UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on the Girls’ Education Project in northern Nigeria.
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BAKORI, Nigeria, 11 April 2007 – Full of energy, pupils run in circles on the playground of Nadabo Primary School in the small town of Bakori, northern Nigeria. They are having fun in gymnastics class, where the female teacher has them exercising.
All the boys and girls are wearing white-and-green uniforms, with a long hijab (veil) for the girls – a Hausa tradition that can be seen throughout the region.
Behind the school gate, another group of children congregates. They are not wearing uniforms. Many of them carry large trays on top of their heads as they wait to sell goods such as bread and peanuts to their more fortunate peers.
40 per cent not in school
Among the working children is Jamila, 12, who goes door to door every day selling vegetables. It has been four years since she had to quit school.
“I dropped out in 2003 when I was in class two,” says Jamila. “I left because I didn’t have a school uniform. My mother wanted me to work to make some money so that hopefully one day we can afford the uniform again.”
To help face the mounting challenge, the Government of Nigeria, UNICEF and other partners have launched the Girls’ Education Project here. Its goals: to get more children to school and reduce gender disparities in primary and secondary education. With $50 million committed by the United Kingdom, the project has had a head start and is quickly gaining momentum.
Learning materials distributed
Like Jamila, 10-year-old Wasila remembers the shock she felt when her parents asked her to leave school a year ago. “My parents asked me to drop out and work so that I can support them,” she recalls. “I was not happy and didn’t like it, so much so that I almost felt I had a fever.”
Fortunately, Wasila didn’t miss out on school for too long. Through the Girls’ Education Project, free learning materials have been distributed in more than 700 schools in northern Nigeria, lifting a big financial burden for families like hers.
“While she was out of school, I heard that her school had gotten instruction materials, including books and school bags, and that attracted my attention,” says Wasila’s father, Sani Hudu, who also has six other children. “I decided to send her back to school.”
When Wasila returned to school, she was greeted with a spacious and comfortable learning environment.
“It’s clean everywhere,” she exclaims about her school, which has been reconstructed with the help of the Girls’ Education Project. It now has water pumps, as well as separate latrines for boys and girls. Teachers also benefit, receiving extra training.
“The importance of education, for example, is that one can become someone like a medical doctor who can help women deliver babies safely,” says Wasila, who studies hard and has become the top student in her class. She takes her education seriously, knowing that there are still many girls in Nigeria who couldn’t afford to give their dreams a second chance.
After school, Wasila likes to read to her father and show him what she has learnt at school. Her good marks bring a rare smile to Mr. Hudu, who has been struggling to support his seven children with a small pension.
Next to them is Wasila’s little brother. With hers encouragement, he is trying on his sister’s blue UNICEF school bag. On the top of the bag, a slogan in the Hausa language reads clearly, ‘Take me to school’.