A local woman recently returned from Boame, Somalia, where she oversaw the construction of a school named Education for Somali Girls and Boys.
Zainab Mohamoud has been working towards this goal for many years and was overwhelmed to finally see the school built with students, teachers and community members all there to celebrate.
“It was amazing, I was really happy. All of the kids were so excited and everyone was happy – it was all just very overwhelming,” she said.
“There was a women’s organization I working with, and they sponsored the food for the grand opening. They organized some heritage dancers – men and women dancing and wearing traditional clothes and everything. The community leader came for the grand opening and we had different speeches. My auntie even came from another city, so that was also very exciting, but it was all very exciting.”
Mohamoud fled Somalia in 1994 during a civil war, eventually making her way to Canada in 1997. At this time in her life, she was not allowed to go to school, which troubled her, as she was eager to learn. Ever since leaving Somalia, she has made it part of her mission to help children, both in Canada and back in Somalia.
Last year, Mohamoud was still in the fundraising process. Earlier this year, she left Canada with approximately $48,000 on a two month trip where she would oversee the construction of the school. She paid her own expenses for the trip to ensure all of that money went to the school.
Sadly, when she arrived, she learned the cost of the construction had raised dramatically.
“In Somalia, I found the foreman and talked to him and asked him for an estimate again, because the last one we got was about a year ago. This estimate was close to $60,000. The money we had was about $48,000 so it seemed impossible. Plus, with the exchange rate and things like that, we lost about $10,000,” she explained.
Mohamoud said she realized she needed to make a decision and suggested that the school’s library get put on hold, as well as reducing the number of boys’ and girls’ bathrooms each down to one, rather than two.
Luckily, the foreman agreed to work around their budget.
“He was really great and said, ‘I’m not going to leave anything – I’ll make it happen.’ He actually managed it with the money we had to build everything that we planned. That is a library, four classrooms, two girls washrooms and two for boys, and the offices.”
For six weeks, Mohamoud went to the construction site every day to help oversee and organize the build. She was told by the project foreman that projects like these often take up to six months, rather than weeks, but she and the workers made sure it was completed before she returned home for September.
“A good thing about the trip was when we needed more money, we had some family members who sent us almost $5,000. We were short money and some more people donated, so we were able to use that for the work. We ended up with about $52,000 and that included the furniture and finishings and everything,” she said.
The surrounding community near Boame became involved with the school’s construction. Mohamoud said there are business owners and community members who donated and who have committed to help keep the school running into the future.
“Some of our tribes that live in the area got interested, and paid for six months’ of operations costs for the school,” she said.
“We have six months covered with them, but another organization from Kuwait became interested and they have said that starting in February, they will sponsor 200 kids to come to school. They’re interested in paying each child $50 a month – that gift is like thousands of dollars a month. It would cover feeding and living at the institution.”
Currently, there is no place for the children to live at the school, but Mohamoud and her team are in planning for this next phase of construction. At this time there are about 200 students registered to attend the school.
Through the next year, she will continue to fundraise in Central Alberta and beyond. She is even planning to travel to several U.S states, as well as four European countries to further her connections and seek sponsorship.
“Right now we have a lot of people from different small towns who can’t come to the city because they don’t have family where the kids can stay. We’re also going to accept some orphan kids, too. We want all of those kids to be able to come to the school,” Mohamoud said.
A major fundraising Gala event will be taking place next February. Additionally, Mohamoud and her group of volunteers will continue to host numerous bake sales and will seek sponsorship from personal connections.
“In part of Somalia, there are some people with businesses, and also people from Kenya and South Africa – who have also said that they would help us too. Everybody is kind of getting interested and they want to help us, so I think we can make it happen,” she said.
“The mayor made an interesting comment. The first time we met, he said he wanted to call the school ‘Open the Door’. I asked him what was behind that and he said, ‘You’re opening the doors for the kids who are less fortunate and who have less opportunities.When they heard about the school, their morale got higher,’” she explained.
For more information on the project or to donate, go to the www.educationforsomalia.com, the ‘A Better World Canada’ web site or on the ‘Education for Somali Girls and Boys’ facebook page.