13 May 2014: Girls, Let’s be Leaders!
By Sabine Brandenburg
Temeke district, Dar es Salaam region, United Republic of Tanzania, 13 May 2014
“If I want to become a pilot when I grow up, I need to go to school. After three months staying home, I luckily had the opportunity to go back to school”, says 12 year-old Rabia Shabahi.
Girls face multiple challenges as they pursue their education in Tanzania, and many are forced to leave school early for socio-economic reasons. According to the Tanzania Demographic Health Survey (2010), starting from the age of 13, girls are more likely to be out of school than boys of the same age, and the gap continues to widen through secondary. The UNICEF Adolescent in Tanzania report (2011) states that major causes of dropouts are poverty (inability of parents to pay for school fees and other costs, homes lack social amenities - water, electricity, space - for study), poor quality of education (teaching ability, large class sizes, textbook shortages), poor learning environment (including the lack of clean water, hand-washing facilities and girl-friendly latrines) and fear of violence at school or on the way to school.
“My mother was very sick. We had to move from Mkuranga to Mbagala so she could visit the hospital more often. I could not go to another school as the transportation costs were too high. My father is a traditional doctor and does not earn enough to cover these costs,” says Rabia.
Supporting girls to return to school
Through the Mabinti Tushike Hatamu! (Girls Let’s be Leaders!) project, implemented under the leadership of the Tanzania AIDS Commission (TACAIDS), UNICEF and its partner Restless Development are supporting girls in Temeke to return to school through collaborating with local leaders and schools, establishing trust with the local community and raising awareness of the issues facing young girls. Volunteers recruited under the project are building close links with a variety of stakeholders such development officers, executive officers, headmasters and religious leaders to support out-of-school girls.
In 2013, the project team conducted community events to educate families on the importance of girls’ education and girls’ sexual reproductive health and rights using community dialogue, poems and drama. Whilst sensitizing the community, the project’s volunteers encouraged the girls to join girls’ groups which offer a safe environment to receive information on prevention of gender-based violence and HIV, girls’ rights (including the right to education), sexual reproductive health and livelihoods.
In the course of carrying out house to house visits to identify out-of-school girls, on Mangaya Street, Mbagala Ward in Temeke District, the project volunteers met Rabia. Volunteer Salha Ally, in Mbagala ward, reported the case to the local leader, the chairperson of the neighbourhood’s committee, Mr. Mkumbo. He is a supporter of the project and agreed to help. He prepared a letter for the headmaster, to confirm the residence of the girl in the village and the urgency that she return to school.
With continued support from Mr. Mkumbo, the headmaster of Mbagala agreed to re-enrol the girl. Her parents were brought in to discuss the situation and agreed to contribute a small amount to cover the enrolment fees for a special school programme known as MEMKWA (COBET – Complementary Basic Education in Tanzania), which is specially designed for girls who are above the normal school entry age. The contribution, amounting to US$2.50, covered the monthly allowance for a teacher to train Rabia and other girls in class. With the help of the local leader, Rabia’s parents were more easily persuaded to allow Rabia to continue her education.
Preventing further drop-out
The activities initiated by the volunteers have brought trust and awareness to the community in Temeke and it’s clear that attitudes are changing. A close link has been established between schools and project volunteers, who are providing peer education to in-school girls to prevent further drop outs. This work has been recognized by other local leaders and they are now supporting the volunteers and encouraging parents to value the education of their daughters.
“It is important for all children to get good education! I am now doing very well at school as I am the third best student in my class!” says Rabia with a proud smile.