©UNICEF Bissau/2007/Nunes Correia
By Yolanda Nunes Correia
Isabel Luís Gomes, 15, studies at the Cunha Gomes School in Canchungo in Guinea-Bissau.
At the FIFA Women’s World Cup China 2007, which starts next week, UNICEF and longstanding partner FIFA will launch a campaign highlighting the key role that sport and child-friendly schools play in helping girls overcome social barriers and transform their lives. This is one in a series of stories about young women around the world.
CANCHUNGO, Guinea-Bissau, 7 September 2007 – Isabel introduces herself very shyly: “My name is Isabel Luís Gomes. I am 15 years old and I always studied in the Cunha Gomes School. I am a sixth-grade student. I should be almost finishing school, but unfortunately I was enrolled late.”
In Canchungo, located in Guinea-Bissau’s Cacheu region, there are a lot of girls like Isabel who were enrolled late at school. But this situation is changing, thanks to a campaign for girls’ education and quality schooling promoted here and elsewhere in the country with the support of the Icelandic Committee for UNICEF and other donors.
“Now there are very few children who do not go to school,” says regional girls’ education focal point Mendes Pereira Jandi. “This process is coordinated by the Ministry of Education, but without the support of partners like UNICEF these results would not have been so encouraging.”
© UNICEF Bissau/2007/Nunes Correia
Improving the quality of education
School Management Committee President Bubacar Mendes leads a group that monitors children’s school attendance in Canchungo.
Isabel is one of the 12,000 students in 55 rural schools rehabilitated by communities in three regions – Cacheu, Gabu and Tombali – with assistance from UNICEF.
“We currently have nice desks with good benches and all necessary materials to study well, such as books and notebooks,” she says proudly. “The sanitation facilities are much better, too. Boys and girls have different latrines that are much cleaner.”
According to Mendes Pereira Jandi, several initiatives besides classroom rehabilitation have been undertaken to improve the quality of education in Guinea-Bissau. “Training programmes for primary school teachers without any technical and pedagogical qualification were conducted,” he says. “Manuals for teacher training and self-learning are available for each trainee according to academic grade.”
Last year, the training programme reinforced the capacity of 1,462 educators representing 30 per cent of the country’s primary school teachers. The second phase of this three-year programme is currently under way.
School work, housework – and football
In Isabel’s home community of Canchungo, meanwhile, there is a growing awareness of the importance of sending both boys and girls to school.
“As members of the local community, we go to school to see if there are children constantly missing school,” says the head of the local School Management Committee, Bubacar Mendes. “Sometimes children miss school due to the domestic and agricultural workload. When this is the case, we sensitize the parents on the relevance of sending their children to school.”
Isabel notes that she is responsible for cooking meals for her family – including her parents, three brothers and two sisters – even during the school year. She balances these chores with her school work and other interests, including football, in which she excels.
‘My team is very good’
At least four football teams compete among themselves in each village, Isabel explains. “Right now, my football team is in a local competition,” she says. “So far, we have been the best. I think we are going to win the competition this season.
“During the school year, we also have football competitions,” she adds. “My classroom has two teams, one of boys and another one of girls. My team is very good.”
Isabel extends her thanks to everyone who has supported her school’s rehabilitation, “because otherwise a lot of us would have not been able to study and have a better chance in life.”