Born in Dagahaley Camp in Dadaab, Kenya, Zacharia is the fifth of 11 siblings. His mother Sahro recalls how he once escaped from school when a group of boys were harassing him. He was rescued by a man who saw him trying to flee and brought him home.
“I shudder to think what they could have done to him,” she says. “It made me so angry to see what he was going through. I had even filed reports to police, but there was little they could do.”
For Zacharia, dropping out of school in these circumstances was inevitable, even though he did not want to stop his education.
“I was fed up with all the bullying and abuse,” he says. “The worst was knowing that the ones discriminating against me were still attending school, but I was the one who was forced to stay home doing nothing.”
Why can’t I?
He stayed out of school for a year, until he noticed children with disabilities going to a particular school with similar school bags and new uniforms.
“I told my mother, if those children could go to school, why can’t I?”
The school he was referring to was the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Accelerated Education Programme Centre, which supports out-of-school children from the refugee and host community.
Visiting the centre with his mother, Zacharia immediately felt that he belonged there. Upon registering him there, he got a uniform, school books and bag, and his mother was helped with cash through which she now uses to rent a car to take him to school in.
“I love how respectful the teachers are here,” Zacharia says. “They are very helpful whenever I don’t understand something, and the whole environment here is very friendly. This has changed everything for me.”
I’ll become someone
Despite Zacharia’s early bad experiences at school, he remained totally determined to return to the classroom. His teacher Abdi Yousuf says he is one of the brightest in his class and has a very promising future ahead of him.
“I always had in the back of my mind the thought that one day I have to help my parents,” Zacharia explains. “Challenges can be overcome, but education is a life-long investment. One day I’ll become someone, and I’ll be able to give back to my parents.”
His mother looks at him with pride as she sees the difference the programme has made for him.
“I am so happy to see him back in school,” Sahro says. “I am very proud of him, seeing him doing well there and wanting to be a role model for children with disabilities in our community.”