Smiling in Somaliland

The title of this post comes from a blog of the same name, written by one of my dear friends, Teresa Krug.

Teresa is an English instructor at Abaarso Tech, a school in Abaarso, Somaliland dedicated to providing quality education to some of the brighest young people in Africa. I've known Teresa since our first tap dancing class at Miss Jennifer Stone's dance school, when we were both 6. And, needless to say, it has been amazing to watch her journey from small-town Arkansas to Somaliland.

Today, we're going to put Trend Watch Wednesday on the backburner and turn our attention to a cause far more important than the latest handbag or the Fall runway. Today, I wanted to introduce you guys to this person I'm so proud to call my friend and shed some light on her organization and the help they are providing in a country that needs it so desperately.

First off, thank you so much for taking the time to share your personal story with readers of A Blonde Ambition. Why don't you start by telling us how you became involved with Abaarso Tech?

I originally accepted another teaching position at a separate school which brought me to Somaliland. Almost upon arrival, I both realized that the school was a poor fit for me and heard of the work being done with Abaarso Tech. After meeting with Kiette, one of the co-directors, I was sold on the mission to give the most talented students in the country a chance at a world-class education regardless of whether they could pay. I was inspired by the energy the teachers and staff not only put into formal classes like math, science and logic but also by the passion they have for cultivating independent thinkers and the future leaders of this country. At semester they offered me a chance to come work with them as an English instructor, performing arts coach and communications director.

(Below, Teresa poses with two students on a recent field trip to see ancient heiroglyphics.)

Where did the idea for this school originate?

The idea for the school was conceived of in spring of 2008 when Jonathan Starr, AT’s own visionary, visited Somaliland with his Somali uncle and was prompted by Somalilanders to begin a secondary school that would develop graduates able to compete on an international level—not just local level. Classes began in September 2009. Construction on the campus’s facilities began simultaneously with the classes in order to ensure that another class of Somalilander students would have access to Abaarso Tech’s education. Classes have continued through the summer, so we will be finishing our first school year on July 28th.

(Below, two students from Abaarso Tech teach English and Math to local village children; AT instills the importance of giving back to its students.)

Tell readers a little about the founder of Abaarso Tech, Jonathan Starr.

Jonathan Starr is originally from Worcester, Massachusetts but attended college at Emory in Atlanta. At the age of 23 his talent for finance was realized, and he became involved in a number of private investment firms on the East Coast. Finance was not simply a way to support himself; it was his passion. By the time he hit his early 30s, however, he had become slightly disenchanted with the finance world and was looking for an opportunity to build something positive for those who had had fewer opportunities than he had.

His initial visit, where he was introduced to Ahmed Husein Esa, sold him sold on the idea that building a school for the country’s most talented youth was the most valuable contribution he could make to the country.

Two years later, he now lives in Somaliland full-time, along with the entire staff. From keeping the books and initiating programs (an undergraduate accounting program is slated to begin this fall) to better serve Somaliland to teaching logic and coaching girls’ basketball—he, along with Ahmed Husein Esa and Kiette Tucker, runs everything from here: not from a sky-rise building in the U.S. He knows every single child extremely well and has high hopes for all of their futures.

Did you have any initial fears or apprehensions going into this experience?

Even though Somaliland self-governs, I was apprehensive about being in a country still internationally recognized as Somalia, which is infamous for sea piracy and terrorism. Because there is no American embassy within the country, I was concerned about being able to leave quickly or having some sort of protection should violence break out where I was living. Fortunately, Somaliland is extremely safe and stable. There is a higher level of security for foreigners, but I feel very comfortable here and never fear for my safety.

(Below, a Somalian citizen proudly displays her voter registration card.)

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Be blessed, lovelies-
Photo credits: Teresa Krug and Abaarso Tech


  1. This is such an incredible post! It's so refreshing to hear about people doing good things in other parts of the world. I feel so informed!

  2. Thanks for posting this Leslie. Reading this makes me very proud of my extremely brave, risk taking, talented, hopefully future sister-in-law.

  3. Wow. Just wow. This is so inspiring. The things these people have been through...the part that women play in these countries...it's just so eye opening...and saddening... Your friend is seriously an amazing person...


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