Zainab’s second chance

Thousands of conflict-affected youths in Borno are receiving literacy, numeracy and vocational skills

Folashade Adebayo, Communication Officer, UNICEF Nigeria
A young lady sitting in a classroom
13 January 2021

The 25-year-old woman who sat at the back of an informal learning centre in Kusheri community, Maiduguri in Borno State had a simple wish: to be able to spell her name and help her four oldest children with their homework.

“Instead, I learned tailoring and became a seamstress in my village. I migrated to Maiduguri two years ago, after my husband was killed in an armed attack. I remarried here in Maiduguri, but I have always wanted to go back to school,’’ she said.

“My parents never believed in education,’’ said Zainab Muhammed Bukar, a mother of six - including eight-month-old Muhammad, who was sleeping outside the learning centre under the careful watch of a childminder.

The informal learning centre, built in 2019, is a European Union (EU) and UNICEF-supported project carried out by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) to equip conflict-affected adolescents and young people with numeracy, literacy and vocational skills needed to support themselves and their families. Over 3,800 young people between the ages of 15 and 25 are benefiting from the project across Monguno, Gwoza, Jere and Maiduguri, in Nigeria’s conflict-affected north-east state of Borno.

At the Kusheri learning centre, more than 100 adolescents and young people who have never been to school or whose education was truncated by poverty or conflict are enrolled. There are two teachers at the centre, and the project team constructed two toilets, two classrooms and supplied handwashing stations for the learners. Face masks and learning materials were distributed, and a childminder takes care of children of learners while they are in class.

Students sitting in a classroom
Learning in progress at the centre

"We have 12 mothers here, so there are 12 babies,’’ said Rhoda Haruna, one of the teachers deployed to the centre. “But our childminder takes care of the children so that they don’t disturb the mothers while they are learning. Some of the mothers are teenagers and they need to be supported if we want them to concentrate in class. It is a three-hour class, but the students are attentive. They want to learn as quickly as soon as possible,’’ she said.

Bukar, who has been attending classes in her neighbourhood for three months, comes to class every day with her young son.

“I regret not going to school earlier, but this is my second chance. I would have loved to be a teacher. I hope to still pursue my dream if I can continue in schools close to my house. That way, there will be no conflict with my domestic duties,’’ she said.

While Bukar is concerned about proximity to her house, poverty is proving to be a strong barrier for Hadiza Adamu, 19. Originally from Ngala, Adamu dropped out of school when she was only 15 years old, when she had to flee with her family to Maiduguri.

A childminder tends to learners’ children at the centre
A childminder tends to learners’ children at the centre

“My father was a carpenter in Ngala and he paid for our education. But when we relocated here in 2015, he started working as a labourer and was not earning as much money as before. I did not enroll in public schools because the classrooms were overcrowded. It would have been a waste of time. That is why I have been out-of-school for four years. I spent time knitting caps for men, which I sell for N4,000 (about $10 USD) each, to support my family.

“I want to go back to school and hopefully become a nurse. That is why I am here,’’ said Bukar.