Relative calm boosts school numbers in Beletweyne

The town of Beletweyne in central Somalia's Hiiraan region has recorded a marked increase in pupils returning to school following relative calm in the region over the past six months, say residents and school officials.

"The number of pupils reporting to school since 1 August is more than last year; in my own school we have 750 students already and we expect more. This time last year we had about 400," Abdullahi Yusuf Nur, an education official, told IRIN on 17 August.

He said most schools had to close at various times in 2009 due to a lack of students and insecurity.

Nur said the rise in back-to-school numbers was thanks to a lull in fighting between government troops and Islamist insurgents. "The last time we had fully fledged fighting was in February; so the calm we are enjoying has encouraged many families to return."

He said another reason was that a university was about to open in Beletweyne. "We never had a university here so many parents took their children to Mogadishu or other places for secondary school and then university," Nur said. "Now they are staying."

Hoping for peace

Ambaro Guled, a resident of Beletweyne, said she had had to take her children out of school three times in the past year "because we had to flee our homes. This is the longest period of calm we have had in a long time.

"All we want is to live in peace and to have our children go to school without being afraid of getting killed."

Maryan Abdulkadir Farah, 17, a form-four student at Sheikh Mohamed Mo'alim School, told IRIN her family had fled twice in 2009 due to fighting. "My friends and I missed many classes because of the fighting. We had to go to safer areas.

"Now all we want is to finish secondary school without trouble this year."

She said her dream was to go to university and study computer science.

Beletweyne has been a battleground between forces allied to the Transitional Federal Government and Islamic insurgents and has changed hands about four times since 2009.

It has been under the control of Al-Shabab for the past two months.

"I hope that the back-and-forth struggle for control of the town ends and we get a real peace that lasts," one resident said.

A local journalist told IRIN the people were tired "and don't really care any more who controls it, as long as they don't have to flee again".

He said that government forces were about 25km away from the town and could mount an attack at any time. "But for now people are enjoying the calm and praying for continuing peace."


See also: SOMALIA: Getting an education against all odds in Kismayo