A teacher with a heart
In Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria, a young teacher dedicates her career to supporting children affected by conflict.
Hafsat Kauji comes from a family of teachers. Amina, her mother is near retirement as an assistant headteacher just as two of her siblings are lecturers at the polytechnic in Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria.
“Our house is like a school. We teach one another difficult subjects,’’ the 27-year-old said laughing. “We also discuss children in our various schools. It is fun,’’ added the Biology Education graduate of the University of Maiduguri.
But the children Hafsat teaches are different – very different. Since 2018, Hafsat has been supporting out-of-school children, including almajiris and children living in internally displaced persons’ camps.
However, Hafsat says her latest role, which involves teaching children of repentant members of Non-State Armed Groups (NSAG) at the Hajj Camp in Maiduguri, has been the most challenging.
Opened by the Borno State Government in July 2021, the Hajj Camp has over 16,000 residents, including 4,539 women and 7,110 children. UNICEF has been providing the children, all of whom have never been to school with integrated education, psychosocial, health and nutrition support services. As of November 2021, over 2,600 children have been supported with foundational literacy and numeracy skills.
With funds from Education Cannot Wait (ECW), Hafsat is one of the tutors engaged at the camp to teach literacy and numeracy classes at the temporary learning spaces constructed with support from the Government of Norway.
The children are traumatized, and Hafsat says she looks forward to “when the children will forget their harsh experiences in the bush and adjust to normal life.’’
You see the children pick chalks and draw guns all over the wall. That is all they draw. They are special children and they still need time to adjust to their present reality. At times, some of them will come to class but will just stare at you throughout,’’ she said
Despite these, Hafsat says her love for special-needs children has kept her going. In the future, she dreams of building her own school where special-needs children can learn.
“Unlike my mother and siblings, I have always worked with disadvantaged children. It is quite challenging because they need to be monitored and followed up. Every Monday, we visit the residential areas in the camp to create awareness so that the children can come to class. There are a good number of them who are consistent in class, but there are also others who skip classes,’’ said Hafsat.
The young teacher says her saddest moments are when the children leave after two months for reintegration back to their original communities.
“I know they are only here for a while but, it still hurts when they have to leave with their families. I get emotional when children, especially the ones consistent in class among them are discharged from the camp.’’
Pensive, Hafsat recalls her everyday challenges working the camp.
Still, Teacher Hafsat says she has never considered dumping the teaching profession.
“I joined UNICEF’s network of student teachers in 2018 when I established an informal learning centre for out-of-school children in my compound. That lasted for some time before I started teaching almajiris in Tsangaya centres. I was one of the teachers engaged to provide literacy and numeracy classes as part of their Qu’ranic education.
“It would be correct to say that teaching is in my blood. I don’t see myself doing something else. We must also support the most disadvantaged children many of whom were born into conflict. I love children and I also believe that my line of work is important for peace building,’’ said Hafsat.