Developing future leaders today

How Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools are nurturing leaders for today and tomorrow.


Her eyes glint with a ray of hope. She knows that her dim yesterday is gone and her tomorrow can only get brighter. “I would like to be the Minister for Agriculture for my country Somalia when we attain peace”, Habiba confides. She knows that she’ll have to forge ahead and forget her past that has been filled with war, pain and self doubt. She bends and pulls the weed choking her crop of beans. She knows that she has also been there before and has needed some weeding herself.

Habiba Athumani has been a pupil at Angelina Jolie Girls Primary School in Kakuma Refugee camp for two years now. This school, started by a film star by the same name has been a refuge for her and many other girls with similar tales to tell.

Map of zone

With the worsening conflict in Somalia, Habiba and her siblings, two brothers and a sister, left their home country in 2004 and found themselves at the Kakuma refugee camp. They fled and escaped with their lives after both parents were gruesomely killed in the inter-clan hostilities. At the camp, the orphaned family was left in the care of their step mother who soon also abandoned them before they were taken in by a cousin. This was until they were formally registered as refugees by the authorities in Kenya.

Habiba is one of the eldest daughters in Isabella’s household. With nine different nationalities, Isabella has a register of all her girls to help keep track of their whereabouts. Her home is sometimes fondly referred to as Angelina. She is the deputy headmistress of Angelina Jolie Girls Primary School. Isabella Muthoni knows that this is the only place the girls can call home and mean it and she intends to keep it that way.

The school offers protection to thirty four vulnerable girls who have been rescued from various difficult circumstances. Isabella calls out to the girls and they come closer and surround the small plot in which cowpeas are growing. She points at the plants and draws lessons for daily living. It’s time for class. Welcome to Bidii Junior Farmer Field and Life School (JFFLS). Bidii, a Kiswahili word for ‘working hard’ is demonstrated in action by the twenty five members of the Bidii JFFLS. Under the astute leadership of their Chairperson Habiba Athumani, the girls diligently attend to their plots of maturing tomatoes, cowpeas, okra, water melons and kales. The girls, aged between ten and eighteen years, know that the value realised from being members of JFFLS far exceed their expectations and are glad they belong.

The JFFLS is designed to empower vulnerable youth, and provide them with the livelihood options and gender-sensitive skills needed for long-term food security while reducing their vulnerability to destitution and risk coping strategies. “We have learned how to protect ourselves from HIV and AIDS and from sexual abuse sexual exploitation that affects girls like us”, says Furaha Aziza, a jovial thirteen year-old from the Democratic Republic of Congo. One of the other major objectives of the JFFLS is to promote the creation of gender-equal attitudes, by enabling youth to exercise the same roles and responsibilities and developing their capacities to critically assess relationships and understand the risks and resources present within their community.

“As the leader of Bidii JFFLS, I have learned to lead by example and to inspire confidence in my fellow students when rallying support for the various projects we carry out”, quips a confident Habiba.

John Kaissa, the project coordinator from the implementing NGO adds, “Although most domestic chores are carried out by women in the Turkana community, the JFFLS activities encourage the carrying out of different tasks by all irrespective of gender.”

Isabella teaching

The strength of the JFFLS is its unique learning methodology and curriculum, which combines agricultural, life and entrepreneurship skills in an experiential and participatory learning approach suited to vulnerable communities. This methodology is also suited to other contexts of low literacy levels.

“We meet at least once a week to discuss the crops and understand the science behind our farm practices. The girls have learned how to space crops, identify and manage pests”, explains Isabella, who also doubles up as the group’s facilitator.

Noella Nzabimana, a budding rap artist from Burundi wraps it up very well with her rap song with the words “What are we going to eat without farming?”

“My fellow Ministers,” Habiba mentally rehearses her speech in preparation for the day she presents the Somalia cabinet with an agricultural policy paper. She knows it’s a long way but with the leadership skills honed through JFFLS, she knows her dream is never too far out there. Ask Obama.

This FAO programme was funded by the Swedish government and implemented by Lutheran World Federation.