A little light goes a long way


March 1, 2013

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Mohammed Jama/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Girls in Somalia often struggle the most in school, since they are expected to take care of many chores at home and cannot study until dark — when there is no electricity and only occasionally limited light from kerosene lanterns. Photo: Mohammed Jama/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Courtesy d.light design  </span>
    Mercy Corps is teaming up with Living Social and d.light design to send 500 solar lights to students in rural Somalia. The compact lanterns provide up to four hours of illumination after just a day's charge in the sun, which will allow students to study despite the lack of electricity. Photo: Courtesy d.light design
  <span class="field-credit">
    Abdikadir Mohamed/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Most schools in Somalia are dilapidated after decades of civil unrest. Mercy Corps is rehabilitating 50 schools over the next 5 years, and providing supplies and teacher trainings to help more students receive a quality education. Photo: Abdikadir Mohamed/Mercy Corps

Runners decked out in glow necklaces for LivingSocial 5k Dance Party will create quite a scene. But they'll also be making life a little brighter for kids like Fadumo, thousands of miles away in rural Somalia.

When Fadumo Ahmed returns to her remote village after classes at Burtinle Secondary School, her education immediately falls to the wayside. Instead of studying, she is expected to take care of various chores for her family: fetching water a kilometer away, preparing the meal and washing up, tending to her young siblings and running other errands.

“By the time I am done and want to settle down to revise my work and complete assignments, it is dark,” she said. “There is only one lamp, and everyone is using it. When they are done with it, we must go to sleep because they have to put it out to save on the cost of kerosene.”

Fadumo dreams of becoming a teacher, but the teenager may not make it through high school as she struggles to keep up with her studies.

“My participation in class is too poor because I can neither remember what was covered in previous lessons nor prepare for what will be taught in the next lessons,” she explained. “Sometimes I just feel like not going to school at all. It looks like a waste of time.”

Lack of electricity leaves students in the dark

Unfortunately, Fadumo’s situation is not rare in Balidaar, a rural village in northeastern Somalia. The lack of electricity in the remote region limits the time students have to study, both in class and at home. Far from the main grid, many families — and even most schools — cannot afford the cost of the connection.

With so many students to reach in daylight hours, schools are often unable to provide a full day of instruction to each child. Thus, to achieve any meaningful learning, children are compelled to do a lot on their own. But like Fadumo, they have nothing but kerosene to carry them through the night — an alternative that is still limited due to expense and carries its own risks from smoke inhalation.

Sending light to Somalia

That’s why Mercy Corps is thrilled to partner with LivingSocial and d.light design to bring safe, bright, durable and renewable energy solar lanterns to Fadumo, her fellow students at Burtinle Secondary School and others in rural Somalia. The compact, weather-resistant lights provide up to four hours of light after sitting in the sun for a day.

A potion of the proceeds from LivingSocial's glow-in-the-dark 5k Dance Parties in ten cities will help us get lights directly to Somali students, who will use them to start study groups in their villages. It's a gift that will make a big difference for Fadumo.

“A better light will drive away diseases that come from the smoke and give me that extra minute I need to work outside school hours and help me achieve my dream. For I believe education is the key that can help me unlock opportunities for my life.”

Mercy Corps improving education in Somalia

Quality education remains out of reach for most children throughout the Somalia, which does not provide public schooling and does not have the resources to repair facilities that were ravaged during two decades of civil war.

If parents can even afford to send their children to secondary school, students struggle with overcrowded classrooms, broken-down facilities, and a shortage of qualified teachers and supplies.

Mercy Corps is working to rehabilitate 50 schools over the next 5 years, including Burtinle Secondary School where Fadumo is enrolled with 200 fellow students. Teams will repair structures and expand facilities so that classrooms are no longer packed with as many as 70 students. We’re also training teachers and providing books and supplies to improve the quality of education in these schools.

Additional reporting by Mohamed Hersi, the Deputy Program Manager for Mercy Corps' youth and education work in Somalia.