From Refugee in Dadaab to Engineering Graduate in Canada
We are proud of you ,Mohamed Maalim, a bespectacled young Somali academic hero and a former student of Hagadera Secondary School
“Education opens many closed doors,” says Mohamed Maalim, 27, a bespectacled young Somali academic hero, a former student of Hagadera Secondary School who is remembered by many Dadaab residents for his sterling performance in the KCSE examination in 2011.
He is now a Petroleum Systems Engineering graduate from the University of Regina in the Queen City of Regina, Canada.”It was not an easy journey,” he says with a radiant smile, proud that he had beaten all the odds to reach where he is today.
Mohamed was born in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, on a fine Sunday evening in 1990, a year before the country fell onto its knees for a civil war that would last more than a quarter century, and when Somalia still lived in concord with its neighbouring states.
Mohamed was not considered fit to pursue secular education until May 29, 2000 when he had completed learning the Quran and the Basic Principles of Islam under the tutelage of his father.
However, Mogadishu was then in turmoil. Men were killed, women were raped and children were maimed by fierce warlords who had no respect for humanity.
Colleagues of Mohamed and his Lectures at University of Regina in the Queen City of Regina, Canada
Homicide and the public property embezzlement were the order of the day. Sometimes there was a heavy shooting around the school and children were released from school. But life had to go on. Children still had to go to school.”My first day in school was very exciting,” he says. “That day I learnt the first four English alphabets: A-B-C-D.”Despite the problems at home and the war in the country, Mohamed showed a strong determination to learn. He initially struggled to study how to read and write Somali language from his mum Hawa, and later self-taught himself Arabic out of books he cheaply grabbed from the local book hawker. There was no one at home to help him with the homework. So, he had to be attentive in class in order to be ahead of the other children.
A few months later, when he sat for his first examination, Mohamed was ranked top in his class – a position he held until he completed high school.
Forced to Flee
Many years have passed. Now Mohamed was in Form Two. But life in Mogadishu was unbearable, and the family decided to flee when all the teenage boys were joining a new Islamic extremist group that was sweeping the country. The Islamic Courts Union, which would later c
hange its name to Al Shabaab, was fighting the warlords who ousted the Siad Barre regime in 1991.
On April 15, 2006, Mohamed parted from his childhood friends and waved goodbye to the only city he had known, and the family fled to Kenya to embrace a future hidden in the horizons.
The journey was terrible. They had to walk on foot for 1,500 km in a busy, lion-infested desert for 15 days until they arrived at Hagadera, one of the refugee camps that make up the Dadaab Complex in North Eastern Kenya.
Life in the camp was equally hard. The family had to depend on little food that was provided by the United Nations World Food Programme. The temperatures in the camp would sometimes hit 40 degrees Celsius and the children were stricken by malaria, typhoid and other diseases, yet there was no medicine available.
But there was free education in Dadaab and therefore Mohamed again had the opportunity to go to school.
“I saw a bright light at the end of the dark tunnel,” he says.
Then another problem arose. The Ministry of Edu
cation in Kenya does not recognise certificates from schools in Somalia, despite them having been signed by UNESCO. So, Mohamed had to start from Standard Seven; four years below his academic level. And another journey started.
A Series of Blessings
Mohamed started to lead his class although his new classmates were very bright, and the competition much stiffer than when he was back in Mogadishu.
Halimo Saman, a fresh high school graduate and a primary school teacher, motivated Mohamed to work hard in school in order to get away from the hard refugee life.
Halima had performed well in high school and was waiting for a scholarship to Canada. Mohamed therefore vowed to emulate her. He buried himself in books and sle
pt late at night.
A year later, when he sat for the KCPE examination, Mohamed was the best student in the entire Dadaab region. He attained 394 marks out of the possible 500.
“The then Education Minister, Prof George Saitoti, announced my name,” he says with a broad smile.
Mohamed got a scholarship to study at Starehe Boys Centre in Nairobi. But there was unrest in the country following the 2007-08 post-election violence, and because of the insecurity, elders from Dadaab dropped his scholarship.