"It is my hope and prayer to see a stable Somalia where children can progress in their education and teachers are free to serve in any part of the country. Education is the only hope." - An interview with Sirad Mohamud Jilacow (50), Head Teacher at Malmaley Primary School, one of the 15 primary schools that Trócaire supports in the Gedo region of Somalia.
Why did you decide to become a school teacher and do you like this profession?
I was an orphan but had the opportunity to go to school and complete my education. I became a teacher because I want to give children in my community the same opportunity, regardless of their backgrounds or situations.
I enjoy teaching and hope to continue doing so until age catches up with me!
How long have you been teaching?
I have been teaching since 1984, in different parts of the country.
Which subjects do you teach?
I mainly teach Science but as we have few teachers here I also teach other subjects like English and Maths.
Which subject do the pupils like best and why?
I have noticed that they enjoy Science as it is mostly about the environment, what they learn in class, for example animals and plants, are things they see every day.
What are the biggest challenges you face as a teacher in this environment?
There are not enough books for all the children. Sometimes teaching becomes difficult when you want to display a diagram or a picture yet there is only one book for everyone. The children end up scrambling just to get a glimpse.
For some subjects we do not have any reference books and we end up borrowing from neighbouring schools. If we can't get access to books we rely on and pull directly from our own teaching experience. We also have to write everything on the chalkboard for the students to copy into their books.
The other challenge is that during the dry season and the pastoralist nature of families here, parents move to areas where they can find pasture and water for their animals. This means that often children have to leave with their parents and hence cannot go to class.
Left: soap is distributed to students at Malmaley Primary. Right: Sirad Mohamud Jilacow, Head Teacher
How do you encourage pupils to stay in school until the final grade?
During school holidays many children help their parents to look for pasture for their animals. Some end up spending long periods of time away from their homes and fail to come back to school.
I keep the contact list of parents or guardians and ask for the whereabouts of those students who fail to report back to school. I also receive support in doing this from parents and education committees.
The school feeding programme with Trócaire also helps us encourage pupils to complete their education.
What are the biggest challenges facing the parents, and communities, in sending their children to school?
The biggest challenge is the lack of adequate knowledge of the importance of education. The nomadic way of life, where families migrate to other areas in search for pasture and water for their animals, denies many children the opportunity to attend school.
Cultural practices, such as girls’ early marriage, which is still practiced here in my village, continues to hinder enrolment of girls in school. Girls also lack female ‘role models’ from the community who they can look up to and seek advice from, on education matters.
However, a lady from the village who now works with a local organisation visited our home area, encouraging parents within the community on the importance of educating the girl child. As a result, 15 girls from that village were enrolled in a Trócaire supported school in Belet Hawa district. I’m glad the notion towards educating girls seems to be changing.
Good times are ahead of us!
If you were to make some changes in your community, what would they be?
I would change the main economic activity to agriculture because, unlike pastoralism, farming requires minimal movement or relocations of families. This will give children the space to enrol in schools and pursue their education until completion.
Lastly, it is my hope and prayer to see a stable Somalia where children can progress in their education and teachers are free to serve in any part of the country. Education is the only hope.