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AU troops help Mogadishu's children attend school

Most of the population in Somalia's capital has long since fled the city. But some families have stayed and African Union troops are helping to educate these children who have never experienced peace.

an au soldier stands in front of a tank

The AU wants to do more than just patrol the streets

Somalia has not had a functioning national government for over 20 years. Islamic insurgents known as al-Shabab have taken over power in large parts of the country. A Western-backed interim government has been struggling to hold on to power in central Mogadishu since 2009. It can only do so with the help of some 7,000 African Union (AU) soldiers.

But the AU soldiers aren't only helping to defend pockets of Mogadishu. They are also providing the city's children with an opportunity to attend school.

It is an unusual project in the heavily-fought city, where there are hardly any schools. About 85 children come to the school, sitting on wooden benches and discarded barrels in small rooms. The African Union built up the facility for these children who have never experienced peace, such as Malyuun.

"I come here to school every day and don't have to pay any fees," Malyuun said. The young girl has been learning English, Somali and math for seven months already.

Good intentions

al-shabab militia in mogadishu

Al-Shabab forces control most of Somalia

The AU troops want to improve their relationship with the population. The school is part of their image campaign, so to speak. But the school is also an attempt to bring a somewhat normal life back into those neighborhoods which aren't controlled by Islamic militants.

Major Saad Katemba, who is responsible for the project, said the AU wants to show its good intentions with the project.

"We want to have these children organized into some sort of education center," Katemba said. At a later time, the school will be handed over either to the minister of education or another organization, he added.

The number of children should soon increase to 120 pupils. The teachers are Somalis, like Aniso Hassan, who teaches social studies.

"We started this school with a small number of students, some also from places far away from here," Hassan said. "We are very happy that we have such a high number of students."

Letting off steam

Somali boys play soccer in Mogadishu

Mogadishu's children can only play soccer secretly

During recess, the children play soccer - which is actually forbidden in the country. The al-Shabab insurgents have imposed high penalties on anyone caught playing the sport. They have also banned music and even mobile phone ring tones.

But here, these children should have the opportunity to let off steam and have fun. Shots can still be heard in the distance, however, and no one can forget that there is fighting going on in Mogadishu.

The school can only exist as long as the AU troops are stationed in Somalia. Should the al-Shabab rebels take over, the school - and the learning - would be over.

Author: Antje Diekhans / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge

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