J2H Blogs

British Somali History Enquiry:
'Unpacking the suitcase?' Part 3

30 April 2014

Justice2History Blog: Our colleague David Stewart has been teaching our Enquiry on British Somali History for the first time in a boys comprehensive school in inner London. You can read about the enquiry in the new edition of Teaching History, but here is David’s story of how the enquiry went when he taught it:

British Somali History Enquiry: ‘Unpacking the Suitcase?’ Part 3

The last lessons of the enquiry focus on the second half of the twentieth century in Somalia, and on the lives of some of the venerable elders of the Somali community in Cardiff:

In today’s lesson we looked at changes in Somalia in the second half of the 20th Century considering the difficulties newly independent Somalia faced, Siad Barre’s dictatorship and the long Civil War that has caused so much suffering. We got caught up for quite a while on the mystery of who was responsible for the murder of Somalia’s first President, Abdirashid Ali Shermarke, with one boy trying to convince us all it was the KGB.

An interesting moment occurred when we were discussing the 1977 Ethio-Somali war; the whole class cheered when they found out that Ethiopia had won, it turned out that one boy in the class was Ethiopian. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond but was helped out by one boy who pointed out that, as lots of innocent Ethiopians died in the war as well, so it was not an event to be celebrated by either side.

The Somali Elders:

There is something about individual’s personal stories that so grabs young people’s attention that I hardly had to do anything in the final lesson on the Cardiff Somali elders. The stories are fascinating and the boys were struck by the amount the elders had moved around the world and worked in so many different jobs. “His life is so exciting compared to mine,” said one boy – I reassured him that the elder had had a lot more time.

It was in this lesson that the idea of ‘unpacking the suitcase’ really seemed to click for lots of the boys, and the way that lots of Somalis kept on living a nomadic life well after their arrival in the UK. Students began to appreciate that many of the Somalis didn’t seem to settle in the UK until they had been in the country for a long time. Some students were linking in key moments from their Somali elders’ lives to the changes in Somalia that we had studied last lesson. It was fantastic to see the boys so involved and to watch everything come together for them.