On January 21, MBK (Maryam bint Kamal) International School started with one brick being laid on rocky desert land in a small town in a valley on the Somali side of the Ethiopian Highlands.
With nothing but a clear vision, commitment and dogged perseverance, Khadija Laube and her husband, Kamal Sheikh-Omar, are making their dream become a reality.
Khadija Laube converted to Islam sixteen years ago on the Gold Coast, Queensland. Born in Australia but with family roots in Germany, Latvia, and Scotland, Khadija married Kamal Sheikh-Omar, originally from Borama, in 1996. Kamal works at Al-Taqwa College, Melbourne, as a teacher and Imam.
Khadija had visited Somalia in 2004 and in 2008 with her family and after noticing the sad situation of education there, and discussing the matter with her Canadian friend, she came up with the idea of opening a school in Borama.
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They chose Borama because it is known to be a stable region and an educational hub; there are three universities there (including an Islamic university) and a number of schools.
Her husband, Kamal, liked the idea and she immediately set out making fliers in the hope of gaining support for the school and raising awareness about the issue of education in Somalia.
Her efforts have meant that people far and wide: in Canada, Sweden and Australia, are now supporting the project.
Thinking Out of the Dark Box
When people hear about Somalia, they are likely to think of all the negative images fed to them by the media; however, when considering a new venture it is vital that we keep in mind that every place has its nuances and every nation has its dream.
Somalis have always struggled for freedom and the situation in Somalia justifies the existence of such a school as MBK.
With decades of political turmoil, there is no current ‘system of education’ in place to guide and nurture the coming generation. However, despite being ruled by various types of governments for decades, the Somali people have always shown resiliency and have etched out a way to freedom as they are a people who are essentially Muslims and want Islam as their way of life.
However, in the midst of almost continuous struggle amidst tribal leaders and warlords and oppressive dictatorial rulers, education in Somalia has fallen apart. Although there are mostly Qur’anic schools, or madrasas, where the only subjects taught are Arabic and religion, there is a great need for Somalia to attach itself to basic quality education and take a holistic approach to teaching and raising the next generation.
In a contemporary national context of ‘if you have a gun, you have the power’, there is a need in Somalia, not only for stable government, but also for an enriched student population that has the know-how to lead the way to a better and brighter future.
In a mountainous, rocky desert valley in Somaliland, with patches of fertile farmland, lies Borama. There are not many sealed roads in the area, which is about 150 km from Hergaysa (three hours by car).
Borama lies on the Somaliland side of the Ethiopian Highlands surrounded by picturesque mountains that resemble those surrounding the holy city of Makkah. With an area that is quick to respond to the heavy downpours in the rainy season, Borama is home to approximately 300,000 people, mostly from the Gadabursi tribe, and there is some fertile land where people grow food staples. Although there are few flushing toilets and water must be boiled before drinking, there is also high speed WiFi and satellite television available for those who can afford it.
Somaliland is considered a semi-autonomous state seeking independence. Somali people are known to be ambitious and have initiative to develop themselves and their place.
Khadija observes, “They are a very clever people. They just need education and resources and skills. I am sure that if the Somali people have the necessary skills they will use them to build their country.”
Both Khadija and her husband are committed to officially open this school in January, 2013.
Somalia is considered, by people at home and abroad, as “a totally unique place”. It is even said that it could be the next Dubai because Somalis are brilliant at business and have massive potential as a people and a country.
The country is rich in resources including gold, oil, and gas and has international buyers knocking on its doors; however, the country has to be ready and able to use its resources so it will develop itself.
Khadija believes it is vital that students are taught and reinforced in the understanding that they must use their education to build their country; not just seek their own ends.
With greater stability in Somaliland than in other parts of the country, the school is well on the way. Without help and support from home (Islamic scholars and government officials) and abroad, such a school in Somaliland would never have been possible.
The land has been purchased for US$ 8000, construction, costing approximately US$ 100,000, is nearly finished and all that is left is the need to buy books, flooring, furniture, laptops for the students and other necessities for administration which is estimated to cost a further US$ 50,000.
Khadija notes, “At the school we promote holistic, well-balanced thinking, a healthy lifestyle, good character, and social etiquettes.” She adds, “When the students enter the school they will see beautiful gardens, Gazebos, tiles, and attractive design and the message we are sending them is that ‘my country can be like this!’”
Ambassadors for the Somali People
After travelling to Somalia a number of times to places including, Hargeisa in Somaliland, Jigjiga in Ethiopia, and Tog Wajela in Somaliland, in the past few years, Khadija notes that she has always been treated with respect.
“I admire the Somali people,” says Khadija, “I want the rest of the world to know their commitment and intelligence.
The school hopes to produce ambassadors for the Somali people; good role models who will help build the country; students with dignity and honour.” To attain this goal, it is vital that Islamic teachers have the necessary qualifications, persona, understanding and commitment. For this reason, the school will be looking at possible candidates from Sudan, Yemen, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Malaysian Islamic University.
The main language will be English but Quran, Arabic and Islamic studies are a vital part of the curriculum.
Every day the students will do at least two hours of Qur’anic studies, Arabic language studies and Islamic studies. The school also plans to offer students the choice of a third language; either Turkish or Malay, in the secondary stage. All teachers will be native speakers of their respective languages and each will contribute to the overall culture of the school. Khadija notes, “Building ties with Turkey and Malaysia is important. We want to foster relations between Somalia, Turkey and Malaysia. Students may have the opportunity to study abroad in these countries in the future.”
All the money raised so far has come from private donations and fund raising. Teaching couples are needed at the school that are willing to come and help fulfil the goals of this valuable institution.
With English the main language and being a native speaker a requirement, teachers from abroad are needed. Khadija says, “All our teachers must be well-qualified and once they come here, we will help them with accommodation, household help, and train them on the etiquettes and customs of the Somali people.”
The school is being constructed; one brick at a time.
Teachers at MBK International School will be well-paid as professionalism is of paramount importance.
They will receive the same amount as a university lecturer in the same region. “There are already students on the waiting list,” observes Khadija.
“Even Somalis from overseas want their children to attend.” With stability in Somaliland, many Somalis are returning to their country, hoping to help build a brighter future.