Sunday, September 1, 2013

Those who educate children well are more to be honored than those who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well

From right: Nimo, Zahra, Ubah, Nimo II, Deqa, Suad and Zulekha

Powerful words by Aristotle, which speaks to my experience touring an orphanage in Hargeysa, Somaliland this summer. It was just two years ago, on September 2011, when I started this blog as an outlet for my love of travel and photography. Its been a struggle to find a meaningful focus that motivates me to turn this little blog into something that not just speaks to the reader/visitor, but also to me. I just did not see the point in posting mere pictures of my travels, a privilege few of us in the world can boast about, when many young women and men in 2/3 of the globe are struggling to access basic needs. So in the spirit of my blog's anniversary, I will be focusing more on what I find politically and globally engaging and interesting. Whether its my fieldwork in Africa or upcoming mini documentaries on Somaliland child labor, primary education (girls education in particular), I would like to profile a world, few of us in the West are privileged to witness and hopefully, a voice for the many who cannot speak for themselves. So, I hope those of you who have enjoyed my blog or follow it, can join me in this new journey of mine. Don't worry thou, I will still post fun and interesting pictures I take, there are plenty of architectural and historical shots from the Middle East coming up in the next few months.

From right: Ismaial, Ali, Abshir, Mohamed, Osman, Ahmed, and I believe Abdi

On July/August 2013, I joined my mom to visit my brother who has been working on various humanitarian projects in Somaliland. It was another chance for me to explore mom's hometown and meet some of the many relatives who tend to bring their kids during the summer. Besides meeting so many Somalis from Finland to Chicago, it was an enriching and educational experience for me. One of the main interest I had on this trip was to visit the Somaliland Orphanage in the city of Hargeysa, interview the Director, meet with the children and find out whether the conditions has improved from 3 years ago. So here are some of the pictures I took of the amazing kids who live in the orphanage and the interview I conducted with the Director:

Director, Ms. Aisha Mohamed Qalib, in the centre and Ali, Financial Officer to the left

Question: How long have you been running the Orphanage?

Qalib: After the election of Kulmiye party, I asked that I run the Hargeysa Orphanage Centre and I was appointed as the Director by the president, Silaanyo in October 2010.

Question: Why did you request to run the Orphanage?

Qalib: I always wanted to work for and support abandoned children of Somaliland. Also, this particular orphanage had a horrible reputation of corruption and neglect of the children who live there. So, I believed as a Muslim, it was our obligation and duty to make a drastic difference for the betterment of children who have neither parents nor tribal leaders to speak for them.

Ubah and Sadiya

Question: How many children are under your care?

Qalib: there are approximately 427, ranging mostly between the ages of 1 - 18 years old. We have 55 girls and 372 boys.

Question: Such a large number of boys compared to girls. Is that always the case?

Qalib: Most of the abandoned babies who are rescued by police are boys. Also, we try our best to adopt girls into a good home, because they tend to be much more vulnerable in a society.

Question: How do most children end up in the orphanage?

Qalib: Majority of the children are abandoned and we do not know under what condition did the young mother become pregnant. So, often the babies are abandoned in front of a mosque, the centre, or a police station. Some are even rescued from garbage disposal area, if wild dogs do not get to them first. Then there are those children whose parents have died, while some are given up by the mother who cannot take care of them for various reasons and we take care of them.

there were so many kids, it was hard to keep track of their names, but some of them are mentioned above.

Question: What changes have you brought to the orphanage in the past 3 years?

Qalib: it was utter chaos when I started my position, mainly because there was no division of responsibility among staffs, children were all running together and older ones would bully the younger ones. So, first thing i did was seek the support of local doctors, nurses and teachers and request some of them to volunteer their times in the first few months and check on the health of every child under my care. We started recording the age and name of the children and youth in the orphanage, to create a paper trail and make sure everyone was accounted for.

I also divided the children into 3 different groups based on age and gender. Boys 16 years of age and older were given a division of the campus with supervised male and female teachers. We also developed a day care program for infants and primary school age children.

Question: Do children in the orphanage attend full time schooling?

Qalib: Yes they do. Every child who reaches 6 years of age, is enrolled in the public education. Currently Somaliland Ministry of Education have allocated funding for all orphans to attend school up to university without a cost.

some of the young boys who are an academic success at the orphanage

Question: Who are the primary funders? And what support if any do you see Somali expats in North America, or anyone interested in sponsoring an orphan, can provide?

Qalib: To address your first question, we are funded by Somaliland Ministry of Education through international agencies, such as USAid and Save the Children. Our secondary support are Somali expats like yourself, from the West who either buy basic necessity like milk, diapers and cloths when they visit. Also, some donate money by sponsoring a specific child or a group of children through out their schooling. What is important to me is to ensure these children have the opportunity to access free education and stay in school. We are hoping to build a primary school within the facility and add on to the structure to have a sustainable day care and qualified early childhood educators, which we lack the funding for right now. 

Some of the volunteers who help out at the Orphanage surrounded by the kids

Question: Mom told me this orphanage was a boarding school back in the 70s and she attended it as a kid. 

Qalib: Yes, it was a boarding school ones upon a time, I believe your mother's room number was 5 or 7.Things have changed a lot in Somaliland and we still have a long way to recover as a nation.

Question: There seems to be a strong bond between the children at the orphanage, I see the older ones taking care of the younger kids. Has it always been this way or its something you've encouraged?

Qalib: I believe its partly the religious teaching that conveys to the kids to be kind to one another. Also, when you are an orphan, specially in a culture where legitimacy of birth and knowing your father and heritage is utmost important, it creates a special bond among children whom many do not know their parents and where they came from.

Question: last question, what are some of the success at the orphanage you are proud of the most?

Qalib: other than creating a system of accountability and structure for the children and staffs, I believe I'm mostly proud of the academic achievement of the boys and girls at the centre. We have an afternoon school programs, where the local Tech university volunteers to teach the children English and math. We have 4 of the boys in the orphanage (ranging between age 11 to 13 years old) who have achieved the highest test score in the province of Hargeysa, beating students in both private and public school.

Question: That's amazing, i will be coming back to interview them as well, so hopefully that will be okay with you.

Qalib: of course, you can talk to anyone here whether staff or a child.

the kids playground, hargeysa lacks a friendly space for children to play overall

 One of the new babies in the orphanage

More pictures of the kids at the orphanage

When i finish editing it, I will post a short film of my interview with both Aisha and the kids, including a segment of the Eid celebration.

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