MOGADISHU, Somalia—Sudd Khalif, 16, was among 35 students competing to answer a teacher’s question in a packed classroom at the Yemeni Community School here.
Khalif fled the civil war in Yemen, his home country, two years ago, postponing his dream of becoming a doctor. Now he needs to study hard, he said, because he still hopes to study medicine some day.
“I want to achieve my dream in Somalia,” said Khalif. “I had given up in life” in Yemen, he said. “But I thank God that everything is going well now. I’m now lucky to access education like other people.”
Khalif is among 5,800 Yemeni refugees who are trying to make a new life in Somalia—an irony, given that thousands of Somalis in the past have fled to Yemen to escape violence in their country.
But with the help of the United Nations and international humanitarian groups, Khalif and thousands of other Yemeni youth are receiving a basic education, many of them for the first time.
Unicef and other U.N. agencies warned in December that the conflict had created “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world” and that a “deepening catastrophe” loomed, with food supplies uncertain and some 16 million people living without access to safe water, proper sanitation, and basic health services.
The chaos in Yemen is also taking a toll on Somalia.
Nearly 35,000 Somali refugees have returned from Yemen since the war began, according to the U.N. refugee agency. The government of Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has struggled to accommodate the returnees as well as the new refugees arriving from Yemen, while also fighting al-Shabaab extremists linked to Al Qaeda and a devastating drought.
The building that now houses the Yemeni Community School here became a reception center for refugees and returnees.
Constructed in 1978, the building was in serious disrepair after having served as a base for various militias that controlled Somalia during its civil war. With support from the U.N. refugee agency, the nonprofit group Action Africa Help International rehabilitated the facility with the goal of helping exclusively Yemeni students. Last year it enrolled more than 500 boys and girls from Yemen between the ages of 5 and 17.
More than one-third of the world’s refugee children are missing out on education, according to Unicef. In Somalia, tackling that problem is hard. The East African nation has one of the lowest school-enrollment rates in the world. Only 42 percent of primary-school-age children attend school and only 40 percent of those children are female, according to U.N. figures.
The Yemeni Community School gives the youngsters much-needed structure and stability, said Abdullahi Keinan, a project manager with Action Africa Help Somalia, a local arm of the international group.
The school has also become a base for other outreach efforts, he added.
“We are providing quality education to Yemeni refugee children in Somalia,” Keinan said. “We are also working with partner agencies to run a humanitarian logistics warehouse supplying non-food items.”
Action Africa Help Somalia provides students with books and meals and covers their expenses to attend the school. Most students in Somalia pay a fee for their education.
Ismael Aden, a teacher at the Yemeni school, said children attending classes are given meals as part of school’s feeding program to boost the enrollment.
“I’m very happy as a teacher to impart education to young people who are looking for it,” said Aden. “These students are determined to achieve their dreams despite the challenges they are going through as refugees. This is amazing to everyone here. It’s encouraging teachers and donors.”
The school uses Arabic as the language of instruction—along with Somali, Arabic is one of Somalia’s official languages—and it uses the Saudi Arabian curriculum. “This is important,” said Aden, “because it allows Yemeni children who are used to their curriculum to transfer without any problem.”
Halima Noor, 28, has two sons attending the school. Her sons are receiving an education superior to what their former school in Yemen provided, she said.
“I feel very happy when I see my children going to school,” said Noor, who arrived in Mogadishu three years ago, after her husband was shot dead by rebels in her hometown of Sana’a. “I know they have a bright future and this makes me happy when I’m sad. It removes my stress. I feel my dreams are still alive.”
Khalif feels the same way.
“I want to become a doctor because I have another chance to make it,” he said. “I can achieve my dream from anywhere.”