Abaarso Tech, run like a business, brings top-notch education to Somalia
Jonathan Starr founded Abaarso Tech in Somaliland to unlock the potential of the country's brightest boys and girls.
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That war began in the mid 1980s, when dissident groups rebelled against Siad Barre, Somalia’s Soviet-backed military dictator. In 1988, Barre’s air force bombed Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, as well as several other towns, devastating the country’s infrastructure, including many of its schools.Skip to next paragraph
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And perhaps none was a greater loss than the once-renowned Sheikh Secondary School.
Founded by the British when Somaliland was still a protectorate of the crown, Sheikh was for many years the country’s premier prep school and a veritable pipeline to higher education abroad. As such, it produced many of the leaders of current-day Somaliland society, including the president, H.E. Ahmed Mohamed Mahamoud Silanyo, and several members of his cabinet.
But Sheikh is no longer what it was. Abandoned after the war, it was closed for more than a decade before being reopened by an Austrian charity in the late 1990s. Then, in 2003, the school’s headmaster and his wife, both highly regarded educators, were gunned down by members of the violent Islamist rebel group Al Shabab. Ever since, Sheikh has struggled to recruit teachers, and only a handful of graduates have gone on to universities overseas – none of them in the US.
Abaarso Tech, with its goal of preparing students for top-tier institutions in the US and UK, aims to fill that gap, and to do so with a focus on financial sustainability. The school’s 100 students, selected from among the top 250 scorers on Somaliland’s national 8th grade exit exam, pay what they can, while revenue-generating programs like adult English courses and an undergraduate school of finance make up the shortfall in tuition.
And whereas other recent Western-led efforts to educate African children have spared no expense – Oprah Winfrey’s $40-million Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa features, among other extravagances, a yoga studio and a beauty salon, and the manager of Madonna’s recently aborted $15-million all girls’ academy in Malawi made what auditors described as “outlandish expenditures on salaries, cars, and office space,” according to the New York Times – Starr economizes wherever possible, most notably on staff salaries.
Abaarso Tech teachers, who have included Ivy League graduates, PhDs in physics and chemistry, and professional engineers, are paid just $3,000 a year – proof, he argues, of the primacy of passion, not money, in creating positive change.
• This article originally appeared on Dowser.org.