Sister University of Abaarso School

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Our Team

The founders of Barwaaqo were behind the incredible success of the Abaarso school, a 7th-12th grade, co-ed boarding school in Somaliland, whose graduates have scholarships to top universities such as Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown and MIT.

Jonathan Starr, Co-founder

Jonathan was the Founder of the Abaarso School, the incredibly successful 7th-12th grade boarding school in Somaliland. Jonathan served as Headmaster of Abaarso from 2008 to 2015 and is now Headmaster Emeritus in addition to being Executive Director of the Horn of Africa Education Development Fund. Prior to founding Abaarso, Jonathan had a successful career in finance. From 2004 – 2008, he founded and led Flagg Street Capital, a private investment firm that managed $170 million of assets. Prior to Flagg Street, he worked as an Analyst at SAB Capital and at Blavin and Company. Jonathan also sat on the Board of Directors of Pomeroy IT Solutions, a publicly traded IT company generating $500 million of annual sales. Jonathan graduated from Emory University, with a B.A. Summa Cum Laude in Economics and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa.

Ava Ramberg, Co-founder and Executive Director

A native of Minnesota, Ava graduated with high distinction from the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School with a degree in Public/Non-Profit Management and Entrepreneurial Management. Ava’s interest in international development began at Children’s Home Society and Family Services. Before working for Abaarso School, she served as a youth and maternal health education advocate in Kenya. She has traveled extensively in East and South Africa and speaks English, French, Swahili and is learning Somali. At Abaarso School, Ava served as the Assistant Headmaster and Director of Development and also taught math from 2011 through 2014. In 2014, Ava returned to the United States to work for Firefly Value Partners, L.P., in New York City as an operations analyst for three year before returning to Somaliland in 2017 to start Barwaaqo. Aside from her role as Executive Director, Ava also serves as a member of the Horn of Africa Education Development Fund’s Board of Trustees and is the Chief Financial Officer for Abaarso School.

Nimco Ahmed Ismail, Dean of Student Life and Faculty of Social Sciences and Education

Nimco was raised in Hargeisa, Somaliland. She was part of the 1st Abaarso School class that graduated in 2013. She received Abaarso’s first U.S. college acceptance ever with a full scholarship to Oberlin College in Ohio. At Oberlin, Nimco was an involved student leader and a research assistant at the World Policy Institute. She graduated in May 2017 with a degree in Politics and will now be on the faculty of Barwaaqo in addition to her role as Dean of Student Life. Nimco takes tremendous pride in Somaliland and is looking forward to helping improve the future opportunities for young women in her country.

Christina Bowden, Primary Schools Manager and Faculty of English

Christina is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. She received her BA in Anthropology from the University of Georgia, and later earned her M.Ed. in International Education Policy and Management from Vanderbilt University. Between her degrees Christina worked in refugee resettlement, with a focus in education for newly arrived families. She has had the opportunity to work and travel internationally, and is excited to now pursue her goals here in Somaliland. Christina has a passion for using education as a tool for international development, exploring new cultures, and learning from her students.

Pilar Pastor, Faculty of Maths and Psychology

Pilar was born and raised in Madrid, Spain. While studying her Bachelors Degree in Psychology, she worked and did internships for several non profit organizations in The Philippines, India, Brazil, Kenya, and the US, mostly working with children in small schools in slums. After graduating, she joined the World Bank Group, where she worked in Health and Education for three years. Pilar likes to play sports and enjoys outdoor activities in her free time.

Nora Harless, Finance Director and Faculty of English and Maths

Originally from Nashville, TN, Nora graduated with honors from New York University (NYU) in 2016. Having studied Spanish language, she conducted research abroad in Havana, Cuba and in Quito, Ecuador, focusing on development and Spanish translation. After graduation, she worked at Barwaaqo’s partner organization, Abaarso School, in Somaliland, teaching pre-algebra. Prior to returning to East Africa, she worked again in South America, completing a fellowship year with Princeton in Latin America as the external relations coordinator for the Carmen Pampa Fund in Nor Yungas, Bolivia. She will be overseeing finances for Barwaaqo University, and aiding in Abaarso School’s alumni operations.

Gabriella Harris, Faculty of English and Social Sciences

Raised in the south of England, Gabriella graduated from University College London in Classics with French. She spent her years before university teaching at and administrating a home-schooling group in Sussex, teaching in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, travelling India and volunteering for the founder of the Malaysian Green party. She interspersed her studies with research work for ancient historian Bettany Hughes, working on social and gender policy campaigns and her mum’s social enterprise, magazine-editing in Slovenia and volunteering with detainee support groups in London. She spent the last year as a primary teacher in Sudan. She loves being in the sea and mountains, photography and playing music. Having received scholarships and bursaries into a great education she is passionate about everybody having access to quality education and is excited to teach and learn from the young women at Barwaaqo University.

Raquel Freile, Faculty of Maths and Social Sciences

Born and raised in Quito, Ecuador, Raquel graduated from Universidad San Francisco de Quito with a BA in Journalism. She volunteered in Valparaíso, Chile, for over a year, working in different areas with both children and adults. Afterwards, she worked for education focused non-profits in her home country, as a tutor, project planner, and administrator. She spent last year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, getting her Ed.M. in Teaching and Learning. In her free time she enjoys reading, writing, playing the piano, and playing football.

Najah Saeed, Administrative Assistant

Raised in Hargeisa and alumna of Abaarso school, Najah Saeed was a member of the Abaarso Class of 2017. Najah became ASSIST Scholar in the year 2016 -2017. She spent her high school senior year at Perkiomen School in Pennsylvania, USA. Najah participated in Model United Nations as her primary activity and played basketball at Perkiomen School. Throughout her high school years, she was a proctor for two years at Abaarso, an orphanage tutor and primary tutor. Najah returned to Somaliland the summer of 2017, and worked as Data Coordinator with a humanitarian organization, Caritas Somali, in Digaale refugee camp. After she finished her summer internship she went back to Abaarso school where she worked as staff member and also as postgraduate student. Najah wants to pursue Political Science and International Business in her college degree and is looking forward to being a part of the change of this country.