How the nomads of eastern Sudan came to recognise the importance of sending girls to school
By Aida Abdalla
Kassala, eastern Sudan, May 17 2012: The value of girls in Sudan’s nomadic communities has traditionally been measured in their prospects for marrying well and the wealth that brings their families. This was certainly the case for the Rashaida tribe, in the community of Barakat in eastern Kassala state, which – at least until a decade ago -- had never seen the point in giving girls an education.
Then, in 1991, a small number of families in Barakat began sending their daughters to a co-educational school in a nearby village. Although none of these girls managed to complete their basic education, and left early to marry and start families, their parents’ action in sending them started something important.
Gradually, other families started following their example. According to community leader, Mansour Mohamed, there were two factors involved:
“On the one hand, Parents began to realise that girls had less opportunities than boys to improve their lives" Community leader, Mansour Mohamedparents began to realise that girls had less opportunities than boys to improve their lives. But we also felt that girls with an education would understand their religion better.”
Over time, families saw other benefits from sending their daughters as well as their sons to school: not least, the girls had a better understanding of how to look after their own children, a gain that was reinforced when two midwives came to work in Barakat community.
Eventually, in 2002, Barakat celebrated the opening of its own Basic School for Girls. Today, the school boasts eight classrooms, along with a latrine block at the back. A single tree stands in the centre of the school – underlining the severe shortage of water the area suffers from (the school has to bring in water by tanker from Kassala town).
The school -- which receives support from UNICEF, Plan international, WFP and a Qatari charity) now has around 270 girl pupils. One of them -- fifteen year-old Faiza – says the school is helping break down local attitudes that discriminate against girls.
“I am lucky that I come from a family that values education for girls,” said Faiza. “My mother is encouraging me to complete my education and to become a doctor like my brother.”
In 2011, the school achieved a 90 per cent pass rate for its first ever class of 8th grade pupils, prompting calls from the community and government for the establishment of a secondary school to allow the girls to continue their education.
Although local tradition and other factors still prevent many girls from accessing further education outside their communities, it is hoped that a new, local secondary school will help to change attitudes in the long term. A new school could also provide opportunities for the daughters of other nomadic communities who pass through the area.
Note: UNICEF works to enhance nomadic children’s access to and completion of quality education across Sudan by providing learning spaces and learning materials, raising awareness and empowering communities, and by training teachers. In Barakat Basic School for Girls, the training of teachers, the provision of school supplies and the construction of two classrooms and an office has been possible with funds from the governments of Norway and Italy.