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(Somalialand) Ex-hedge Fund Manager Starts Abaarso School of Science and Technology

Lets do the Right thing for the Youth !

In 2008, a man named Jonathan Starr was 32 years old and running a hedge fund in Boston. He was a millionaire, but he didn’t like his job very much, and wanted to do something to give his life purpose. He’d heard about a desperately poor African nation called Somaliland that needed help. Somaliland broke away from Somalia 25 years ago. If you’ve never heard of it before, it’s probably because it still isn’t recognized as an independent country.

Jonathan Starr went there for a visit, and that’s when he came up with a kind of crazy idea. He decided to build an American-style boarding school to help kids in Somaliland get into the best universities in the U.S. and beyond. Starr hoped his students would then return to Somaliland as doctors, lawyers, business people, and future leaders.

It’s not easy to get to the school Jonathan Starr built. Somaliland’s capitol Hargeisa, isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis. There are few flights in, and once you’re here, it’s a bumpy ride on dusty dirt roads, past miles and miles of empty scrubland. The school sits on a remote hilltop, in what can best be described as the middle of nowhere.

It’s called the Abaarso School of Science and Technology, a boarding school that’s home to around 200 of Somaliland’s best and brightest, grades 7-12.

 

But what makes it harder still is that nearly everything here is taught in English, and most of these kids only speak Somali when they first arrive. Since Starr’s goal is to get students into college in the U.S. and elsewhere, he insists on English immersion from Day One.

Somaliland is a deeply conservative Islamic country, and on school grounds local customs are strictly followed.

 

If a kid is kicked out of Abaarso, there aren’t a lot of other good options. Somaliland spends less than $10 million a year on its public schools, and we saw some classrooms are crammed with as many as a hundred kids. There are few colleges here for graduates to go to.

Somaliland is doing better than its neighbor Somalia, which it separated from 25 years ago, as famine and civil war plunged that country into chaos. Somalia is still one of the most dangerous places in the world, plagued by the terror group al-Shabaab. Somaliland by comparison is relatively peaceful, though at Abaarso there are armed guards and watch towers.

It’s worth pointing out just how revolutionary it is to hear teenage girls in Somaliland talk about careers. Many of these girls may have already been married off by their families if they weren’t studying here. Somaliland is a deeply conservative Islamic country, and on school grounds, local customs are strictly followed.

Jonathan Starr is not Muslim, but he does have a family connection to Somaliland. His aunt married a man from here, whom she met in the U.S., Starr’s uncle Billeh Osman. He was the one who convinced Starr to come for a visit and do something to help.