STAMFORD, CT - Jonathan Starr, founder of The Abaarso School, an American style boarding school in Somaliland, will give a talk on “Civility at an American School in a Muslim Country” October 23 at 6 p.m. at The Ferguson Library, 96 Broad Street, Stamford, CT.
His appearance is part of a series on Civility in America sponsored by The Dilenschneider Group, Hearst Media Group in Connecticut and The Ferguson Library.
Mr. Starr is a former hedge fund manager who closed his business and donated $500,000 of his own money to build The Abaarso School in 2009 to educate the next generation of Somali leaders. He had no education experience and his only connection with Somaliland was an uncle who had lived there.
He is the author of “It Takes a School: The Extraordinary Story of an American School in the World’s #1 Failed State” (Henry Holt 2017). The book chronicles his journey from hedge fund manager to headmaster of The Abaarso School. It is a story about an unlikely group of people coming together to change a society.
Despite long odds, Abaarso students have shattered anyone’s expectation. Many of them spoke no English when they arrived, but have now gone on to study at Harvard, MIT, Brown, Columbia, among others. An initial investment of $2 million was leveraged into $18 million in scholarships. Mr. Starr has impressed on his students that they are the next generation of Somaliland leaders. This promise is already being fulfilled as the majority of the initial students who completed their studies at United States universities have returned to Somaliland to work at the school in leadership positions
“What The Abaarso School has accomplished is to challenge the preconceived notions that the Muslim world has about Americans," he said. "It is embedded in the school’s culture that the purpose of their education is to develop their society and help their people. I have no doubt that Abaarso graduates will be among the future generations of leaders in Somaliland.”
Teachers were hired from a pool of promising young people and paid $250 a month plus room and board. Mr. Starr was looking for teachers with determination and perseverance who would challenge their students. Education at Abaarso School goes well into the night and over weekends to give its students the greatest opportunity for learning.
His talk will focus on how groundbreaking it was to have an American school in Somaliland and those in the Muslim society who resisted such change. Some opportunistic Somalis accused him of trying to convert their children to Christianity and instilling in them Western ideology.
But Mr. Starr found that in actuality people are very much the same in what they value, particularly when it comes to offering a better life for their children. Students and their parents saw the great education they were receiving and fought to defend the school. Later, when Abaarso students received the first scholarships to America in several decades, the whole society got behind the school.
American Schools and Hospitals Abroad has provided grants to help Mr. Starr expand the school. Positive stories in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, CNN Money and a powerful segment on 60 Minutes all contributed to convincing Somalis and others that The Abaarso School was changing the lives of young people, many of whom spoke no English when they arrived.
Robert L. Dilenschneider, founder and president of The Dilenschneider Group, who conceived the idea for the series, said: “Incivility has become socially acceptable and commonplace. The lack of civility in every segment of society, from politics to academia, from the media to the blogosphere, from talk radio to the pulpit, has become a crippling epidemic that threatens the future of our country. Something must be done.”