May 25, 2012
Two decades of war, insecurity and a weak economy have taken a toll on young Somalis, negatively affecting their access to educational facilities and cultural activities, and leaving them vulnerable to extremist groups.
The Kanava Youth Centre is working to breathe life into Somali culture and restore moderation by holding educational and cultural competitions for students and launching awareness campaigns.
One such competition involved about 100 students from ten secondary schools in Mogadishu. Students participated in a three-month knowledge competition, which culminated in an awards ceremony on May 17th.
Ten boys and ten girls were recognised for their achievements after performing well on several tests. Al-Fajir School won first place and al-Hikma Secondary School came in second place overall.
Principal of al-Hikma school Ali Hassan Mohamed told Sabahi that promoting quality education lies at the heart of the competitions, which are a means to end war, eradicate illiteracy and ignorance, and improve the quality of life throughout Somalia.
Mohamed said school competitions increase the competitive spirit among students. Through encouraging co-operation and group work, he said the competitions aim to abolish extremism, hostility and tribal bigotry, so that students can pave the way for peace in the country.
Mukhtar Mohamed Ahmed, 14, a tenth-grader at al-Fajir School, was one of the first-prize winners.
"I am very happy to have come in first place and call on my peers to pursue education and to give up killing and violence," he said. "I urge them to support international and domestic efforts to restore stability and governmental institutions in Somalia."
Ahmed said students want training and seminars, adding that internally displaced persons should be given "free education opportunities because that is an important and basic human right".
Children of internally displaced persons frequently have limited access to education, particularly girls, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.
"[Education] will alleviate the catastrophic situation and destroy the killing machine," Ahmed said. "Ignorance is a monster consuming Somalis and we have to fight it no matter how long it takes."
Abdullahi Hassan Alasow, director of education at the Kanava Youth Centre, said the centre started organizing these competitions to educate young people about violence and promote cultural and intellectual exchange. He said forging strong ties among students based on tolerance and co-existence will create a generation that believes in peace and dialogue.
The word "kanava" derives from the Finnish word for "canal", symbolising how Somali youth can bridge the gap between different segments of society. The Kanava Youth Centre was established in September 2002, and funding for the centre comes from non-governmental organisations and Somali donors living in the country and abroad.
Alasow said the centre organised the competition with support from the Somali Youth Forum, which helped pay for the prizes, including books and cash, and certificates.
The centre is also planning a campaign called "The Conscious Student", which aims to deter students from heading to battlefields and emigrating illegally. The campaign will be implemented during summer break in June and July, in collaboration with the University of Mogadishu.
"Our goal is to encourage contestants to embrace equality in the service of our country so we can regain our glory and lost culture and plant the seed of peace and love among Somali rivals," he told Sabahi. "We would also like to raise the level of education among the younger generation."
According to statistics from the Ministry of Education, Culture and Higher Education, illiteracy among adults is at its highest rate. In rural areas, about 90% of residents cannot read or write.
Sayid Ali Hussein, a teacher who works in education and relief efforts, said that when the central government collapsed in 1991, the educational system also crumbled, leaving a whole generation decades behind.
He told Sabahi that schools are starting to revive, however subjects are taught in Arabic using books donated from the Gulf, which do not cover Somali history or geography and are centred on the Middle East. Somali and English are only taught as language classes.
Hussein encouraged teachers to start competitions in schools to promote education and build a society with the tools to educate itself. He also urged parents to encourage their children to seek education and innovation rather than join al-Shabaab.
Mohamed Ibrahim, who heads the Somali Youth Advocacy Organisation, said depriving children of educational opportunities makes them vulnerable to violence, drugs and alcohol.
He told Sabahi that education helps ensure the next generation is raised with strong values, sound morals and patriotism, which will encourage a sense of unity and help them develop conflict resolution skills.
Opening the lines of communication between children and parents will also help ensure that children do not fall astray, he said.
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