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With mothers’ help, more girls are going to school in Cameroon

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©UNICEF Cameroon/2007
Christine Inama was told to abandon school by her parents until a government initiative intervened and encouraged her to return.

By Gisele Langue-Menye

GAYAK, Cameroon, 25 May 2007 – In a small village in the northern part of Cameroon, a group of women, both young and old recently gathered to sit under a mango tree. Gayak is in the poorest region of Cameroon where as many as 4 out of 10 people live below the poverty line.

On this day, the women are full of energy as they discuss their daughters’ futures.

“I left school to get married when I was 14 years old. For that I received 6 dollars,” says Aminata Djida, chairperson of the Mothers Club of the primary school of Gayak. “Many of us have had to leave school early due to the heavy burdens of domestic chores or due to early marriages.”

In the village of Gayak only 49 per cent of the children go to school against the national average of 79 per cent. Only one out of 2 girls is able to attend school in this poor village.

Little resources for a girl’s education

Stories like Aminata’s are very common in the northern three provinces of Cameroon. As they grow up, girls are being prepared for their responsibilities as future spouses and mothers. Giving away a daughter to marriage is highly regarded by her family members as it gives honor and respect, as much as it reduces a heavy burden on the family. Many resources are spent on a girl’s traditional roles as women, but little resources are left to her education.

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© UNICEF Cameroon/2007
Poverty prevents many students from attending school, but these children are ready to learn.

Families are poor and therefore cannot afford the cost of education, such as learning materials, fees, uniforms and so forth. Due to scarce resources, families with many children often give boys the priority to go to school.

Due to the low social status of girls, they are more likely than boys to not get registered at birth. Consequently they are also deprived of their right to possess a birth certificate, a necessary document for school exams and certification.

Encouraging good initiatives

The Child-friendly, Girl-friendly school initiative addresses access to quality education. This initiative covers 300 schools and benefits 365,000 children. It responds to the problems of poverty and cultural barriers to education. Schools are provided with benches, manuals, latrines and potable water; teachers are being trained, and community participation is enhanced through the Pupil Mothers’ Associations, or ‘Mothers Club’.

Aminata was never given the chance to go back to school. She thinks that no one deserves to remain uneducated and is therefore committed to her work through the Mothers Club whose objective is to ensure that girls go to school.

“Since we started our activities in 2002, we have succeeded in gathering around 50 mothers in the monthly meetings,” she says. “We have also been able to get traditional leaders and the fathers on our side and we are working together.”

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©UNICEF Cameroon/2007
Girls are often prepared for marriage instead of getting an education, but initiatives are underway to keep them in school.

Fruitful partnerships

The Mothers Club carries out a wide range of various activities. During the school day, they walk from house to house.

“When we find a girl at home or in the market, we always ask her why she is out of school,” explains Nicole Hayang, the secretary of the association. “We also investigate and talk with the parents.”

The objective is to try to find a solution to get a girl back into school. The Mothers Club also organizes discussions on issues related to puberty, hygiene or early marriages as a part of the curriculum. They reward the three best achievers in each class, and with their monthly membership fee they invest in the school and its improvement. Eight girls, who had abandoned school, have been reintegrated this year with the help of the Mothers Club. The girls themselves are starting to understand the importance of an education.

“I know the importance of school,” says Aissatou, 9. “Before coming here, I was unable to write my name, but now, I can go to the health centre with my mother and help her read the medical prescriptions in French. I am so happy to be able to help her.”

The principal of the primary school of Gayak reported recently on the increase in enrolment for boys and girls. Also, for girls there is an increase in achievement rates and a decrease in repetition rates. These are very positive trends towards which the Mothers Clubs have had a large impact.

“As mothers and illiterate women, we are very proud to see what we have produced,” says Aminata.


 

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Video
UNICEF correspondent Natacha Ikoli reports on girls’ education initiatives in Cameroon.

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