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Mr. Starr, who became wealthy by managing the Flagg Street Capital hedge fund in Cambridge, Mass., told me that he burned himself out from working day and night, had endured some disappointing years and decided to liquidate the fund. In 2008, he took a trip to Somaliland and returned the following year to build the high school. He said he needed a new challenge, comparing his motivation to that of Peace Corps volunteers a desire to help people improve their lives.

The impoverished students have a limited ability to pay for an education, so Mr. Starr asks them to contribute only what they can afford. Having spent a sizable amount of his net worth, he now depends on outside funding to cover the shortfall of the school’s operation. In 2010 SAFE, helped build a dormitory for girls.

Now 38, Mr. Starr and 15 teachers mostly from the United States and Canada focus on teaching math and science to 80 boys and 40 girls in the fourth year of the school’s operation. Standardized tests soon will be held in Ethiopia, a 20-hour bus ride for the students, to prove how good these students really are.

Mr. Starr introduced us to Mubarik Mohamoud, who grew up in a refugee camp and recently received a letter of acceptance to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a full scholarship. We also met Nadira, who was accepted to Oberlin College in Ohio on a full scholarship. Four other Abaarso students from this first graduating class also have been admitted to U.S. universities.

If this generation of Somali children is to find hope for the future, there will need to be an emphasis placed on basic education. Sustainable economic development will need to follow if Somalia wants to participate in the global economy. Without education, the achievements needed for success may not happen.

• John Price is a former U.S. ambassador to Comoros, Mauritius and the Seychelles islands. He currently serves as a resident scholar at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. He is the author of “When the White House Calls,” and regularly writes commentaries on Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.