Chokoyan, mothers and their babies at school
A middle school classroom in Chokoyan, where young mothers attend class with their children at their side
When you go to a middle school classroom in Chokoyan village in the Ouaddaï Province, the presence of young mothers with their children at their side will undoubtedly attract your attention. Fatimé Al Fadil, 19 years old, attending the 3rd grade class at Chokoyan College, is one of them: "I didn't want to give up my studies because of marriage and motherhood. My husband encourages me to continue my studies and supports me. But it is often difficult to attend classes with my child next to me. Often, he will cry and disturb me when I have to take notes”.
"I persevere because I am the only girl in my family who goes to school"
Married at the age of 16, Fatimé is one of the 35 girl-mothers admitted to Chokoyan College. Every day, they have to show courage and determination to balance their studies with their family life. Generally speaking, in Chad, even if girls are allowed to continue their studies after giving birth, they are usually not admitted to classes with their children. But how has the Chokoyan school managed to get the community to embrace the importance of schooling to ensure that girl mothers are enrolled and continue to attend school?
In the beginning, there was no secondary school in Chokoyan, and girls who had completed primary school were unable to leave their locality to continue their studies in other towns such as Abéché (95km from Chokoyan), either because they were married or because they had other responsibilities, such as raising their children. When the secondary school (in 1998) and the high school (in 2015) were built in Chokoyan, the community began to debate the importance of schooling for girls and the positive consequences that this would have. The Parents' Association (APE) and the Mothers' Association (AME) organized awareness-raising sessions for families, highlighting the harmful effects of early marriage and the importance of allowing girls to continue their studies. For the Chokoyan community, it is believed that neither marriage nor motherhood should be an obstacle to the education of the girls.
2019 was an opportunity to boost education, especially for girls. For the first time, young mothers were encouraged to come to school with their children. In partnership with the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of National Education and Civic Promotion (MENPC) to increase equitable access to inclusive quality education for boys and girls aged 10 to 24 in an environment that promotes best health, WASH practices and girls’ empowerment, in Ouaddai and Hadjer Lamis.
The community teachers are paid a monthly salary of 50,000 XAF francs (around US$ 100) at the primary level and 75,000 XAF at the middle school level, 98% of which is covered by the parent’s associations, APE. The APE has set up a unique system of participation/contribution/collection from parents to encourage ownership and sustainability. Contributions can be made in kind or in cash. If mothers give 500 XAF francs, fathers must double this amount; otherwise, they must contribute the equivalent amount in peanuts or cereals. Community involvement in Chokoyan has a solid foundation. The APE and AME play a very important role in community mobilization and provide advocacy between the community and the education authorities.
"We, the men of Chokoyan, were opposed to our children going to school and did not want the women to leave the house. But now we have realized that without education, we cannot progress. When our young people don't study, they have limited opportunities. They may become gold miners, which involves many risks. Now, we all agree that our daughters should continue school. I want to thank UNICEF for their support"
The Educational Inspectorate of Chokoyan covers 53 schools with three teachers assigned by the government, including two Arabic speakers and one French-speaking. It had a total of 5,194 students enrolled for the 2019-2020 school year, including 1,840 girls. The major difficulties are related to the presence of teachers assigned by the government and the application of bilingualism. The enrollment rate in college in these two provinces is low, with 16.9% for boys compared to 5% for girls in Hadjer Lamis province and 24.6% for boys and 13.7% for girls in Ouaddaï province.
The Chokoyan's girls' schooling programme provides both academic training and contributes to the social balance of the locality. The KOICA programme therefore aims to improve and strengthen the schooling of students aged 10 to 24 years, particularly girls, through integrated health and Water, Hygiene and Sanitation (WASH) services with a special emphasis on Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) accompanied by increased awareness around schools. The partnership with KOICA has made it possible, in particular, to renovate seven classrooms, train 49 community teachers and members of the APE/AME, distribute 36 school booklets, 75 boxes of menstrual hygiene kits and build five toilets at Chokoyan College.
"We thank KOICA for the menstrual hygiene kits. Before, when the girls were menstruating, they did not attend classes. But with the kits, it makes it easier for them to come to school. Our role as members of the AME is to sensitize parents to send their children to school. We organize community dialogue sessions with girls and adolescents to talk about sexual health and especially menstrual hygiene"
The drawbacks of marriage before the age of 18, amplified by early motherhood, are monitored and transformed into positive actions. With this possibility of allowing girls and young mothers to continue their schooling, it is therefore important to promote the rights of adolescent girls and young women and promote their well-being and the balance of their families.