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Getting girls back to school

Girl selling vegetables
© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Nesbitt
Jamila (centre) sells food to housewives. She dropped out of school because her family could not afford her uniform.

By Christine Jaulmes

Full of energy, pupils run in circles on the playground of Nadabo Primary School in the small town of Bakori, Katsina State. They are having fun in gymnastics class, where the female teacher has them exercising.

All the boys and girls are wearing white-and-green uniforms, with a long hijab (veil) for the girls – an Islamic dress code that can be seen throughout the region.

Behind the school gate, another group of children congregates. They are not wearing uniforms. Many of them carry large trays on their heads as they wait to sell goods such as bread and peanuts to their more fortunate peers.

Jamila, 12, is one of the less privileged ones. She is standing among the working children and every day, she goes door to door selling vegetables. It has been four years since she had to quit school.

“I dropped out in 2003 when I was in class two,” says Jamila. “I left because I didn’t have a school uniform. My mother wanted me to work to make some money so that hopefully one day we can afford the uniform again.”

Jamila is one of many girls from poor families who have been forced to abandon their education in Northern Nigeria.

Like Jamila, 10-year-old Wasila remembers the shock she felt when her parents asked her to leave school a year ago. “My parents asked me to drop out and work so that I can support them,” she recalls. “I was not happy and didn’t like it, so much so that I almost felt I had a fever.”

Fortunately, Wasila didn’t miss out on school for too long. Through the Girls’ Education Project, free learning materials have been distributed in more than 700 schools in Northern Nigeria, lifting a big financial burden for families like hers.

“While she was out of school, I heard that her school had gotten materials including books and school bags, and that attracted my attention, says Wasila’s father, Sani Hudu, who also has six other children. “I decided to send her back to school.”

When Wasila returned to school, she was greeted with a spacious and comfortable learning environment.
“It’s clean everywhere,” she exclaims about her school, which has been reconstructed by the State Universal Basic Education Board. Thanks to the Girls’ Education Project, it was also equipped with water pumps, as well as separate latrines for boys and girls. Teachers also benefit, receiving extra training.

The importance of education, for example, is that one can become someone like a medical doctor who can help women deliver babies safely,” says Wasila, who studies hard and has become the top student in her class. She takes her education seriously, knowing that, like Jamila, there are still many girls in Nigeria who do not have the second chance that she has received.

Wasila’s good marks in school bring a rare smile to her father’s face. He struggles to support his seven children with a small pension.
After school, Wasila likes to read to her father and show him what she has learnt at school. Next to them is Wasila’s little brother. With her encouragement, he is trying on his sister’s blue UNICEF school bag. On the top of the bag, a slogan in the Hausa language reads clearly, ‘Take me to school’.

Wasila in class
© UNICEF Nigeria/2007/Nesbitt
Wasila puts up her hand to answer a question in her English class at school.



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