Our club, our programme - child leadership in South Darfur
By Skye Wheeler, UNICEF Sudan
Nyala, South Darfur, 4 May 2009 – It’s the school holidays and the empty school yard is baking in the midday sun. But in one dark classroom in the corner of Alsadaga School, Iman Musa is in fine vocal form.
After her song, other members of Alsadaga’s Child Club position themselves for the start of a small piece of drama. It involves a bad-tempered woman who declares peace in her village and a chief, indicated by the actress’ turban and po-faced expression, whose assistant keeps bursting into giggles.
After introductions and the show itself – what Sudanese call “the programme” - the girls go back to reading in the silent room.
“We have a hundred books,” Iman explained. “I count them every time we have finished reading.”
The most popular story, club member Nazik Adam said, is one about a donkey who fakes an illness to get out of work.
But Iman’s job extends well beyond looking after the books. She is the elected president of an executive council that oversees all the 13 child clubs in Nyala, state capital of South Darfur – an area still in the clutch of an increasingly complicated conflict.
An organized structure, led by children
Each of the clubs, where children organize painting, singing and sport, has its own president and deputy, elected – as Iman has been – using a show of hands from club members. Activities are organized by different sub-committees with their own administration and club members join in as they wish. The first clubs emerged out of training sessions led by the State Ministry of Education with UNICEF support, but since then others have appeared spontaneously.
Iman’s executive council meets frequently to decide activities and direction for the clubs and sort out problems, she explained. Polite and serious, Iman’s quiet but sure voice together with her height make her seem older than her 13 years. She appears to have already considered answers to questions put to her, like a politician.
Under northern Sudan’s educational structures, boys and girls are taught in different schools but Iman is unfazed by the boys in the council, which is made up of representatives from all of the clubs. “Talking and deciding with them is easy, something normal,” she said.
The clubs themselves are often mixed. While located at a single school many clubs include students from other schools, and sometimes children who are just living in the neighborhood.
In existence for less than a year, this initiative has set a determined precedent, not only for conflict-affected South Darfur but for all of Sudan.In existence for less than a year, this initiative has set a determined precedent, not only for conflict-affected South Darfur but for all of Sudan. Not only have these children organized themselves and the clubs’ activities but they have lobbied the local government too.
“There was almost no child participation before. Children did not know their rights,” UNICEF’s Krishna KC, Education Specialist said. “Now people are listening to them.”
Through the club structures Iman and her colleagues have advocated for cleaner schools and more services. Together with local community radio worker Hassan Omer Lego, they’ve taken their voices on air. “We took the questions from the child club members and asked the Director General [of primary education] on the radio for answers,” Lego explained.
Hearing children's voices
And it’s working. State ministry officials said the children have taught them much about their priorities and enthuse about the clubs that they hope to see increase to 150 over the next years.
“They made the Director General support them with desks and chairs for their club. They have begun to ask us questions, like where their textbooks are from,” Suleiman el Rahli, Director of Youth Activities in the state’s education ministry said. “Now they are expressing themselves very well.”
Free expression through drama and painting after school is new for many of the students. Enjoying shared ownership of an organization is also novel, and is spawning new ideas.
Omera Club President Asha Ashaq Ahmed and her fellow club members are planning a new Red Crescent committee alongside the sports and dancing committees. Someone from the organisation will come in and teach first aid. “It seemed a good idea,” the president explained.
Because of the enthusiasm of the students and the communities of teachers and parents around the schools, the clubs have been cost-effective way of supporting UNICEF’s rights-based approach, UNICEF’s head of South Darfur operations Sandra Lattouf said.
“The children need to be advocates for themselves. They need to know their own rights,” she explained. “It’s an advantage if first you can listen to them and then base programmes on their needs.”
A serious aspect to learning amidst the fun
The clubs are also an excellent theatre for messages about malaria prevention, hand washing and general cleanliness. Girl children in senior positions within the clubs are natural advocates for increased female education. The clubs also provide an important protection structure, Lattouf said. “The clubs should build trust between children and their own leadership. Children should be able to talk to these leaders who can then help them.”
Iman and her friends from the club said they had not heard about Sudan’s national elections planned for February next year – one of the girls’ teachers pointed out that there is more than enough to think about already in Darfur.
But during their time in the child club, some things have been considered by these future leaders – if only in their own context.
“You need to be brave. And to be a leader you must respect time, know about the club and know how to organise. We want peace from this club,” explained another club president Maha Abdul Hakim.
And the connection to the broader context of Sudan was not lost on Nazik Adam – “Elections are a good way of picking a leader,” he noted.
Promoting quality education for all in Sudan