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DADAAB, Kenya, March 13 (UNHCR) - Six years ago, Muuxi Adam met two friends in a coffee shop in the Canadian city of Winnipeg to talk about ways they could help other Somalis stuck in refugee camps in Africa.
The three, all Somali but from different clans, started by setting up a non-governmental organization, Humankind International, to spread awareness about Somali refugees in neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia, and to raise money for education projects for refugees.
In February, their initiative took concrete form with the opening of a pre-school in the Dagahaley camp, part of the world's largest refugee camp complex at Dadaab in north-east Kenya. "More than 400 children lined up to enrol in the school, but we could only take 140 for now," Muuxi told UNHCR at the recent opening ceremony. He added that half were from the camp and half from the host community.
The school has three teachers, two from the refugee community and one local Kenyan. CARE International, UNHCR's partner for primary education in Dagahaley, has connected the school to a regular water supply.
"This is one of my greatest moments in life," said Muuxi, who grew up and suffered in war-torn Somalia before becoming separated from his family and making his way in 2004 to Toronto in Canada, where he is now a citizen.
He first gained inspiration for an education project after tracking down and visiting his mother in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. While there, he met an eight-year-old refugee and asked him about school. He was shocked when the boy told him he could not go to school. That was the seed which was watered in the Winnipeg café with his fellow Somalis, who had both lived in Dadaab.
Muuxi, who is aged in his late 20s, said his NGO had spent US$35,000 on the Dadaab school, but he was confident of raising more funds through Humankind International. "Our target is to sponsor 120 refugees every year," he said, while adding: "What is important is that the school is now open to benefit the community."
Ahmed Warsame, the ethnic Somali head of UNHCR operations at Dadaab, said it was "great to witness the extraordinary efforts made by former refugees to help their communities to alleviate human suffering." Warsame, coincidentally also a Canadian citizen from Winnipeg, pledged UNHCR support for the school through the provision of equipment and learning materials.
The refugee agency supports other primary and secondary initiatives at Dadaab, which is home to some 350,000 registered refugees.
By Duke Mwancha in Dadaab, Kenya