In a recent episode of 60 Minutes, CBS correspondent Anderson Cooper profiled the Abaarso School of Science and Technology located in Somaliland, an East African state that broke away from Somalia 25 years ago but is not recognized as an independent nation.
The school was founded in 2008 by Jonathan Starr, who, as a millionaire at the time, didn’t like his job of running a hedge fund in Boston. He wanted to do something that gave his life purpose, and having heard of Somaliland, he decided to build an American-style boarding school to help students get into the best universities in the United States and beyond.
The hope is that they would, one day, return to Somaliland as its future doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, etc.
“The mission of the school is to produce ethical and effective leaders of the country,” said Starr.
Two students from the Abaarso School eventually made their way to Chester County, to the Church Farm School in Exton.
Jamaal Aw Yoonis, who was born in Ethiopia but fled the country when civil war broke out, graduated from Church Farm School last year.
His family had lived as nomads, tending animals on the fringes of cities throughout northern Africa, and at the age of five, he moved in with his cousin in Somaliland to begin his education. In middle school, Aw Yoonis was selected as one of just 45 students to attend the Abaarso School.
There, he earned a scholarship to attend private school in America, and he chose the Church Farm School based on its diversity. For Aw Yoonis, living here was a challenge at first.
“The first time it snowed, it was hard to go outside,” he said. “I couldn’t get warm even with many layers. I got sick a lot.”
By the second year, he grew to love Church Farm School, as he ran track and enjoyed talking to his friends in the cottage about their unique ideas and culture.
Now, Aw Yoonis is a freshman at Berea College in Kentucky.
Khadar Essa, the third of nine siblings, is now a senior at Church Farm School, and will graduate next month. Essa arrived at the school on the recommendation of Aw Yoonis.
The pair became acquainted as students at the Abaarso School.
“It was so cool to see my former school broadcast all over the world,” said Essa. “Like Church Farm School, Abaarso School’s mission is to change the lives of young people through an education that strives to ‘create great people, not simply great students.’”
Essa originally placed into Abaarso as a ninth-grader.
“My aunt was euphoric for me to go there,” he said. “I couldn’t understand English at all when I got there, but I set goals for myself and achieved them.”
Church Farm School was a culture shock to Essa, even though he had Aw Yoonis to lean on, but he adapted quickly.
“I felt really welcomed here,” he said. “It’s a small school like Abaarso, and everyone knows each other.”
A Muslim like Aw Yoonis, Essa was pleased to discover that Church Farm School “celebrates everyone’s differences.”
Since Somaliland is internationally recognized as part of Somalia, one of six Muslim-majority nations whose citizens are barred from entering the U.S., per President Donald Trump’s executive order, Essa’s family is unable to see him graduate in June.
Nonetheless, Essa said that Church Farm’s inclusivity is perhaps what he likes most about the school.
“The adults are always looking out for me,” he said.
In the fall, Essa will attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth on a full scholarship. He believes he is prepared for college, and is ready to pursue a degree in engineering.
Of his experiences in America, Essa said, “I couldn’t have dreamt of being here when I was growing up.”
Click here to watch the 60 Minutes episode featuring the Abaarso School.