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Two girls determined to stay in school in South Kordofan, Sudan

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/ Carrillo
Tabita and Arruima doing a math exercise in their classroom.

By Lorena Carrillo

KORDOFAN, Sudan, 11 July 2006 – Girls in South Kordofan, Sudan, like those in many other parts of the world, are more likely than boys to drop out of school. To make matters worse, many girls here have never been enrolled in school at all. Poverty, tradition and inadequate facilities have left a majority of girls without an education.

Against the odds, Tabita and Arruima, both 17, have managed to reach seventh grade and are determined to stay in school. They are the only girls in their class at the Tangal Basic School; the other 48 students are all boys. This ratio between boys and girls is characteristic of most schools in South Kordofan, which only recently emerged from a 20 years of civil war.

While there are a total of 326 boys and 307 girls at the school, the higher the grade, the fewer girls remain. There are nearly 200 girls in the first grade, but in eighth grade there are no girls left at all.

Tabita and Arruima hope to be the first girls to complete the full eight years of basic education in the school.

‘I don’t want to be left behind’

At 17, most girls in this region are already married and some even have children. But these two girls are not yet ready for marriage. They are convinced that once married, they will face endless cycles of cooking, cleaning and taking care of their children and husbands, leaving them no option but to drop out of school.

© UNICEF Sudan/2006/ Carrillo
Tabita (left) helping her classmate with schoolwork.

Tabita’s day starts at 6 a.m., when she goes to collect water and firewood for her family. She then packs some food and starts a 10 km, two-hour trek to school. 

After school, Tabita continues with her daily household chores: collecting water, cooking and farming. Only then can she sit down and do her homework. “I always try to save energy during the day so I can do my homework and review school lessons at night,” she says.

Arruima’s parents finally allowed her go to school when she was 12, and only after her brother refused to do so. “If he had wanted to, I would not have gone to school,” she says. She was lucky – none of her older sisters ever had the chance to receive formal schooling.

“I don’t want to be left behind by the boys like my sisters,” says Arruima. With a brave determination, she adds: “I want to become a helicopter pilot.”

An inspiration for girls

UNICEF and the State Ministry of Education are working together to help bring more children in South Kordofan to school, especially girls. As part of the strategy to accelerate enrolment and retention, UNICEF has helped construct and rehabilitate 14 schools in the region.

School supplies – including uniforms for girls, benches, textbooks and school bags – are also distributed in the most disadvantaged areas.

The Ministry of Education has organized an advocacy campaign to break the shackles of tradition and encourage parents to let their children, including their daughters, go to school. While some parents do value girls’ education, many fear that an educated daughter will not get a husband. Many men also believe that an educated woman is more likely to abandon her husband and children.

In the opinion of Tabita and Arruima’s headmaster, more female teachers are needed to motivate girls to attend school and finish at least their basic studies. At the same time, Tabita and Arruima have become quite an inspiration for many other girls.

With help from UNICEF and its partners, more efforts will be made to give girls in South Kordofan a better chance of fulfilling their dreams.



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