Transforming Girls Education in a Reluctant Community
A young teacher’s resolve to educate out of school adolescent girls
Khairpur district, Sindh: In the small village of Ghano Kalhoro, surrounded by lofty date palms, a group of 33 adolescent girls sit under a makeshift roof to learn from their 22-year-old teacher, Nadia Maitlo at the UNICEF-supported Non-Formal Education Centre (NFEC).
Being able to teach the girls was not always an easy task for Nadia. She is the first from her community to complete her Bachelor’s degree.
“My uncles tore up my books when I was young, saying that there is no need for girls to get an education,” says Nadia wistfully, “I remember I cried, but my father comforted me and told me that no matter what, he would make sure I get an education.”
Her uncles were staunchly against girls attending school from the very beginning. But she found an anchor in her father, who despite family pressures was extremely supportive and insisted that he will educate his daughters as far as possible. He would take her to her college on his motorbike and now brings her every day to this village so she can teach the other girls.
To many of the students, Nadia is a relative, as this is also the community that her mother belongs to.
Nadia has been teaching them since 2019 and educated these thirty-plus out-of-school adolescent girls up to the 5th-grade level in just four years. They are now on Package D, which is equivalent to class levels 6 and 7.
Nadia recalls that the community and her relatives mocked her when she first came to the NFEC as the facilitator. They would not send their daughters to the centre, because to them it was a waste of time that could be well spent working at home instead.
“I would have to go to their homes and beg them to send their girls to the Centre, promising that I am only here to help them achieve something in life.”
However, gradually, as some of the girls trickled in to attend the centre, their families started noticing positive changes. They even began to realise the economic advantages of their daughters’ getting an education.
The women and girls in the village are in charge of milking the buffaloes and selling it to the shops, while the men work the fields.
“Before, the shopkeepers would take advantage of our ignorance and underpay us for the milk we sold,” says Arifa, 17, one of Nadia’s students. “Now, because we know how to calculate, we insist on receiving the correct amount. We’ve learned a lot, and our lives have changed since we joined the centre.”
The community also noticed that Nadia was earning through this endeavour, and helping support her family. This encouraged them to want the same for their own girls.
“There is a government school nearby, where the teacher never came, so we got used to our girls staying at home. But this centre is right here in the village. We know that they are safe and they manage a lot of things at home after attending the centre,” says Munawar Ali, a community member and Nadia’s uncle, who was fiercely resistant to girls’ education earlier but is now a staunch supporter of the NFEC and Nadia.
Shabana Abbasi, a social mobilizer for UNICEF’s implementing partner, Indus Resource Centre has been monitoring this NFEC since its inception and has watched Nadia and her students grow. “I have noticed so many positive changes in these girls, from basic cleanliness and manners to maintaining discipline and a routine, these girls have transformed,” she says.
Funding from the Government and people of Norway has helped UNICEF set up 50 such post-primary NFECs which have been established in Ghotki and Khairpur districts in Sindh.
Forty of these centres are dedicated for adolescent girls while ten are for adolescent boys. A total of 1,419 students are currently enrolled in these centres, of which 1,113 are girls.
Nadia has big dreams for her students. “I want to empower all these girls. I want them to become doctors and teachers and help their community,” she says. One of her students Sadia, 15, tutors the little children in the village after her own classes and wants to become a teacher just like Nadia. And while early marriage is common in the community and is something Nadia wants to tackle in time, for now she is happy that even the married girls and new mothers attend with the support of their in-laws.