When I was child, I lived in a village at the border between Ethiopia and Somalia. In that village, people were interrelated across clans. We were raised clanless and classless. Poor and rich supported one another.
As a child, I was brought up by all responsible adults regardless of class, age or gender. I looked upon them with respect like my blood parents. They also raised me like their own child. I felt safe, heard, cared for, loved and encouraged. I had educational opportunities and free health care. My fundamental childhood needs such as having time to play, a roof over my head, food, clean water, health care, education and so forth were all met. It was a child welfare system organised by the community, one that was owned and managed collectively.
There was solidarity among adults when it came to helping one other to foster kids and supporting one another when food and water shortages would occur in other households. There were giving and taking attitudes among neighborhoods. My youth experience was the same.
There was a collective responsibility and agreement of raising and protecting children. We all shared the feeling of belonging to a caring and safe community. The correction methods used by adults were consultative and curative, not forms of punishment. There was absolute love and care from adults to children and youth. We were told stories full of wisdom by elders. They simply shared with us their life experiences without conditions.
We had time to stay with them, to listen and ask questions. We were trained to become critical thinkers. We were given the homework of stimulating our mind to think and reflect. Whenever we returned to seek more information, the knowledge of the elders was always there for us. Growing up we did not have television, mobile, Playstation or internet, but those elders were our Google and dictionaries. They were living encyclopedias.
Somali history and literature are traditionally oral, and these people were passionate in sharing information and knowledge with us, and did so with compassion. There is nothing that can come close to their indigenous pedagogy and knowledge.
There were open spaces for dialogue and mutual interests for gathering and group belonging. We could easily have role models among people in our society. It may seem as though we lived in a small village where everybody knew everybody, but that was not the case. We always had newcomers, who were expected to bring in something valuable and shared to the collective. There was an open climate for sharing, transferring and fostering thinking from an early age.
As a child, I was given the right to decide to change my name if I so wanted. I changed my name from Hodan to Wilo because I came to a realization. I was bulled with my nickname Wilo, meaning ‘tomboy,’ and I did not like people calling me Wilo from the beginning. I disarmed them by taking Wilo as my real name, and the bullying stopped.
There were no street kids, no orphanages, and no hungry children in my community. There was always a protective gaze in every corner of my society. There was a clear sense of humanity among our people. What happened to that society of ours?