The school bells are ringing for Bozigajon, Marjana and Saida
In Tajikistan, the first of September brings joy to schoolchildren every year. It marks the beginning of the academic year: a new year of sports, making friends, homework and learning new things. Unfortunately, many girls are left out and will not have the chance to go to school.
In Public School number 43, in Stakhanor village in Tajikistan's Bakhtar region, one of the most conservative in the country, the 2004 academic year was a defining one. For the first time in 10 years, girls were attending classes in secondary school. Through the entreaties of their male peers and the support of their parents, Marjana, Bozigajan and Saida have broken with custom. They are thrilled.
All three (two are cousins) are bright, strong and ambitious. They do not want to get married at a young age; they see themselves going to university and taking up professional skills. For Marjana, for example, this will mean studying medicine. When asked what will happen when the time comes for them to marry, all were unanimous in their response, "I will insist on finishing my education. The future is in my hands."
Bozigajan, Marjana and Saida are not the only girls eligible for secondary school. Twelve others should also be in class, but their parents have kept them home. Bozigajan, Marjana and Saida, in their innocence, do not see themselves as role models or heroes, but their actions speak otherwise. When they discovered the other girls were not in school, they visited each of the girls' families in an effort to get the parents to change their minds. The answer was a resounding no. But, this is not the end of the story. The headmaster, his deputy and a committee of teachers wish to visit the parents and use fresh powers of persuasion.
Already, the headmaster has asked the local mullah to speak during Friday prayers about the benefits of girls being educated beyond the ninth grade. It is hoped that, if the other parents encourage their daughters to attend secondary school, those who are resistant may acquiesce. Bozigajan, Marjana and Saida certainly hope so, for, though they are happy to be in school, they admitted they would be more comfortable if their former primary school classmates were with them, too. It is impossible to say if Bozigajan, Marjana and Saida will realize their dreams, but they have been given the opportunity during the most important stage of their intellectual and emotional development to try.
Providing opportunity is what UNICEF strives for.
Adapted from "Tajikistan", a publication of the UNICEF Tajikistan country office.