A Woman With a Grit
Shamso is joyous, charismatic, and friendly with a contagious smile. Our initial meeting was at her house, a simple home with 4 rooms and a front yard, just the typical Bossaso old home design which indicated it was built in the early 90s when architects were a luxury beyond reach to most Puntlanders. I was fascinated by this woman because she didn’t satisfy the belief of Somalis that government officials are arrogant and self absorbed. The simplicity of her life is contradictory to the lifestyle of the rich government officials in Somalia who own big beautiful houses.
Meeting Shamso was a dreamlike situation. I was brainstorming for an ideal subject for my assignment and I discussed my search for a female activist to interview with Fatima, a friend of mine who is a manager of an international NGO called Médecins du Monde. We identified possible subjects together but she strongly suggested an activist that she thought was influential in her quest to transform the education in Puntland.
The suggested candidate was a female government official whom I found uplifting and inspiring to meet. I was anxious and worried at the same time because government officials in Somalia hardly agree to interviews for fear of bad press. Fortunately Fatima secured a meeting with Shamso.
It was surreal to get a chance to meet and interview Shamso. Most Somalis are skeptic about journalists, so I assured her that my intention is not to misquote, misrepresent, and misuse the information she gives me but merely to capture and share her story with the world in order to promote female leadership.
Shamso, 47, is the Regional Education Supervisor for Bari State and also an activist for education rights for all. As a child, Shamso had higher chances of getting education unlike many girls her age because she grew up in Mogadishu with middle class parents who educated both their daughters and sons.
Her career plans in the education sector started at the age of 7 and her dream was to become a teacher. Unfortunately, most Somalis don’t categorise being a teacher as a top choice career plan and they believe the only careers worse than a teacher is a state policeman and a traffic controller, therefore her only support system was her foreign teachers who encouraged her career aspirations. Shamso knew the path she had chosen was difficult but with her challenging nature she wasn’t going to give up or get discouraged to pursue her dreams.
Shamso decided against her family’s wishes to join the Teacher Training course at Lafole in Mogadishu in 1986, to realize her dream of becoming a teacher. Her family entertained her desire to study teaching but they never gave her consent to actually take up teaching as a career because they wanted their daughter to become a doctor or an engineer.
Nevertheless, Shamso successfully finished her studies in 1990. Unfortunately, a year later the civil war broke in Mogadishu and her family decided to flee to Bossaso. The journey wasn’t short of struggles and hardships but they made it to Bossaso unharmed.
In the early 90s, education wasn’t a priority for the Pastoral community of Puntland but the civil-war fleeing returnees in Bossaso managed to reopen the schools in 1992. Shamso saw an opportunity to use her skills in teaching but the task proved to be almost impossible since female teachers were unheard of and she struggled to land a job.
Out of the many rejections she faced, one particular incident has had an impact on her resolve to strive to abolish the gender stereotypes. In 1993, Shamso went to a school in Bossaso where two female teachers were working, assuming that the school was tolerant and accepting to women. The school principal had an unwelcoming attitude. Initially, he assumed she was a parent and didn’t realize she was looking for a job. When she informed him of her intention to become a teacher, the man laughed sarcastically and said “Hire another female!!! You must be joking; I’m even going to fire the other two female teachers we have here” Shocked and in disbelief Shamso walked out of the door.
She repeatedly went to the mayor’s office to demand her rights and fight against gender discrimination. Her passion impressed the mayor and he facilitated her recruitment at the only public school then, Haji Mire Primary school, funded by Unesco Peer in 1993. This became the beginning of her journey towards education reform. She proved to be a committed, passionate teacher, and a great leader.
Few months later, she was chosen to become the Principle of Haji Mire primary School in Bossaso by the Unesco Peer in an effort to support female leadership. Soon after, all sorts of education reform jobs followed starting with Teacher Training Officer with Unesco Peer. From 2000 to 2008, She worked with other humanitarian organisations as school supervisor including Unicef and Africa70 to oversee the teaching environment and enhance the expertise level of teachers by providing coaching and counselling, as well as identifying their training needs and focusing on capacity building activities. She visited schools to assess the teachers’ competence, observe relevance of learning materials, and the overall quality.
Shamso increased the quality of education in Bossaso schools which led the Ministry of Education to approach her to become the Bari Regional Education Supervisor in 2009. This offer was a testament to her success.
Shamso says to me “No man will welcome you willingly to take a seat next to him; you must strive to prove your leadership skills and fight for your rights as a woman.” I was simply uplifted by her words, what a powerful sentiment. Her determination to provide support and motivation to women even during an interview blew me away. Such devotion for the advocacy of women’s rights!
Out of all her accomplishments, I realized that Shamso values teaching the most because she says “Being a teacher is in my heart, and I will always cherish my teaching years.”
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.