A new school for disabled children in Qardo, north-eastern Somalia is providing a stable and well equipped learning environment for 180 boys and girls.
Gaheyr School, built by the UN’s children’s agency UNICEF, was handed over last month to the founder and director, Abdi Ali Adan, who has been teaching disabled children since 2004, and has had to move the institution to various locations over the years.
Abdi started with 15 students on small premises owned by the Somali government, which was taken over by the Puntland administration in 2011. They rented various rooms and were evicted three times due to inability to pay rent.
The new five-classroom school building with three toilets all equipped with metal hand railings is in a quieter part outside town where the students are no longer disturbed by noise of the market. Somali diaspora donors contributed money to buy a school bus.
“They have now got enough space, and a bus to pick them up in the morning and drop them off after school, and their morale is high.
The school is far better than the previous place which was not meant for learning,” said Ali, who has a physical disability himself, and has taught more than 600 disabled children for free in his long career.
“I was a businessman in Qardo when I saw children with disabilities roaming the streets without education and unable to attend normal schools – that’s when I first got the idea to open a school for them,” he explained.
Since Gaheyr School was officially registered with Puntland’s education ministry in 2017, the students have participated in the national examinations.
Last year, 15 students sat for the exams, including Ayub Salad Yusuf, 18, who has no movement in one leg and arm. He used to struggle getting to school on crutches.
“We sometimes wouldn’t find tuk-tuk taxis and had to walk to class. But now it’s much better, our bus comes to pick us!” Ayub said enthusiastically.
The school now has seven teachers, paid by the education ministry, and has been able to introduce extra subjects including English, science and social studies, as well as a full day of learning.
Hibo Mohamed Ahmed, 14, is among the 45 girls at Gaheyr. Her left leg was amputated after an infection when she was just two years old.
Two years ago, her parents decided to encourage her to get an education and she joined the school.
“We were previously learning only Somali language and maths, but we are now getting more subjects and I am understanding them.
We are many students and sometimes we help each other by explaining what others may not understand,” Hibo said.
The director said he plans to introduce secondary school classes within the next three years and is working on a school meals programme for next year.