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Interview with Angelique Kidjo from Wide Angle

©UNICEF/HQ03-0135/Susan Markisz
Angélique Kidjo.

In 2003, the documentary television series WIDE ANGLE profiled seven children in seven countries-Afghanistan, Benin, Brazil, India, Japan, Kenya, and Romania-as they started their first year of school. Returning in 2006, WIDE ANGLE found that some of these children are already struggling. With over 100 million children around the globe out of school, this 90-minute special, titled Back to School, puts a human face on an issue with profound consequences for global development.

A 45-minute screening of Back to School will take place at the UNGEI Technical Meeting in Cairo, Egypt, 12 November 2006.

Singer/songwriter and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Angélique Kidjo was interviewed in New York City by Judy Katz, producer and writer for Back to School.

Angelique Kidjo: Education is the key, really, for the African people to be able to play a role, an important role, for themselves. For protecting themselves. There is so much we can learn from Africa that is lost today-that is taken away from us because we don't have the education to understand.

I will give an example. Shea butter comes from Africa mainly. We use it to cook, for our hair, for our body, for many different things. We never ever thought about how much money is made by contributing to the cosmetics business in the world. So education will allow us to sell our shea butter competitively.

That's why I'm so involved in education. That's why I'm involved with UNICEF. Because we have to start with the kids. The next generation has to be educated to give a chance to Africa before they are corrupted by the system in place for them. [They need] to know that education is their responsibility-as the next politician, as the next doctor-to make the right choices.

Judy Katz: You grew up in Benin, and you were saying in your family all nine kids went to school. And it sounds like it was out of the ordinary. Did most of your girlfriends go to school? And what are the common reasons for dropping out? What are the obstacles, culturally and generally? Why is it so hard for girls to go to school?

AK: First, I would say if the parents are not educated, they don't see the benefits of going to school. Secondly, most of the people [in Benin] are poor. So when the girl stays home, it's a help for the mother to help raise the other brothers and sisters, to help do home work, and to cook. And the third thing is that there is a belief in Africa-not only in Benin-that if you send a girl to school she will speak back to her husband. So it's those three major things.

© Hervé Cohen
One of the students featured in the Wide Angle documentary series Back to School: Neeraj from rural Rajasthan, India, belongs to a herding family.

The thing is also money. Because school is not free. And when you're poor, you think about how much it's going to cost you, year after year, to put your child in school. And another reason also is the abuse of the girls in school. Some parents are willing to do whatever it takes, sending the girls to school. Yet some teachers will take advantage of that as soon as they find out that the background of the child is very poor-that if they rape that girl, nothing's going to happen to them. They'll take advantage of it.

So it demands a huge belief from every family to send the kid to school and to stand by it.

JK: But Nanavi, who's so quiet and kind of shy-do you think an  education is going to do something for her?

AK: Education's going to do more for her than anything else. Education is going to give her confidence. There will be a turning point where she will be confident in her education and what she has learned so far and how she can implement that education in her daily life. And, boom, the switch is going to happen.

Even if she's not outspoken, you will see in her way of standing, her way of working, her way of speaking, step by step, that she's going to have more confidence.

For me, one of the things that really makes me think that we're going to have to work harder in the poor countries is... to change the minds of the men who think about girls as less than human beings. They treat their herd, their animals, better than they treat their girls. And that is something that is completely wrong.

Why in other countries, developed countries, do they know that the girl's going to school is a chance for the family? Is a chance for her to have a better life? Why can't we think like that in Kenya and in Benin or in India?

JK: But when we think more globally about education and developing countries versus developed, industrialized countries, what are the other challenges in the third world?

AK: The poor countries have more kids because those kids help home-in the home work and the farm work. The rich countries can afford having one child and can give everything to the child because they go to work-they get the work in an office. They work behind a computer. They have a car. They can go from point A to point B. It's development.

Not to diminish the fact that sending kids into school in rich countries is not important. It is important. But their counterparts in poor countries have to go to school also. Because if this place is to become a global village, the next generation has to have an education for the situation to change in poor countries. Because the poor governments, if the population is educated, cannot continue doing the politics they are doing. Education is the only thing that can help and allow democracy to exist in poor countries.



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Introduction to the Wide   Angle documentary,
Back to School, 2006.

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