It is about 5:45 pm on a Thursday, and Sahro Ahmed Koshin is calmly sitting at the podium of Jamia Central Hotel’s Swara Conference Hall with a small audience in front of her. Sahro, a mother of one, is a poet and a writer.
She was launching her new book; Sounds of Laughter, an anthology of poems. The gathering in Nairobi offered many budding writers a glimmer of hope and inspiration.
Sahro considers herself a vehicle and guardian of the Somali community. She is on a mission to unite the community. To communicate her thinking which — to herself — is unique; and hopes to divert people from tribalism, which is sinking the Somali community deeper and deeper into the abyss of hatred and civil war.
She says the Somali people have a unique way of approaching each other, by first identifying their tribes and this always baffles her. She however believes in a Somali identity that doesn’t equal clan identity and connecting people through things like poetry, youth and women’s empowerment. Sensitization, she finds, is key to changing the scenario.
“People have the tendency to place you in a certain compartment and that will perhaps make it easier for them to deal with you and how to get close to you. And they do this by first asking you which tribe you are and if they find that you are from another tribe from another region, they will choose a way to interact with you which is totally different from the way they are supposed to be interacting with someone else from their tribe or region,” she says with a concerned look on her face.
She says she hates and detests that approach and always likes to say ‘I am a Somali’ rather than identifying her clan. “I do say I’m a Somali and use my poetry and the other different avenues at my disposal to communicate that and that is what I mean by I am a vehicle. I want to let the world know that there is a different type of Somalia led by able and positive youths who are not basing their thinking on tribal ideology,” she enthusiastically adds.
It is this passion to re-discover the lost hope and glory in Somalia that made her leave Europe where she has been residing since she left Zambia at a tender age. She travelled back to Garowe, Puntland to fulfil her mission. Sahro has trust in the power of women and youth and she wants to solemnly focus on them.
This feeling of belonging drove her back to Somalia and it has been a good decision since she feels welcome and needed in her own country, a situation that made her realise the happiness and culture she lacked in Europe. She admits she now feels she is a ‘component of a greater whole’ and that she interacts better than before.
She says there are various ways to demonstrate the importance of the women and the youth and whatever is done, their voices are needed.
Sahro believes that there would be less violence in Somalia if women and the youth are given the opportunity to lead and this would answer future questions on governance in the horn of Africa nation. For instance: “A teacher who is a woman would do better in resolving a conflict between two pupils,” she says.
The idea of the Somali youth and women taking centre stage in decision and policy making interests her because she believes that the youth can do a lot if they are interested in something due to their energy and risk taking which can lead to a positive idea and realization.
“The rest of the world understands the power of the youth and women in decision making and Somalia needs to do the same.”
In 2011,when she went back to Garowe, she was appointed as the Technical Adviser – Gender Mainstreaming and Girls Education at the Gender Unit, Ministry of Education, Puntland Girl’s education then was at its worst compared to the boys. She says there were no offices, toilets, sanitary pads for the girls and the situation was generally bad. She says they had to start from scratch. It is her hard work and hope for an opposite scenario that helped the ministry and other well-wishers improve girl child education which, to her, was a neglected one.
She says parents would initially restrict most of the girls at home. The lack of support, too many house hold chores, lack of female teachers and other challenges affected the girl child but the rate has now gone up from 11% in 2011 to 48% in 2015.
“Parents were initially against the idea of taking their girls to school but they have now realised the importance and say, go to school and be a saviour later,” she happily says.
Her work has since been centered in Puntland where she started, but she is optimistic it will spread to the greater Somalia.
Sahro has organized different events like interactive sessions, reading and writing sessions and this has helped the young girls realise their potential. It is through these events that they now know they are part of the society and can be front-runners in all aspects of life.
She particularly concentrates on creative writing as she says this will make them more open, educative and make them see the wider picture. Sahro believes writing and reading are strong drivers that can take girls to the other side of the society and make them strong.
“When a girl comes out and reads something, few people will recognize her but when she sits down and writes something, it will reach a wider audience as her writing is taken home and that is why I do tell them to write. From this we formed the Puntland Women Writers Association,” she tells me.
Sahro is currently the Deputy Executive Director and Programmes Manager at Somali Institute of Development and Research Analysis (SIRDA) and even though she no longer works in the Ministry of Gender, she hopes to continue her tireless effort to see the Somali girl child and women at large take a better position in the society.
She says SIRDA does research and capacity enhancement and through their collaboration she hopes to make changes in Puntland. A plan is even underway to hold the first Garowe Book Fair in April next year.
Besides her humanitarian work and empowerment, Sahro also remains a big force in literature. Her poems have put her on the global map many times and saw her bag different accolades in Literature. In 1999 Sahro was the recipient of the prestigious Rabobank Poetry prize for her poems which she wrote and read in Dutch, Somali and English to an audience of over 300 people which included the Dutch Queen, Beatrix.
Other notable awards include the good leadership, counselling and guidance award at the Puntland State University, Garowe in 2013 and Dutch Leadership ECHO-Award among other awards.
Her poem, I Am a Somali Woman has gained widespread acclaim all over the world and is one of her most read and viewed poems in her poetry collections. She had read it in many poetry events all over the world and has since been on everyone’s lips. The poem which in part says;
I am a Somali woman.
Yet I am not a victim. I am a leader.
Not a woman leader. But a leader who happens to be a woman.
Appear on her new book, ‘Sounds of Laughter’ which is available both on bookshelves and Amazon.com.
She says she wants the Somali people to deviate from the tribal trajectory and think beyond everyone’s position and what divides people.
“Know and do what you can do instead of knowing who someone is. There is a bad image about the Somalis so we need to show the world a better image, “she happily says.
The writer is a freelance feature writer and blogs at: khadarmay.wordpress.com