This article has been published in Enabling Education Review 5
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Enhancing access to education and training for persons with disabilities in Somalia and Somaliland

Lucy Maina

Ongoing civil war and extreme poverty has substantially increased the prevalence of disability in Somalia. Estimates suggest that 15-20% of the population have disabilities, with the average family having at least one member with disabilities. However, support for people with disabilities in Somalia remains low. Widespread discrimination leaves people with disabilities excluded from education and employment, and vulnerable to violence and abuse. This impacts on their participation in decision making and advocacy for their rights. In this article, Lucy introduces the work of the Africa Educational Trust (AET) project ‘Enhancing access to education and training for people with disabilities’, funded by the EU between 2012 and 2015.

Planning for disability inclusion in education
AET brought together stakeholders from local disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) across Somalia and Somaliland, to develop a map of projects and interventions aimed at people with disabilities and special educational needs. The map identified existing support for education, and the gaps. Using this map, stakeholders identified and prioritised needs and worked on plans for collaboration and partnership.

This led to four areas of interventions:

  1. Improving access to education: AET identified schools with the highest numbers of students with disabilities. The teachers were trained on disability inclusion. The training built their capacity to identify students’ differing needs and explore methods for accommodating them. The schools and DPOs identified parents whose children with disabilities were not in school. AET arranged meetings with parents to discuss the stigma around disability, help link them with appropriate DPOs in the community, and explore options for education. Community forums were also used to address stigma within the wider community. Young people and adults with disabilities were able to speak about their experiences, and demonstrate to the community that they can learn and should have equal opportunities for education.
  2. Providing microgrants: Selected schools were given the opportunity to access micro-grants of $1,000 USD to make changes to school environments or purchase resources to better accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. The schools established committees, comprising parents, the school chairperson and head teacher, and community representatives, to develop their plans for the loans. Projects included meeting the needs of individual students with the purchase of resources such as wheelchairs, walking sticks, and braille materials, or investing in infrastructure such as constructing accessible toilet and bathing blocks.
  3. Improve access to sustainable livelihoods for young people with disabilities: Consultations with DPOs and other organisations in the region identified the need to develop livelihood interventions for young people with disabilities, who had received little or no education but were now too old to go to school. The young people identified opportunities for productive work as being essential to their sense of dignity and importance within their families. They were enrolled in a nine-month literacy and numeracy course, structured around flexible hours of attendance. This was followed by their choice of skills training at established vocational training centres that provide inclusive classes where young people with disabilities learn alongside their peers without disabilities. Trainers develop class schedules based on the availability of the learners. Following training, the young people were linked with potential employers to further develop their training in business and enterprise, or were able to access funds to begin business.
  4. Capacity-building for DPOs in advocacy and resource mobilisation. DPOs recognised that their individual capacity as small organisations to influence regional and national policy and budgets was limited. To ensure sustainable access to education, but also to improve participation and opportunities for people with disabilities, AET partnered with an organisation called International Aid Services. IAS has been working in special needs education in Somalia and Somaliland to facilitate training for the DPOs on resource mobilisation and how to approach advocacy and lobbying to address issues of policy inclusion.

DPOs were able to identify interventions to meet immediate needs, while also building long-term educational and organisational capacity to support inclusion of people with disabilities:

  • Schools that received micro-grants ensured learning environments and resources, as well as infrastructure for play, remained in place to assist future children. Schools and teachers also demonstrated improved capacity to identify children with disabilities within their classrooms, provide for their needs, and refer them to appropriate NGOs and DPOs with family support groups.
  • After completing training in areas such as mobile phone repair, tailoring, and making environmental-friendly charcoal briquettes, many youth started to earn a living, which has led to increased confidence and sense of dignity, and improvements in mental health. As such, many were able to convince family members to invest in them and their enterprise, demonstrating significant changes in attitude towards people with disabilities and evidence of their capacity to contribute to the social and economic wellbeing of the family.
  • Capacity building led to the establishment of the Somalia and Somaliland Disability Network (SOSODIN) as an umbrella network for DPOs and NGOs. This has improved access to grants and funding for disability organisations. The national network has also established links to similar networks in Ethiopia and Kenya.

Working effectively and collaboratively with governments
The establishment of SOSODIN enabled DPOs to coordinate effectively with local government and collaborate to influence government policy, finance, and budgeting, in order to ensure the recognition of rights of people with disabilities and their access to education. SOSODIN was able to review policy and successfully advocate for change in several key areas:

  • Influencing Somaliland’s government and the federal government of Somalia to recognise and mark the UN’s International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This provided an opportunity for key speakers within the disability movement to speak with government officials about inclusive education and bring more stakeholders within government and education on board.
  • Promote the ‘National Disability Commission’ as a government agency for advocacy and awareness, to ensure sustainability, and continue to advance inclusive education and ensure schools are compliant in building accessible infrastructure.
  • A draft of the Somalia National Disability Policy was submitted, and approved by Somaliland cabinet government and discussed in Parliament, including reviewing current legislation which prevents voting by people with disabilities. This will ensure a greater voice for people with disabilities within Parliament and allow for continued advocacy for education for inclusion and their rights.

Lucy Maina is Programme Director at the Africa Educational Trust

1Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) ‘Disability Rights in Somalia’, December 2014.