At her school in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp on the outskirts of Galkayo district in Somalia, 9-year-old Saida enjoys a meal around a table with her classmates.
It’s just one of the meals that she will be provided at school that day – part of a food program designed to help children stay and learn in school during the worst drought in more than four decades.
As I view this scene, my eyes are drawn to a sticker on the back of the bench Saida is sitting on. It says, “Education cannot wait.”
In the midst of catastrophic drought, a looming hunger crisis, and mass displacement across the Horn of Africa – let that be a rallying call… Education cannot wait.
Communities here in the Horn of Africa are facing the immediate threat of starvation, with forecasts indicating that the October-December 2022 rainy season is likely to underperform, marking the fifth consecutive failed season in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.
As families struggle to cope and leave their homes in search of food, children lose access to education.
In Somalia, more than 400,000 school-aged girls and boys have lost access due to displacement since January 2021, with 1.68 million children now out of school. A total of 900,000 in-school children are at risk of dropping out as the livelihoods of households are wiped out and children are drawn into the daily struggle of getting sustenance.
Many marginalized children, particularly disadvantaged girls like Saida and IDPs in drought-ravaged locations of Somalia, are most likely to suffer from ill health and malnutrition owing to the drought, the result of which is expected to be highest amongst this target group in terms of their attendance and ability to learn once in school.
This isn’t the first time we have seen education affected in this way.
Following the 2017 drought, 90% of children who lost access to education in Somalia never returned.
The stakes are so high. We cannot let this happen again.
Failing to provide a timely Education in Emergency response risks undoing development investments and gains made to the education system. Funding an adequate emergency response can be the most cost-effective way of protecting these gains through the crisis.
In drought-affected regions in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia, the ADRA network is at work, responding to the needs of those most vulnerable at this time.
As part of this response, ADRA is providing school children like Saida and her siblings with food rations consisting of sweetened porridge and polished rice and red beans to help them stay in school through these harsh times. Our hope is that it will also help them concentrate in class and learn to the best of their ability.
ADRA is also providing safe water for students and their communities as well as providing learning supplies, livelihood support activities, and rehabilitating strategic water points were possible.
In my role as Education Program Manager, my biggest task is to ensure that the thousands of students supported by ADRA do not drop out of school because of the drought. In Somalia, once a child leaves school it is difficult to get them to return. Girls are often married off, while boys get lured by drugs or coerced into armed opposition groups. These interventions, to keep children like Saida in school, are imperative to create a more hopeful future for them and their families.
Saida embodies the true Somali spirit – of strength and calm through the fiercest of storms. Her and her family remain hopeful that soon, very soon, she will return to her normal life back home in Guriel, her birthplace and where – prior to the drought– she and her parents and 5 siblings called home.
But for now, she continues to learn from the IDP camp.
And we will continue to support her and so many other girls like her across the Horn of Africa.
Because education cannot wait.