(ERGO) – As part of our IDP camp series, Radio Ergo visited one of the IDP camps outside Garowe in Puntland. In this report, we profile the challenges and achievements of a mother from an ethnic minority group, the Somali Bantu, who overcame the odds to ensure her son had an education and a career.
Dalmar Abdi, 23, nearly dropped out of school several times as a young boy growing up in one of Garowe’s internal displacement camps, but he now stands at the blackboard teaching mathematics to children in one of the schools in the same camp.
Dalmar’s struggles have been magnified by the fact that he is from an ethnic minority group, the Somali Bantu. He has had to learn to cope with constant discrimination.
“When I first became a teacher, I was taken to second grade and I was told to introduce myself to the children and get to know them. I went in while the students were making noise and when I walked in they all went quiet and started to stare at me.
I realized they were all surprised. I heard some say, look at the Somali Bantu. I smiled, as I had already learnt how to deal with these racial slurs when I was a student!” Dalmar told Radio Ergo.
Dalmar, who completed a primary teacher training course at Garowe Teachers Education College in 2014, owes his education largely to his tenacious mother, Asha Elmi, who worked tirelessly to ensure that he had a bright future.
The family arrived in Garowe 21 years ago, fleeing destitution in Qallafe in Ethiopia’s Somali region.
Asha enrolled her first born Dalmar at Kaalo primary school when he turned six. Classes were free in the first two grades, but subsequent classes were offered at a fee of 120,000 shillings (around $6) and Koranic classes were an extra $4 a month.
Asha recalls how hard it was for the displaced families to mingle with the local residents in the city. Her family faced discrimination due to their features. She took jobs in garbage collection and cleaning to support her husband’s small income.
At that time, the camp was in the city, before the Puntland government relocated all IDP settlements to the outskirts in 2012.
“When I felt that I might miss paying the school fees, I would let my colleagues at the garbage collection keep my money so I wouldn’t end up spending it, that is how I managed to save for their education,” said Asha.
Some of the other camp residents gave encouragement and protection, and even chipped in for Dalmar’s school fees. But he almost dropped out several times to join the other boys who were on the streets earning a living instead of studying.
“There was an incident when I almost resorted to shoe polishing. I worked there for two days, I think I was in grade five. My mother knew about the superiority of education and she helped me get back to school. I would see my fellow students come with pocket money, I thought I should make some money,” he told Radio Ergo.
Asha took steps to protect her son from the bullying and persecution of other children.
“I gave him a lot of time: I used to walk him to school and come back to sit in front of the school gate when he came out. Once the head-teacher asked me why I came to school every day. I said I needed to escort my son to and from home. I explained to him the discrimination my son faced, and he promised to put in efforts to make the other students friendly,” she explained.
Two decades on, their life in the camps has not changed much. They now depend on Asha’s small earnings, as her husband left to live in Garowe with another wife.