A reason to smile again – empowering girls through education

Makani centres provide vulnerable children with a safe space to learn, make friends, and belong

Sara AlHattab
A girl smiles at the camera
04 May 2020

Khadija’s bright smile can light a room but, until two years ago, the 12-year old struggled to find reasons to be happy.

As one of the 132 million girls out of school globally, Khadija was convinced that she had missed her opportunity to receive an education and achieve her dreams. She is from the Dom community, a highly vulnerable group in Jordan, and growing up she faced multiple barriers to her education. A recent survey by UNICEF found that 1 in every 4 Dom children are not attending school.

1 in every 4 Dom children are not attending school. Of these, 75 per cent have never even stepped into a classroom.

UNICEF survey, 2020

Khadija longed to join the other girls her age in school. Based on her firm belief in girls’ education, her mother decided to enroll her children in their local UNICEF Makani ‘My Space’ centre, funded by the European Union. With guidance from trained facilitators, she started to learn Arabic and Maths in the centre’s learning support classes.

Eventually, with support and encouragement from the staff at her Makani centre, who work closely with the Ministry of Education, their mother enrolled her children in a double-shifted school. It was one of the happiest days in Khadija’s life.

“We go to school because we love our teachers. It’s nice to go to school with friends and learn."

Khadija, 12

Even though she missed years of education, she is thriving in school. Makani is still an important part of her life and she attends the centre every morning before school.

"At school, I’m older than all the girls in my class," she explains. "Here, I have friends that are the same age as me. It's home."

Girls sit around a classroom table

"In Makani, I learn and play with my friends. I feel like I belong.

I want to study hard and become a doctor."

"It’s my mother’s wish that I want to fulfil because she loves and cares for me so much,” she explains.

Her favourite activity at the centre is drawing doing art during their unstructured time. She draws a schoolyard full of happy students playing outside.

Since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Khadija and her friends have been staying at home to keep themselves and their communities safe.

“I miss the Makani centre and I miss school," she says sadly.

"I find it really hard to study at home, my brothers and sisters are so noisy when they play. I just want to learn in a peaceful environment.”

Like many children from disadvantaged families in Jordan, Khadija has been affected by the digital divide when it comes to distance learning.

The longer the COVID-19 health crisis continues, the greater the impact on children will be – including increasing the risk that vulnerable children, particularly girls, will not return to school.

“I don’t have access to TV or to internet, so I just read my schoolbooks. I would love to return to school.”

A girl holds up a school report
Khadija holds her latest school report showing she passed the first semester

UNICEF is working to bridge the digital divide and enable pathways back to education for boys and girls. Khadija’s much-loved Makani facilitators call her every week to check in and help her with her lessons.

She is doing her best to stay positive despite her fears about COVID-19.

“I am scared of the coronavirus but my mother taught me what to do to protect myself –  keep your distance from others, no playing with friends and keep washing your hands.”

Thanks to generous support from the European Union , UNICEF continues to reach the most vulnerable boys and girls in Jordan, including the Dom community with an integrated package of social protection services, including the Makani programme. 

During COVID-19, these services for children continue remotely.