The Somali people, who have experienced years of instability as a result of a civil war that has wracked their lands, are finally feeling a sense of hope as the government starts to gain increasing control of the country.
For 21 years, the nation of Somalia has been the play-thing of war barons after the overthrow of the Siad Barre government, with the country being tossed back and forth between a central government and militias.
Fishing is one of the main sources of income for people in Somalia. The country has long suffered from civil war and political instability as well as a devastating famine last summer. (Photo: Sunday’s Zaman, Mehmet Ali Poyraz)
And quite naturally, Somalia has lost over the years not only on the economic and political fronts but also in the arenas of science and culture, after many citizens fled to neighboring countries or even further.
With last year being one of the worst in recent history in terms of drought, a mass migration began in the country, sending people to urban centers and across borders. The Somali capital of Mogadishu transformed into a virtual tent city. Turkish volunteers arrived in the country last summer, just in time to bring life back to the people of the country as they suffered through a deadly famine. Some of these volunteers were Turkish teachers who arrived with the goal of opening schools that would help produce lasting solutions to some of the problems plaguing the nation. With their families, they settled in Somalia, and opened up the Bedir Turkish High School in October, which marked an important start.
Following the teachers’ arrival from Turkey, some of those who had fled the country due to the chaos and warfare took courage from the actions of these teachers and began to move back. Some families living abroad who wanted to see their children raised in the Somali culture began sending their young ones back to this Turkish high school for an education. And so, for the first time in many years, a reverse path of migration back to -- rather than out of -- Somalia was seen.
At this point, the Bedir High School has 120 boarding students. Of these, 18 are from Somali families residing in countries such as Canada, England, Saudi Arabia and Germany. This year, all students are taking a prep class at Bedir, in which they learn Turkish, English, Somali and mathematics.
And as a new building goes up to replace the current Bedir High School building, it is really the future of Somalia that is also being constructed. The new building is expected to have capacity for 1,000 students.
The director of the school is volunteer Bülent Ergüneş, who arrived in Somalia with his wife and daughter. He said there was no hesitation on his part when he accepted the job in Somalia. He left Azerbaijan once the school was ready to open and settled in Somalia with his family. Ergüneş notes that there are truly drastic differences between those with money and those without in Somalia, and that the entire nation lives in an atmosphere of extremes. “Although it is a Muslim country, the people have forgotten how to give,” he said. “Somalia’s rich have learned about this now from the Turks here.” Ergüneş also notes that the people of the country feel very warm towards Turks, and that the assistance given by Turkey so far has definitely won over their hearts. While Ergüneş spends the majority of his day with students and on other school business, his wife, Aynur Ergüneş, gives Turkish lessons to young girls interested in studying at Turkish universities later on. The Turkish family lives with two other families in one home with a garden, and although they don’t yet have many Somali neighbors, they are happy to be here.
Alper Kılıç is another volunteer who came to Somalia with his wife, although she returned to Turkey two months ago to give birth. As we were interviewing him in fact, the happy news that he was the father of a new baby boy arrived. Though Kılıç said he would love to be with his wife at a time like this, he added: “The youth of Somalia have a greater need for our help. My son is just one child, but there are hundreds upon hundreds of young children here waiting for an education.” Kılıç says he works tirelessly on the educational front, and notes: “People are very happy we are here to help, and they trust us because of it. And we do what we can to show them that their confidence is well placed.”
Published on Sunday's Zaman, 03 June 2012, Sunday