|© UNICEF Sudan/2002/ Goodman|
|A group of schoolgirls from the Rashaida nomadic group. Sudan.|
KHARTOUM, 7-7-2003 (UNICEF)
Gaining access to education is no mean feat for children in the remote nomadic communities of Sudan’s North Kordofan State, but the challenges are even greater for girls, as domestic duties and traditions pose significant hurdles.
Eleven-year-old Bhahkita's day starts at 5am. First she milks the goats, then boils the milk, washes the kitchen utensils and prepares tea for the family, as well as readying things for the baby. By contrast, Bhahkita explains, “The boys say their prayers, have their tea and prepare for school.”
Bhahkita attends the nomadic Goes El-Markh school, located in the Sodary province of Kordofan State. During the school break just after midday, she runs home together with two of her girlfriends, Leila and Hawa, to collect jerry cans and donkeys to fetch water from one of the hand pumps located some 5 km from the village.
On their return, the donkeys are offloaded and the girls take them out again to collect firewood. This takes them about 8 km away from home in another direction. At least twice a week, the girls must also fill up the 400-litre drum that provides water for the school.
Bhahkita aspires to be an engineer so that she can “build water pumps and better houses in my community.” Her teacher praises her as “one of the brightest in the class, with a strong determination to learn.”
The real challenge to Bhahkita's dream, however, comes from the fact that her UNICEF-supported nomadic school only goes up to grade four, midway up the primary education ladder. The community is talking about getting the State Ministry of Education to support expanding the school to grade eight, but this may not happen before Bhahkita finishes school in a year's time.
It may be possible for Bhahkita to relocate to the nearest town, Umbadri, and attend a fixed-site school there. She certainly thought it was an option when asked, but those prospects could well be undone by the traditions of her El-Kawahla community where, until recently, women were married off at the age of 10.
Today the average marriage age for girls is 15, which gives Bhahkita a four-year cushion, but her odds for early marriage may be even greater as her family proudly proclaims Bhahkita’s domestic abilities.
Bhahkita has proven herself a strong and capable teacher and this may ensure broader opportunities for her in the future. It is girls like Bhahkita who are tasked with female adult literacy as the male teachers appointed by the Ministry of Education to work with Sudan's 80 nomadic communities are forbidden all dealings with adult women.
“Bhahkita is doing an excellent job teaching her aunt to count, read and write,” says Bhahkita’s male teacher, and notes that she dutifully brings her aunt's notebook to school for him to grade. So if Bhahkita's engineering dream is not fulfilled, there is a chance she might be put forward to train for a teaching post. This would granting more girls and women in the community access to education and set her up as a role model for others.
For the time being, though, Bhahkita's dream of becoming an engineer hinges on UNICEF being able to raise sufficient funds to support the expansion of her school to grade 8. Bhahkita's community is lobbying the state government for external resources to support community-identified needs, including trained teachers. They have also created incentives to attract teachers, with community members taking responsibility for supporting the teacher allocated to them with housing, cereals and a pledge of livestock at the end of a four-year contract.
Whatever lies in Bhahkita’s future, it is clear that access to quality education is essential to improving the opportunities for girls like her to fulfilling their true potential.