Somalilandsun- Abaarso School that is putting the country’s Education in the global lime limelight, rises up past the rocks and acacia trees in the middle of the Somaliland desert—an oasis. It’s the lone school in the country where students pursue dreams of higher education in America.
Somalia and Somaliland are located in the “Horn of Africa,” the easternmost peninsula in Northeast Africa. In May 1991, after a brutal civil war, the Republic of Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia. Somaliland has made great strides, including establishing a stable government with peaceful elections.
Still, Somaliland remains unrecognized internationally, and the combined area of Somaliland and Somalia has been ranked as the #1 most Fragile State in the world by The Fund for Peace for most of the past decade.
The impact of the civil war still lingers with unemployment at over 75% and critical challenges in core infrastructure areas such as sanitation, water, energy/electricity, roads/highways and education. It is impossible to imagine these core problems resolving without a new generation of educated and ethical leaders. This is precisely why Abaarso’s success is so crucial for the hope of a better tomorrow.
Abaarso was started by an American with no experience in education. Jonathan Starr shut down his Wall Street hedge fund and recruited a team of unproven young teachers to work with the local students.
Jonathan Starr tells 60 Minutes Anderson Cooper that when he founded a school in struggling Somaliland, he gave students a “chance to win” and that’s exactly what they did.
Read: The Ex-hedge fund manager who founded Abaarso the transformative school in Somaliland, a place he whole world had written off
Abaarso strives to create great people, not simply great students. Our focus on ethical development (“Integrity”), determination (“Tenacity”), and rigorous independent thought (“Reasoning”), equips students with the characteristics they will need to succeed in international environments, and ultimately, as exemplary leaders of the Somali people.
It started as an abstract vision in 2008—to build a transformative school in a place the world had written off as hopeless.
To achieve this goal, founder Jonathan Starr and his team had to overcome profound cultural differences and withstand threats. They also had to win over the hearts and minds of a skeptical local population.
Through unwavering perseverance and a belief in the possible, the faculty and students, against all odds, have come to achieve success beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. With over 80 students now attending top international boarding schools and universities, including MIT, Yale and Harvard, these students have proven that they can compete with anyone in the world and are poised to become the future leaders of their nation.
2009 – 2012: Building the Foundation
2013: The Breakout Year
2014 and Beyond: From Startup to Institution
Lasting change will need to come from the Somali people. So, to truly contribute to societal change, we must prepare the Somali children of today to become the exemplary Somali leaders of tomorrow.
Abaarso has already developed tremendous students who’ve achieved more than they previously dreamed possible. Our ambitious plans for the future are driven by our focus on:
Forging a path for the girls of tomorrow…
Nadira Abdilahi did not grow up assuming that she would get an education. Her mother had never learned to read and Nadira, like many of her peers, assumed that she would be married shortly after junior high or high school.
But that all changed when her older sister, Fadumo, engaged in a hunger strike to convince her parents to let her attend Abaarso. And one year later, Nadira followed suit, secretly taking the admissions exam and getting accepted too. She studied relentlessly and received a scholarship to the Westminster boarding school, where she took 6 Advanced Placement classes and became possibly the 1st female born and raised in Somaliland/Somalia to ever get accepted to an Ivy League university.
Now at Yale, Nadira plans to study economics. “I left home to access better education, so I can make a difference in the lives of Somali girls and help Somali women create their own companies…I envision a Somali society where talented women like my mom will have access to higher education, and I will sacrifice and do whatever it takes to make that dream a reality.”
From herding camels to engineering at MIT…
Mubarik Mohamoud grew up in a nomadic family herding goats and camels on the border of Somalia and Ethiopia. When he was 10, he hid in the back of a truck for 3 days to escape the refugee camp where the rest of his family remained so that he could attend school in the big city.
Although essentially “homeless” after the death of his grandmother, he persevered at public school and gained admission to Abaarso in 9th grade by scoring well on its admissions exam, even though he spoke virtually no English. Although soft-spoken and mild mannered, Mubarik’s natural gifts and tenacity shone through and he quickly rose to the top of his class and subsequently became the first Abaarso student to attend an American boarding school.
At Worcester Academy, Mubarik excelled in his academics, earning a perfect “5” on his AP Calculus test, and received a full scholarship to MIT, where he is now majoring in electrical engineering and computer science. After MIT, Mubarik hopes to make a lasting difference in Somaliland by “leveraging my studies to revolutionize the way we educate our children and building technologies that can change how we buy and sell products to create jobs for the Somali people.”
Dreaming of one day leading a nation…
Born to a family of 18 brothers and sisters, Abdisamad Aden was raised by his grandmother in Hargeisa, Somaliland with no electricity or indoor plumbing. Although he spent an average of 2 hours a day getting water and had to study by candlelight, he still managed to perform well in school, eventually earning the 2nd highest score in the country on the 8th grade national exam and a spot at Abaarso.
After 3 years of hard work at Abaarso, Abdisamad became an ASSIST Scholar at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, and was eventually accepted into Harvard University as a freshman in 2015. Reflecting the national pride in his accomplishments, Abdisamad was even invited to meet with the President of Somaliland before leaving for college.
Now studying economics, Abdisamad plans to eventually come back to Somaliland to work with young people and then possibly explore his childhood dream of one day leading his nation. “I am looking forward to being part of a present that builds a future far better than the past for my country and for the world.”
Our Future Plans
Many Abaarso graduates plan to one day become educational innovators in their own country. They have already returned during summers to teach classes or programs at the school, and several of Abaarso’s first college graduates will soon be full-time Abaarso teachers. The long-term goal is for Abaarso graduates to fully run the school. A 10-year strategic plan is currently being developed for a “network” of elementary schools that can be rolled out across the country to educate tens of thousands more students with a quality early education foundation.
For more of the transformative school in Somaliland visit
While visiting the Abaarso school in Somaliland, Anderson Cooper of CNN and CBS News tells the story of how he found a career and answers kids’ questions