Solar mini-grids improves learning conditions in schools for refugee children in Ethiopia’s Somali region

Somali students at the Kobe Primary Refugee School in Kobe, Ethiopia, have benefited from the solar mini-grids that have been installed. ©UNHCR/Victorine van Beuningen.

Ifrah Ismail (13), Somali student, is one of the students who benefitted from the solar mini grids implemented in two schools at Kobe refugee settlement in Ethiopia. The solar mini-grids have enabled the setting up of two fans in each classroom for ventilation, circulating air and cooling the temperature, improving the education environment in an area that experiences extreme weather conditions. 

The first refugees from Somalia arrived in the Dollo Ado and Bokolmayo districts in Ethiopia’s southeastern Somali region in 2009. Today, around 341,500 refugees and host community members reside across the five refugee settlements in the area namely Buramino, Kobe, Melkadida, Hilaweyn and Bokolmayo. While the settlements are transforming into urban centers as the population increases, the living conditions are still challenging.

The area is characterized by high temperatures and is increasingly experiencing longer and more severe droughts. Access to basic services like energy, food, water, shelter, and health is limited. The drought, rising commodity prices, and conflict significantly impact people’s lives and livelihoods. The situation also puts school-aged children at risk of not completing their education, engaging in the informal labour market or early marriage.

“Education is the light, and ignorance is the darkness. We hope new light will keep coming. Because with education, we can survive”, Ifrah Ismail.

Ifrah Ismail goes to Kobe Primary School 1 in Kobe refugee settlement. It is one of the 21 primary schools across the five growing refugee settlements in the region. The area is hot, dry and remote – with temperatures that average 45 degrees Celsius and parched land from a drought that has affected this area for three years. The rains that the area has received recently have done little to compensate for the failed rains.

There is no connection with the national electricity grid that is over 350 kilometers away. Most school buildings  are dilapidated under the extreme hot and dry weather conditions.

Drought results in income loss and food insecurity, which in turn puts children at specific protection risks such as forced marriage or child labour. This negatively affects school enrolment, which has dropped from 40% to 33% amongst refugee children.

But the scorching sun can also create possibilities. The high average of sunlight has major potential to generate solar energy to address urgent electricity needs including in schools. In this sense, two primary schools in Kobe have been provided with solar mini grids enabling the installation of cooling fans in classrooms as well as school equipment to help teachers and instructors conduct their classes. In addition, four electric kitchens (two per school) have been installed to help provide school lunches for the students.

©UNHCR/Habon Osman Aden.

“Since the ventilation came around three months ago, you can feel the difference. It is a bit cooler and more comfortable in the classrooms and you can see the children smiling and paying more attention to what the teachers are saying,” says Issack Imam Issaele, Director of Kobe Primary School 1. “It makes me happy that the ventilation is helping them concentrate and learn”.

Ifrah is passionate when she talks about her education. “I like going to school. We are lucky that out of all the schools here, our school has ventilation now. And I am grateful for the teachers that are here to come and teach us every day. Every day after school, I teach them [her youngest siblings] everything I learned.”

The project has been funded by the European Union, through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID), in the framework of the Alianza Shire project. It has been implemented by UNHCR, working in partnership with Save the Environment Ethiopia (SEE) and the state-owned Refugee and Returnee Services (RRS).