Some years ago, I read a book titled ‘Acres of Diamonds’ by a fellow named Russell Conway. It is about the story of an African farmer who heard about other farmers who made millions by discovering diamond mines. These tales so excited the farmer that he could not wait to sell his farm and go prospecting for diamonds himself. He sold the farm and spent the rest of his life searching unsuccessfully for the gleaming gems. Meanwhile, the man who bought his farm was one day talking a walk in the farm when he came across a flash of red and blue light from a stream in the farm. He picked it up and saw that it was a stone. Long story short, the stone turned out to be the largest diamond ever and the farm, the most productive diamond mine in the whole African continent.
This story struck me back when I went for a ten day trip to Garbaharrey, Somalia to see my grandmother on how similar it was to the current condition of the place. Located on a hilly, semi-arid location where there is a scorching sun during the day and a bone-chilling cold at night, Garbaharrey has relatively small population, poor infrastructure and a low economy. Despite these unfavorable geographical locations, the mentality, habits and lifestyle of its residents is as similar as it could be to that of the citizens of a first world country. The people realize the value of time, knowledge, faith, unity and on a major part, progress though education.
These habits are so deeply rooted in them that you might see a stranger from rural areas, standing up in the mosque to explain his desire to learn and ask for an accommodation during his stay in the city. Surprisingly, he will find a family to host him, give him shelter, food and a sense of belonging all without asking for a penny in return. They are contented with helping a fellow Muslim; being a brother’s keeper.
Now, dear reader, you might be asking yourself what the connection between the story of the farmer and my observation is? Well, let me take you back to 1945, after the end of the Second World War when Poland fell under a communist rule for 50 years, tragedy after another until in1997, an independent Polish state elected a man named Miroslaw Handke to the office of the minister of education. Handke, a former chemist who later became the head of AGH University of science and technology was a political outsider. Then, the country was in a situation where without immediate social reforms; healthcare, pension and educational system would suck the life out of the polish economy.
Faced with existential crisis, Handke travelled around Poland, meeting with teachers, researchers and politicians and saw that the adults did not have the necessary skills to do a skilled job and half of those in the rural areas didn’t even finish primary school education. He then travelled to other countries including the United States to learn about their educational systems. Back to the country, he introduced a series of reforms the likes of which the world has never seen; a transitional process with 4 phases compiled in a 225 paged book named The Orange book. The book was distributed to every school in every district in the country and with help from the new prime minister, was to be implemented immediately.
This overnight radical change met with a strong opposition but Handke stood his ground and told the public, while holding out the book, ‘This is our ticket to Europe and the modern world.’ They agreed and with determination and trust in the process, the orange transformed Poland and you yourself can be a witness to that today.
Back to the discussion, Garbaharrey, just like 1997 Poland, is transforming through education. It has 2 secondary schools that compete with each other on producing the best students. It has youth who are determined to get educated and parents behind their backs to support them. It has daily sessions in the mosques, especially after 4pm where religious education and jurisprudence is learnt, debated and contemplated. Through the cultivation of its youth, Garbaharrey has the ticket to the modern world, the capability to become a world class city.
By producing engineers to build the city, doctors to treat the sick without the need to go abroad, excellent pilots to turn the airstrip into an international airport, economists, accountants and business management graduates to develop the economy, it has a bright future. This process might take 20 or 30 years or perhaps even more than that, but the journey of a thousand years begins with a single step and that step has been taken.
You, dear reader, might have a different opinion which I welcome with an open mind. But for me, Garbaharey is the acres of diamonds which the likes of me have left to search for gleaming gems elsewhere.
Mohamed Mohamud Haji Aden
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org