literate people. In order to benefit from their education the Prophet declared that if one prisoner teaches ten Medinan children how to read and write, this will serve as his ransom and he will be set free. More recently, the great Statesman and 1993 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Nelson Mandela, went on to state that, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and for him and the African National Congress party he lead, this proved to be true as apartheid in South Africa was finally defeated in 1994 by the election of Mandela as the first black president of South Africa.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Mandela

Mandela’s emphasis on education and its ability to change the world is more than a mere quote to promote education. It is the truth. Nations can rebuild, grow and strengthen if they have the educated and ambitious workforce and population that are necessary to do all of these things.

Dr. Bulhan, the Chancellor of the University of Hargeisa, who came to Europe with the Chancellors of other Somailand Universities such as Amoud to promote education and academic co-operation between European Universities and themselves, gave a speech emphasising the importance of education and the financial difficulties his and other Somaliland Higher education institutions face in delivering it to wider groups.

Dr. Bulhan, the Chancellor of the University of Hargeisa, speaking to Somali communities in Bristol, UK

Dr. Bulhan spoke of the growth of Higher education in Somaliland and the desperate need there was when he gave up a full time Professorship in America to go back to Hargeisa to be part of the development of Somaliland and Hargeisa University. Dr. Bulhan also spoke of the hunger that existed among his students and wider society to attain knowledge and the greatest obstacle that stood in their way: the fees. In order to operate as a university and to pay the salaries of teachers and support staff, Hargeisa University must charge for the education it provides and the only feasible way of doing this is to charge students as a result of the government been in absolutely no position to be able to support students. Dr. Bulhan informed those in the meeting that he has done all that could be done to reduce the fees and that everybody has sacrificed to bring the fees down to the bear minimum that is required to keep the University going. However, despite this, many who have the ability to study at higher education level cannot still afford to and many others, who were fortunate enough to enter higher education, cannot afford to finish it due to an inability to pay their fees.

Whilst many Somali youth in the West squander the opportunity to educate themselves for the better, more prosperous and fulfilling futures available to them, most of their counterparts back in Somaliland are struggling to feed and clothes themselves. Education to these youngsters is a premium; a luxury and not a right.

Dr Bulhan, far right, with members of Bristol communities

In order to remedy this, Dr. Bulhan has requested support from the Somali people in Diaspora who have the ability to support any of his students to enter or continue their education at the University he leads. In fact, any assistance to any under privileged student at any University in Somaliland is welcome and desperately needed. But in the case of Hargeisa University, Dr. Bulhan has created a Dahabshiil account for any potential sponsor to donate money to assist any of his students. Those who do sponsor will be able to communicate directly with those they sponsor and be informed of their progress by the University throughout their academic career.

The importance of education is very well known or ought to be, to the Somali community all over the world because as a result of tribal division, suspicion, hatred and ignorance brought on by a lack of education they have lost their homes and have been forced to immigrate all over the world.

Education will be Somalia’s route out of poverty and self destruction. It is the light at the end of the tunnel which has the possibility of ending 20 years of civil war and contributing to the development of the other more peaceful regions of Somalia such as Somaliland and Puntland.

Education, development and national progress are heavily linked and if Somalia and the Somali people are to have a hope of progressing in any society they must educate themselves and contribute to the education of their young fellow country men and women.  Many members of the Somali community have been reluctant in the past to support students back in Somalia and Somaliland because they thought there would be no benefit for them personally. Many of these people see education as important ONLY if and where it will lead to better earning potentials for the students they support. This could not be more wrong! Education should be pursued by all just for education sake. This point was stressed most eloquently by Mahatma Gandhi who wrote:

“The real difficulty is that people have no idea of what education truly is. We assess the value of education in the same manner as we assess the value of land or of shares in the stock-exchange market. We want to provide only such education as would enable the student to earn more. We hardly give any thought to the improvement of the character of the educated. The girls, we say, do not have to earn; so why should they be educated? As long as such ideas persist there is no hope of our ever knowing the true value of education.”

Of course, no one is asking that all students be egalitarian and ask nothing in return for their many years of study. Nor should they but it is important to avoid the creation of greater inequality than that which already exists in Somalia and Somaliland between those that have and those that do not. At present there are a few who can afford to live comfortably and educate themselves as a result of support from family in the Diaspora or personal familial wealth. However, the majority of people, especially students are destitute.

Although Somali communities in Diaspora are still horribly divided even in the enlightened West they have settled in, it is fundamental to stress that there should be no barriers to providing financial support for the education of those who have the ability and the potential to learn and to give back to society In the future regardless of which institution they attend and what tribe or gender they may be. What matters is that we as a society care enough for our unfortunate counterparts back in Somalia and Somaliland to support them through their education in the hope that they will be able to better their prospects. Corporations should also exercise social responsibility and dip into their profits to assist those that live, work and study in the communities they make their profits.

In some ways, any support of any student in Somali or Somaliland will be aiding the development of the Somali people in their entirety and no one else, as these students are undoubtedly the future of the nation.

No one is asking anybody to contribute to the creation of an educated elite through their sponsorships or donations but what people are been encouraged to do is to contribute to the creation of a confident, well educated generation to lead the Somali people in their entirety to a better, sustainable future. By simply donating or even better, sponsoring a student through their university career, one can truly say that they are contributing to the progress of an entire people currently engulfed by poverty and division. So for this noble endeavour all people whether Somali, Somalilander and even non Somalis, are encouraged to contribute and support this cause.

Liban Obsiye

Bristol, UK.

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