Cinzia Andreoni: "I can't explain what it feels like when you help others"
Interview to Cinzia Andreoni, the founder of Under The Same Sky, a nonprofit organization based in Ghalkayo, Somalia.
Tell us about you, your NGO and why you decide to work in Somalia.
I am a primary school teacher and I have been involved in school education for 39 years. Since I was a child, I wanted to teach because I believe that school gives every person the opportunity to improve their social life and to realize their dreams.
My dream has always been to offer all children the opportunity to go to school, and I always wanted to open a school in Africa, but I didn't know how to do it, until I met, after a long time, a loved friend of Somali origin: Faduma M. Dirie. Seven years ago, with her, I started a small twinning project between my class [in Italy] and some children from the Halabooqad refugee camp, which Faduma had gathered in the CFS (Child-Friendly Space).
I left for Somalia, a very dangerous country due to political, social and economic instability, one of the poorest countries, where thousands of people are forced to live in terrible conditions due to drought, wars, famines and terrorism.
When I saw the living conditions of the children in the refugee camps around Galkayo, I immediately asked what needed to be done to open a primary school. The premises were there: they were those managed by the GECPD [Galkayo Education Center for Peace & Development], the NGO that takes care of the women in the camp.
There were no teachers. So, I collected all the money I had with me and we went looking for two teachers for a class of 27 children, girls and boys. It all started then: with a class. The first class. Meanwhile, in Italy, we set up the association Under the same sky, entitled the twinning project between Italian and Somali children.
What SDGs are you supporting with your NGO? Any particular reason you believe those SDGs are key?
Our SDGs are mainly related to school education. In our schools, in addition to curricular subjects, we teach children respect for the environment through environmental education activities such as recycling of plastic ... food education (as far as possible we provide nutritious snacks to the most vulnerable children) but above all we teach peace and respect for women, and we fight against female genital mutilation. Somalia is the first country in the world to be affected by this issue.
Who are your beneficiaries? Can you share one of their stories with us?
Our beneficiaries are girls and boys from 3 to 16 years old, they are children who attend our school. Thirty of them reached the eighth grade of school; they were the first children in the Halabooqad refugee camp who attended school. Now we have 350 pupils in our school. They are few if we think that in the Halabopqad camp alone there are about 1300 children, and around Galkayo there are 53 refugee camps. We are a little drop in a big ocean.
There are many stories to tell, but Iqra's one struck me the most. I have known her since she was six years old, a lively, cheerful and very intelligent, thin and petite girl. She was sick with typhus, but she always told me that she wanted to go to school because, when she grew up, she wanted to be a teacher.
Unfortunately, Iqra is now orphaned of her mother. The mother died in childbirth on her sixth pregnancy, which is quite common in Somalia:
many women die in childbirth. However, Iqra hasn't stopped attending school, she wakes up very early in the morning and looks after her younger brothers,
then goes to school and, in the afternoon, she washes clothes, takes care of the brothers, prepares rice for dinner, and even manages to study.
Which programs are you currently working on to support the children of the Halabooqad refugee camp?
The main project we are working on is to keep the school open at the Halabooqad refugee camp. We have ten educators and teachers who teach about 350 children in kindergarten, primary school and secondary school. Our program provides for the monthly payment of teachers' salaries.
What is your biggest challenge so far? How do you tackle it?
The biggest challenge is to keep the school open and to ensure that the 30 children who will finish secondary school this year will continue their studies. It is a very difficult goal to achieve since funds are always needed to pay monthly salaries, and in this period, due to Covid-19, we have suspended the fundraising events. Moreover, many people do not believe in this project because it is carried out in a distant African country. It is all very difficult.
Tell us about the achievements you are most proud of?
Seven years ago, when I opened the first class of primary school with 27 pupils between girls and boys, I did not expect to reach such a high number of enrollments, 350 children are few compared to the number of refugee children living in the camps, but they are very many for me. I did not think I would reach this goal, the Halabooqad camp school is very famous especially for the activities taught and for the methodology very similar to the primary school where I teach in Italy.
Any motivating message you want to share with the Uyolo community?
First of all, I would like to say that you strongly believe in your dreams, often with tenacity, determination and a bit of luck they can come true. Since I was a child, I wanted to open a school in Africa and teach children ... and here it is! To volunteers and donors, I would like to say to always believe in the power of education, thanks to the school you can really change your life.
Is there any particular memory that stands out and that you keep in your heart?
The moments I remember with the most emotion are the ones I experience when I leave for Somalia and I can see all the first 27 boys to whom I gave the opportunity to go to school. Every time I meet them and hug them, I start to cry for the strong emotion, I can't explain what it feels like when you help others, it's a warm feeling of peace.
Why did you choose to partner with Uyolo?
Together with the volunteers of my association we chose Uyolo because it is a splendid project and a valid opportunity to get to know all the organizations that are part of it.
Thanks to Cinzia, for the time you dedicated to our interview.
We are very proud of you.
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