Girls in rural Somalia spend a large portion of their time helping with household chores. But thanks to Education Cannot Wait funding many girls are now able to receive an education. Credit: Save the Children

Education Cannot Wait Investments Transform Children’s Lives in Somalia

Ten-year-old Sabah Abdi from Ali Isse, a small rural village on the Somaliland-Ethiopian border, scored well in her recent exams, placing third overall in her local village school of 400 students.

Yet is was just three years ago Sabah spent her days helping with household chores and herding goats, rather than studying because her pastoralist family could not afford her school fees.

“I’m very glad to be among the top three students in the village school. I am hoping to be a doctor and cure sick people in the village when I grow up,” Sabah told IPS.

Droughts, food insecurity prevent Somaliland children from attending school

Recurrent droughts, food insecurity, water shortages, poverty and inequality hinder efforts to get more Somaliland children in schools. Families in this part of Somaliland are dependent on their livestock for basic food and income, with many moving from place to place in search of good rains and pasture.

In July 2019, the Somaliland Government, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) – the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises – and UNICEF Somaliland launched a multi-year resilience programme to increase access to quality education for children and youth impacted by ongoing crises in Somaliland.

The Somaliland national primary net attendance ratio is estimated at 49 percent for boys and 40 percent for girls. Only 16 percent of children who are internally displaced and 26 percent of children in rural communities are enrolled in primary schools. 

If fully funded, ECW’s $64 million three-year education programme will reach 198,440 (out of whom 50 percent are girls) children by end of the third year, including 21,780 supported through ECW’s seed funding. Currently 18,946 students – 46 percent of whom are girls – have benefitted from the programme in 69 targeted schools in six regions. Out of these, a significant number of out of school children 6,342 (3,074 girls) have been enrolled in schools.


In addition, ECW has also launched two other similar multi-year investments in Puntland and in the Federal Government of Somalia and Member States in the amounts of $60 million and $67.5 million, respectively. The three programmes are aligned in outcomes and focus on increasing access to free education for the most marginalised children and youth, including for pastoralist communities.

“The positive impacts of ECW’s multi-year investments in Somalia and the tangible difference we are making together with our partners in the lives of Sabah and so many other marginalised girls and boys are heartwarming and inspiring. For the first time, many of these children and youth can learn and develop themselves in a safe, protective and inclusive environment,” said Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait. “Yet, so much more remains to be done. I call on strategic donor partners to join our efforts and fully fund the three programmes. Together, we can restore the hope of a better future for Somalia’s most vulnerable children and youth.”

The Hani school in Sanaag region, Somalia. Credit: Save the Children

Free schooling thanks to ECW funding

The primary school Sabah attends offers free schooling thanks to support from ECW. It has enabled her and other kids from this rural community to start learning.

Sabah’s mother, Anab Jama, said she is now able to keep her children in the village school while her husband travels with the animals in search of fresh forage and water. “I stayed behind to take care of the children at school. I don’t want them to miss the free education,” Jama told IPS. 

Last year, ECW funding supported the distribution of education kits by local partners and the Somaliland Ministry of Education during the COVID-19 lockdown so children could continue their studies until schools reopened at the end of 2020. The kits included books and solar lamps.

“When the pandemic hit Somaliland, we closed down the school and sent kids back home,” Mohamed Abdi Egal, the headteacher of the Ali Isse primary school, told IPS. “There was not any other option we could provide to continue students’ learning. That was the biggest disruption we saw. When we resumed late 2020, we started to maintain social distancing and hand-washing.”

“Education is considered a vital element in the development of the community but when emergencies unfold like COVID-19 it shows how it hampers provision of essential services, including education,” Egal told IPS.

Thanks to funding 11,052 students, 4,568 of whom are girls, were able to sit for their grade 8 centralised final examinations in Puntland State, Somalia. Credit: Save the Children

Schooling tailored to pastoralist families’ needs

A year after the 2019 programme launched, the number of enrolments of children in the pastoralist community increased substantively – from 12 percent to 50 percent due to the programme design – said Safia Jibril Abdi, UNICEF Education Specialist in charge of managing the ECW-funded programme in Somaliland.

“Education always needs long-term planning. In the drought-affected areas families are on the move and besides that the children do the hard work, such as grazing animals. Girls are core for rural families when it comes to household chores,” continued Abdi.

“We started afternoon classes during the beginning of the school year [in August 2019] and teachers were hired. When the education timing matched the rural families’ lifestyle it brought impact and is much better for rural children.”

The programme targeted children 10 years and above and those who would be able to successfully complete their secondary education in five years within the constraints of their nomadic lifestyles.

Local community members in 15 locations across Somaliland have established education committees to ensure the long-term sustainability of providing education here.

The goal was to increase access of children to the education with a safe environment. Also, the most important is to make the project sustainable for the local community,” Abdi told IPS. “Girls in school have certain needs, such as sanitary pads, which we provide to them. This helps teenage girls not miss ongoing classes during their periods.”

The UNICEF Education Specialist said that the benefits of the collaborative approach that saw the various actors, including the Ministry of Education, rural communities and civil society organisations, working alongside and with funding from ECW to deliver education for crisis-affected children made the initiative successful.

“It is a sad reality that one in every two children in Somaliland doesn’t have the opportunity for free education. With the launch of the ECW programme we are now able to reach these marginalised children many of whom are in the conflict affected and rural areas,” she said.

Meanwhile, Save the Children, an ECW partner working in Somalia’s Puntland State, has launched multiple distance learning initiatives, including uploading lessons online to help students continue their studies despite COVID-19 lockdowns.

As a result, 11,052 students, 4,568 of whom are girls, were able to sit for their grade 8 centralised final examinations.

“We have created an online learning programme under the ECW fund that targeted primary schools in Puntland. Currently 15,604 students, among them 6,924 girls, have access to education with the support of ECW in Puntland,” Ahmed Mohamed Farah, Save the Children’s ECW Education Consortium manager in Puntland, Somalia, told IPS.

As an ECW implementing agency, Save the Children aims to strengthen the Puntland government education system and enhance the quality by monitoring students’ dropout as well as managing the education system in the four regions it targets in the northeastern Somalia.

According to Farah, ECW funding also paid for the exam fees of 1,000 students from 51 target schools across Somalia.

“Certain students from the low-income families and those in the remote areas could not register for their national primary school exams due to the registration fees therefore we were able to cover for their exam fees.

“Six out of the 10 top grade students were girls. That is the impact,” Farah said.



To learn more about Education Cannot Wait’s work for children and youth caught in emergencies and protracted crises, please visit: and please follow @EduCannotWait on Twitter.