To many Somalis of my generation, education was (and still is) the way out of the dusty villages we were born in and the attendant backbreaking labor. I cannot emphasize enough how schooling has had a great impact on our lifestyles, from that of our nomadic ancestors to a new, modern world, a world that did not even exist in our imaginations.
This other world did not matter to my great grandfather Hajj Mohammed Arab or his wives.
Most of my extended family members never got the chance to enjoy the serenity of a classroom or the noisy wisdom of a lecturer standing in front of a class pontificating on some minutiae of astrophysics.
But in fairness to my extended family, they did not need classroom education. Classroom education could not multiply the number of herds my grandfather had, or did not give him and my relatives a better way of finding greener pastures for their herds than they already knew.
Education was seen as a way for white folk to pull the wool over our eyes as they stole the land as we tended our much prized camels.
My parents realized much later the benefits of secular education, that it was as important as dugsi (traditional Quranic school) was to their children. By then, the damage of lagging behind in progress had already been done.
At a time when thousands of children across the northern Kenya cannot access education because their erstwhile teachers are too afraid to go there, it pains me and takes me back to a story that my aunt Safia Sheikh, once told me.
Aunt Safia’s commitment to learning English is an inspiration.
She knew that reading, writing and speaking English, the lingua franca of the modern world was the key to many things including finding a position in the government, or getting an overseas scholarship in the 1970’s Kenya where she grew up. In fact, my uncle and his friends got into the Kenya Navy with just but a form two certificate and with time moved up the ranks.
The fire of education was spreading fast across the country. No one wanted to be left out, not Central Kenya, where the base of missionaries in Kenya was, not even Aunt Safia, but her parents could not give an OK, to let their daughter out to learn the ways of a “strange man.”
After much whining and nagging on her part, they allowed her to go to school. However, she was married off when in class three bringing her educational pursuits to a sudden halt. To her family, that was the end of school.
Not so for little Safia.
Her hopes of getting an education were never lost. Alone and at her home she bought herself books which she tried reading. Years later, her first born daughter, Hawa, was all grown up and in school. Hawa was among the top performing pupils in class, when Hawa came back home from school, Safia would request her daughter to teach her what she was taught in school and slowly with time, today my Aunt Safia can read, write and speak this English.
Aunt Safia and her husband worked hard enough to make sure their children got quality education even if it meant travelling overseas, she knew first hand what it meant to struggle for a good education and did not want to see any of her daughters to miss school. Never again.
Aunt Safia’s tale is the tale of the struggle of a young woman in northern Kenya, an area that is mostly marginalized for perhaps “nothing good in terms of resources can come out of it.” It is the tale of Farah, who has to walk 5 kilometres to the nearest primary school just to make sure he grasps what Mr. Wafula is teaching.
Today, education is a universal right to all children in the world, not just children from Kendu Bay but also children of Garissa, Wargadud and Madogashe; these children need as much quality education as Muthoni is given at Bishop Gatimu Primary School. Children in northern Kenya need qualified teachers who will provide quality education that will prove this children competent enough to sit for their final Kenya Certificate of Primary Education as well as the final secondary examinations.
A child in northern Kenya does not have to be a victim of circumstance, nor a victim of dastardly crimes committed by a criminal group. Coming to school and sitting in an empty class is the most boring thing I have ever encountered in my life. I went to Eastleigh High School and teachers used to strike every term for a pay increase. We were habitually left to stare at the walls and making stories all day.
Unlike my former high school, the children of northern Kenya are not suffering because the teachers want a 200% pay raise or an allowance. They are out of class because of rampant insecurity and the laxity of the security organs.
Kenya is hurtling towards vision 2030 but how on earth will we get to that vision, when thousands of young visions are being massacred each day? The choices we are making today by not giving the gift of education to these children will one day haunt this children and what else will they do if not regret and lead wasted lives? And the government, whose duty is to guarantee the lives, security, education and well being of the children of northern Kenya will duck blame.
I wish someone will see how Halima in Mandera wakes up early in the morning to realize her dream of becoming a doctor one day. Or how many cows a parent has brought to the livestock market in Garissa so that four of his boys can go to Garissa High school.
Martin Luther King, the father of civil rights in the United States once upon said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
It is high chance we realize when we work together we can win together, but when you subject others to aggression then the result is, rebels are born out of that and as a people we lose our history.
Every child has the right to quality education, so give one to children of northern Kenya.
Article first appeared on Sahan Journal. Written by: Idris Muktar is a student at the United States International University Africa. Follow him on twitter @IdrissMuktar.