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Rehabilitation and training programmes give girls a better education in Guinea-Bissau
CASSACA, Guinea-Bissau, 3 March 2008 – Like many girls in Guinea-Bissau, Mariama Sambu, 10, has a busy life. She rises at six each morning to help with household chores, which is no easy task when you share your small home with 18 other people.
The structure of her house – bricks made of mud, a dirt floor and a corrugated metal roof – stands as a reminder that Mariama lives in one of the five poorest countries in the world. There is no electricity or running water, so Mariama must walk each morning to a nearby well, which was provided by UNICEF. Before this well was built, she had to walk 2 km for water, which left her little time to prepare for class.
Now she arrives at class fully prepared and eager to spend her morning learning. Mariama has quickly emerged as one of the top students in the village. She hopes her journey will continue after she finishes her schooling.
"I want to be a teacher, to help my mother and father," says Mariama. "That would give us an easier life."
UNICEF has been working to help girls like Mariama excel in school by providing training for teachers. Historically, the majority of teachers in Guinea-Bissau have had no formal training. Most people in this rural area depend on farming and fishing to survive.
The director of Mariama's school, Mossa Kieta, says the teachers face extremely difficult obstacles on a daily basis.
"The big challenge here is language, because each student has a mother tongue. When they come here, they must learn Portuguese because it is our official language," says Mr. Kieta, who has been at the school for 14 years. "This is very difficult, but with teacher training it is possible and we are doing it."
A visible difference
Since UNICEF began training teachers in 2006, Mr. Kieta has seen a big difference. "The students are now learning much more efficiently," he says with a smile. "I am most proud when the students completely understand the material and they're able to apply it to their lives."
In the past year or so, UNICEF has supported the rehabilitation of 55 rural schools, which has benefited 12,000 students. That assistance has come in the form of learning materials, sanitation facilities, desks and other resources.
UNICEF is working to help the community embrace the idea that basic education is a right that extends to all school-age children, especially girls. UNICEF supports child-friendly education models, which include addressing schools' water and sanitation neds, and guaranteeing curricula, textbooks and teaching and learning processes that are friendly to all girls and boys.
The end result is a better life for girls like Mariama – and a fuller, richer experience as they grow into adulthood.