To the ignorant, the judgemental and the selfish people who manifest a physical and mental disability have always been an easy target for ridicule, chastisement and rejection. Down the centuries the blind, the deaf and the dumb have stoically endured the spiteful conduct of those who vanity means they believe that they are in some way superior. Stigma and social ostracism persist, with some deluded souls attributing certain disabilities to a curse. Thankfully attitudes are slowly changing and more enlightened and truly charitable individuals have begun to work assiduously to change social attitudes and to ensure that people are valued for who they are.
The Horn of Africa has more than its far share of difficulties in this regard. Life is difficult at the best of times, with access to medical treatment in many areas near non-existent. A harsh and forbidding climate, dust and increasing pollution means that ocular diseases are commonplace. Conflict and civil war continues to plague the region and has brought with it thousands of casualties, some physical the result of machine gun fire, rocket propelled grenades and land mines, but also a considerable amount of psychological damage, the result of untreated trauma. All of this has been exacerbated by the fact that a sizeable percentage of the few trained medical professionals have either been killed or fled the region, and precious clinics and hospitals have been repeated shelled, and appear to resemble warehouses of death. Access to adequate training, let alone suitable equipment and medicines compounds the problem.
In war-torn Somalia the situation for thousands is desperate. Whilst the UN, the AU, powerful NGOs, the TFG and local warlords play out their perverse game people continue to suffer and die unnecessarily. The politics of aid, and make no mistake, aid is very much a tool of politics dominates those in need, who see little or nothing at all of that which is meant to alleviate their plight. All we see at present is Power Politics as opposed to what is really necessary and that is the Politics of Responsibility. Somalia’s situation is made worse by the callous indifference of the major players. Historical pragmatism tells us that this is unlikely to change anytime soon, especially as regional neighbours will continue to do all they can to thwart purposeful dialogue and progress. The status quo suits a number of players and they are determined to exploit it for all they are worth. It is regrettable that many Somalis themselves have abdicated their responsibility and have failed to take ownership of their problems. Some pessimists might urge us all to throw in the towel, but thankfully there are still people of conviction, drive and decency prepared to wage their own peaceful war to effect positive change not just to built on hope but a desire to transform lives.
Whilst Mogadishu may have become synonymous with anarchy, chaos and privation, even here in one of Africa’s most benighted cities evidence can be found of real and lasting goodness. To be disabled in such a city means one is usually abandoned, hidden away or shunned by the wider society. Zakat seems in particularly short supply if you happen to be blind, lame, deaf or mentally or physically disfigured by war and its attendant foot soldiers. So it is all the more heartening to come across the Al-Bashir School for the Blind and Deaf-Blind (ABSBD), on Via Liberia in the Waberi District of Mogadishu. ABSBD whilst only founded in February 2011 (originally it was started in the Wajadir District) is already endeavouring to meet the needs of 22 students (21 blind students and one deaf-blind student). From the outset it has sort to ensure an inclusive education, one that sees boys and girls educated together in a safe and supportive environment.
Running a school in a city such as Mogadishu is a challenge at the best of times, especially when the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has little or no writ and is pre-occupied with its own international wrangling rather than seeking to meet the needs of the people it is meant to serve. Self-help and local community initiatives are essential if anything is to be achieved of lasting worth. The school came into being thanks to the vision and drive of a number of remarkable individuals:- Mr Abdulkadir Mohamed Alasow, the chairperson of Somali Union of and for the Blind (SUB), Mrs. Fatuma Ahmed Mohamed, the Deputy Chair of SUM and Mr. Yusuf Sheik, General Secretary of SUM along with the support of the Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC). Mr. Abikar Hussein Bashir, the School Principal ably assisted by Mr Ahmed Hassan Warsame and Mr Abdi-Noor Foodey has already set about the task with extraordinary zeal and sensitivity. What the school lacks in resources and facilities it more than makes up for in enthusiasm and desire to change perceptions about disability.
From the outset it has been on a mission to enable those with visual disabilities. This has meant raising awareness and convincing families of the value of educating children and youths with particular needs. Understandably, some families have been anxious to let their children leave their homes, especially in a city beset with dangers. Yet gradually word has filtered out of what ABSBD is doing and numbers have increased putting an additional burden on already meagre resources. The School is well aware that has plenty more to do, not least to ensure that it has trained specialist staff, acquires new equipment and formulates policies to enhance child protect procedures. At present Somalia has no education guidelines, lacks any form of institution to codify the rights of children with special needs and is without a formal school curriculum. With regard to the latter the School’s profile provides an interesting introduction to what it has set about doing:
“Somalia has no formalized curriculum due to lack of structured government. The school uses UNESCO curriculum in the areas; Mathematics, English, Geography & History, Physical education, Science etc which is given by an educational umbrella which is called SOFEN. The additional curriculum (subjects); Orientation and Mobility, Activities of daily living, Games, Sports, leisure and recreational and other activities for Braille proficiency are offered in school.”
Facilities whilst cramped are optimised as effectively as possible and the unfailing good humour of the staff is a constant source of joy and encouragement to the students. ABSBD is an oasis of understanding in a world all the darker for the callous and judgemental nature of mankind. Resources and equipment are in short supply and to date the school has had to operate in isolation. Funding is a constant headache, for the school relies on the goodwill and generosity of a dedicated band of supporters. Mohamed Mahamoud and his family are typical of Somalis that feel the school warrants their support, he is a budding entrepreneur based in Dubai, yet both he and his sister send money across to keep the school going and his mother who lives in Mogadishu works diligently to raise both awareness and funds amongst her network of friends and via the Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC). Recently Mohamed returned to Mogadishu for a month to do what he can for the city he cares for and is proud to hail from. He is passionate about why he wants to help; “For me it is the children that are in greatest need. Many are extremely vulnerable; some are orphans literally bringing themselves up on the streets. If we don’t protect, champion and educate the young there really is no hope for country or for the region.” Such conviction is echoed in the work and achievements of ABSBD. If attitudes to disability are to really change it is imperative that those of us who are fortunate to enough to enjoy the privilege of sight are prepared to see the whole person and value them for who they are and what they have the potential to become – Insha’Allah.
The School and its Principal would be happy to hear from individuals or organisations that feel they would like to help ABSBD in some way or other or discover more about its work.
Contact: Mr. Abikar Hussein Bashir – Principal of Al-Bashir School for the Blind and Deaf-Blind, Mogadishu, Somalia.
Account Number: Dahabshiil, 7578
Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org