I had the awesome privilege of joining the Save the Children Somalia office as they launched their Every Last Child national campaign. The audacious and ambitious campaign will focus on girls and in particular combatting the harmful practices that stand in the way of them experiencing their full rights. The launch is sure to inspire across the board: a number of activities engaged young and adolescent children, the launch event was full to capacity with guests and staff committed to the campaign, and they received clear support from a number of Government ministers – including the Vice President of Puntland.
Still, it is the triumphant story shared by a young woman called Hafsa that truly encapsulates the possibility of this campaign. Hafsa came from a home that valued education dearly. She is the eldest of 10 children, and the daughter of two highly educated parents – Hafsa’s mother is an economics graduate, and her father a linguistics professor. Yet, at the age of 16, she was forced into an arranged marriage. In the hope it would be a blessing she accepted – but with the sole condition that she be allowed to pursue and complete her education. Her unwavering commitment to her right to learn was looked upon favourably by her parents, and although she was asked to go ahead with the marriage her conditions were met.
As was expected, shortly after becoming a wife, she became pregnant. To make matters more challenging, her pregnancy was extremely difficult. She explained that she suffered morning sickness throughout the entire duration of her pregnancy. She was unable to retain food and as a result became extremely ill and weak. It was so serious that her mother had to give her an IV drip every day just to ensure she was getting the right nutrients! Despite this her commitment to her education remained firm. After witnessing many girls quit school after getting married, she was determined to write a different story for herself.
To illustrate the extent of Hafsa’s challenges it’s worth recounting a story she shared: At the time of her Form Four exams she was 9 months pregnant. Ready to give birth. In significant discomfort, she found herself fidgeting incessantly throughout the exam. Unaware that Hafsa was married, pregnant and ready to give birth, the external exam invigilator assumed she was cheating, took her paper and disqualified her.
As she stood outside the examination room weeping, her head teacher, saw her and asked why she wasn’t sitting the exam. After explained what had happened to her, the head teacher – a keen supporter of her education lobbied on Hafsa’s behalf, and as a result, she was in fact able to complete her exam.
In that particular incident lies an important lesson relevant to Hafsa, and other girls in her community. A strong desire to succeed is important – but it’s not enough. Hafsa had people who believed in her: teachers, her headmaster, her parents all acted as champions for Hafsa’s right to an education. Girls need and deserve advocates who will push for and allow girls to exercise this right.
Hafsa’s awe inspiring story didn’t just stop at completing school. Knowing she could achieve even greater things she decided to go to university! At this point a mother to two children – one of whom was just three months old, she took the very bold step and travelled to China to pursue medicine, later returning home to complete a degree in business administration. During her sophomore year, eager to get professional experience, she took up an internship. Hafsa was studying, working and taking care of a family all at once. She explained that quitting her education, was just NOT an option. Though she acknowledges that there were times she wanted to drop out because of the challenges, the external support she received from her family emboldened her to keep going.
To bring Hafsa’s story full circle, Hafsa now has a successful career and in the span of three years has been promoted twice! The mother of two daughters of her own, she is completely unapologetic in her belief that her girls and others their age should be able to access education and learning opportunities – and delay marriage and pregnancy until adulthood.
Hafsa’s story stands as a testament of all that is possible when we lift barriers and belief systems that deny girls their right to an education, and invest in them fulfilling their full potential.
Hafsa ended her story by explaining that educating a girl is beneficial as an end, and as a bonus provides greater benefits for the community. She said “An educated girl becomes an educated mother, and an educated mother will make sure her children are also educated this will lead to an educated nation.”
The aim of the Every Last Child campaign is to help more girls like Hafsa irrespective of where they live - including complex and fragile states, where communities face limited access to the essential services that help them fulfill their potential. Hafsa’s story definitely is an inspiration to the young girls watching this space.
The Every Last Child Campaign is the first step to creating many more Hafsas throughout Somalia!