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For Eastern Sudanese nomads, education for girls is a priority

© UNICEF/Sudan-2013/Simonsen
Faiza (18) has the support of her family and community in pursuing her dream to become a doctor.

By Sven G. Simonsen

Kassala, Eastern Sudan, 8 April, 2014 - It used to be a rare exception that children from Sudan’s nomad communities got a chance to go to school. Faiza is proof of how much things have changed. Next year, the 18-year-old aims to attend medical school.

Faiza, a cheerful and confident young woman, grew up in the community of Barakat in Kassala state. Her parents, who belong to the Rashaida tribe, lived the traditional life of nomads until shortly before she was born.

‘They decided to settle because they wanted their children to have an education’, Faiza explains.

Since then, her four brothers and five sisters have all completed their primary education. One of her brothers continued his education and is already close to becoming a medical doctor as well.

Numbers grow

‘My parents are supporting me and they’re pushing me forward’, Faiza says, her eyes sparkling.

The education status of nomadic communities is very weak, and illiteracy rates very high. The communities have traditionally resisted the notion of sending children, especially girls, to school.

Fifteen years ago, only one in twenty boys from nomadic families enrolled in primary school; the rate for girls was close to zero. Since then, enrolment has risen significantly; one third of nomad children now start an education.

The dropout rate is high, however, especially among girls. The main reason is early arranged marriage. Nomadic girls traditionally marry between the ages of 10-13 years.

Barakat is one of the main settlements for Rashaida nomads in Kassala State, Eastern Sudan. © UNICEF/Sudan-2013/Simonsen

Nomadic girls have household responsibilities such as fetching water and collecting firewood. These are tasks that often require them to walk long distances, which is not only time-consuming and tiring but also make them vulnerable to attack. Boys are expected to devote much time to tending the family’s camels.

Only student

When we meet Faiza, she is alone with her teacher in the classroom. In fact, at the moment Faiza is the only student at Barakat Secondary School for Girls; there are no students in either first or second grade. Several students including two classmates have married, had children, and left school.

In spite of the drop-outs, it is clear to Faiza that things have changed for the better.

‘When I was in primary school, there was no continuity in classes; for example, there were no girls in grades 6 and 7. But now there are students in all grades. So in my view, there is progress’, she says.

‘And I am convinced that the ones who left to have children will return to finish their education’, she adds.

Focus on girls

A major reason for Faiza’s confidence is the attitude of the tribe’s leaders.

‘We are focusing especially on girls’ education. When you educate a girl, you develop the entire community’, says Nafie Barakat, the locality commissioner and member of the Raishaida tribe.

‘It is not common for our tribe that girls complete primary school and continue their education, but we are now committed to having many more girls complete secondary school’, he explains.

The change is the combined result of increased awareness, community empowerment, and support provided.

The community has introduced special incentives for girl students, such as ceremonies when they finish school or get high marks. There are also cash incentives and initiatives to encourage married girls to return to school.

UNICEF has supported nomadic education in Kassala for the past four years, mainly through funding from Dubai Cares and the Government of Norway.



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