Hoping to heal broken education system, Minnesota group heads to Somalia

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What started off as a dream for one Somali student is finally coming to fruition after two and half years of brainstorming. Abdurashid Ali, a senior at Metropolitan State University had always yearned to help the broken education system in his native country, Somalia.

This Saturday, he and another two Somalis and three Americans, two of whom are college professors at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) and Inver Hills Community College (IHCC), are heading to Somalia on a “fact finding mission.”

The group, which is self sponsoring, is hoping to connect MCTC and IHCC to Puntland State University and Nugaal University, two relatively new colleges in Somalia. They are also hoping to create the foundation for a full-fledged library in Garowe, the capital city of the semi-autonomous Puntland region in northern Somalia.

“I’d like to establish a professor-to-professor and student-to-student relationship,” says Deborah Johnson, a member of the traveling group and an intercultural communications professor at IHCC.

Johnson got interested in this project after she met a number of Somali students at IHCC and learned more about their background. She later became an advisor for many of them.

In their 20 days in Somalia, the group will be busy providing training and seminars for professors, administrators and students. They also hope to make a documentary film.

Lena Jones, a political science professor at MCTC, will even speak to Puntland legislators about the American governing system and values of democracy.

“I’m fascinated with Somalia,” said Jones, an articulate, though soft-spoken, speaker, “and all of that stems from my Somali students at MCTC.”

MCTC has one of the largest Somali student populations in Minnesota. It’s not surprising that the college and Somali Family Services, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization collected enough money to offer a one year’s scholarship for 30 students in Somalia.

“It doesn’t make any sense to help my brother or my cousin only, if I can help others along the way,” said Ali, the shrewd Somali student who spearheaded this effort. “We hope this will rekindle the education spirits of many other students in Somalia.”

The education system in Somalia remained meager following the total collapse of an effective central government 15 years ago. In recent years, though, former expatriates are revitalizing the education sector with donations amassed from Diaspora Somalis.

The Minnesota group, thought to be the first of its kind in the nation, is taking the extraordinary step of traveling to a country where the State Department deems too dangerous. In fact, though “morally supportive,” neither IHCC nor MCTC is willing to officially sponsor the trip of their faculty members due to liability concerns. But the area where they are headed has been relatively stable.

The group says that they have taken the security issue into account. Volunteers who have helped this project said that they have contacted authorities in Puntland who offered total protection and mobility throughout the trip.

Once they return, the group hopes to reflect their experiences in a public forum.

Abdirahman Aynte can be reached at Ceynte@hiiraan.com

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