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Rahma’s calm voice and slow movements contrast with the hustle and bustle of the surrounding camp for internally displaced people (IDP) in Somalia. Her big, dark eyes seem to disguise the worries that typically crowd the minds of children who have fled their homes.
Rahma was 14 when she fled, along with her mother and aunt, to the Towfiq IDP camp in Baidoa, southwestern Somalia, last year.
Her story is similar to those of hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia: forcibly displaced due to protracted conflict and a drought that pushed the country to the verge of famine in 2017, just seven years after another one killed thousands.
As she left her home, Rahma was no longer able to go to school. She began to worry she would have to get married at a young age. That was a reality she knew all too well as in Somalia, girls have little chance to go to school and are forced to marry shortly after reaching puberty.
Although her family wanted her to attend school, pursuing an education remained a challenge in the camp, due to lack of electricity that prevented Rahma from doing her homework after sunset.
That was until international children’s charity World Vision intervened. Staff from the aid agency identified Rahma as one of the thousands of children in Baidoa and Wajid districts who would receive solar lamps. The initiative is part of a project to enhance protection of women and girls in camps and allow pupils to study after dark.
As Rahma can now do her homework in the evening, she is up to speed with her studies.
“My life has changed because I am now learning. I will be the only educated person in my family and I am very happy,” Rahma explained, her voice brimming with excitement.
“I use the lamp with my family to light the path while using the toilets at night without fear, as we can see who is coming from a distance,” she said.
In many countries plagued by natural disasters and conflict, displacement can be unsettling for children, whose development is threatened. They become vulnerable to all forms of violence and they are robbed of their freedom to play, to move freely or to go to school.
Without an education, children have fewer opportunities to reach their full potential and are more likely to earn less in the future.
Girls drop out of school more frequently than boys, as parents prefer to pay school fees for sons, who are usually identified as the family’s breadwinners. As a result, girls are married off when their families can no longer provide for them.
In fragile contexts where children’s rights are not a priority, tools like solar lamps can have a huge impact: they can be the difference between children staying in school or dropping out.
They also help prevent gender-based violence in camps, as they provide lighting. Women can cook outside their huts and sell their vegetables in the evening, because they feel safe.
The solar-powered lamps, which beneficiaries can easily re-charge by placing them outside their shelters, has benefitted 7,600 internally displaced people since January 2018. Beneficiaries include new arrivals with children under the age of 3, elderly women aged 70 and above, male guardians who are housing girls in their shelters and people with disabilities.
Rahma feels empowered and more hopeful about her future since she received her solar lamp.
However, she is still worried that insecurity and other disasters such as drought in some parts of the country will continue to displace people and children like her.
This is why she wants to study to become a nurse, so that she can help people affected by instability.
“People are suffering because of lack of nurses and because of that, I want to serve my community as a nurse,” she said.
“With peace everything will be good. With peace we will have schools and [be able to] move around,” she added.
As food shortages persist, an estimated 5.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. The current rainy season is expected to bring some relief, but families here have already suffered huge livestock losses and will need successive good rains to recover.
More support is required, but that’s a forlorn hope as the humanitarian appeal is massively underfunded.
To find out more about World Vision’s work to combat the threat of famine in Somalia, click here.