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Going back to school helped me to recover my childhood

 This is the story of Insaf Osman Mussa, a 17 girl we met in Dar Es Salaam; not “the” Dar Es Salaam of Tanzania, but the one in a suburb locality called Ombada, approximately 40km northwest of Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. It’s an unusual story for a child of her age; a girl whose ambition to continue her education, overshadows a past painfully passage story, from childhood to adulthood.  We met Insaf Osman Mussa, deep in learning with her comrades from the 2nd cycle alternative learning class, at the "Al Raheeq Al Makhtoum" centre, an alternative learning centre for some out of school children from Ombada, the suburb whose Dar Es Salaam is one of three administrative constituencies.

Children in Ombada, come from many backgrounds with many stories behind, but all have something in common: for some of them, their dreams of education have been disrupted by an undesirable situation: an armed conflict breaks out and forces parents to flee for more secured areas, a poor family unable to provide basic education to their children push the children to drop out school, a family that have to move from a region to the capital city as it is looking for a more favorable country to basic education for its children, etc. So, Insaf is no exception to this global situation, even though her story, compared to those of his classmates, is atypical: Insaf is a young divorcee!

Insaf's child life was turned upside down three years ago, when her family decided to give her in marriage to a man. "I come from a tribe rather traditionalist and conservative says Insaf. To my family, to marry a girl from an early age, was a real honor for my father, and I could not escape it”. Thus, at just 14 years old and just out of puberty, Insaf was “forced” to become “a woman”, and take care of a household with all the responsibilities that this new status entails.

One always talk about the direct physical damages from an early wedding for a young girl: her body is not fully developed, she is more likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth, be beaten, raped or infected with HIV or other Sexually Transmissible Infections by her husband, abused by her in-laws and remain poor, etc. But rarely, people talks about her education brutally stopped and the mental damages as the girl still a child at her marriage: what could possibly run in a 14 years married girl’s head at this time? “I totally remained a child: I Could not stop thinking about school, my childhood and school friends and I was really saddened as my education will probably be cut short, pursue Insaf. I never left my children costume during the years of marriage; my thoughts were always about my classmates and friends…!”

Insaf stayed with her husband for three years during which they have had a child, and ended up by divorcing according to Islamic rites as she couldn’t really fully fulfill her spouse responsibilities. She got back home and now lives with her mother and younger sister. However, the divorce allowed her to partially pursue her dreams, and rediscover her childhood by getting back to the school bench, thanks to the alternative learning centers. Insaf said that: “Alternative learning centres have been a good alternative for me as after I divorced, I kept insisting to get back to school to continue my education. I tried to enrol in a classic school, but found I was weak in some courses, such as sciences. So, people advised me to enrol in an Altarnative Learning Programme centre, and benefit from upgrading education before coming back to a classic school.”

The Alternative Learning Programme is part of the “Educate Sudan project”, executed through “Educate A Child” (EAC), a Qatar funded Programme. “Educate A Child”, coordinated by UNICEF in Sudan, is supporting the Ministry of Education through the National Council for Literacy and Adult Education (NCLAE), to make significant breakthroughs in providing quality primary education to children who currently have no access to schooling; with the overall goal of successfully completing an entire cycle of quality primary education, EAC strives to improve both individual and social outcomes for these children. Through EAC supported programming, children like Insaf overcome barriers to educational access and retention, and even some get a chance to reintegrate conventional education cursus. The ALP can be considered a success as Since its launch in 2012, the programme allowed the enrolment of 461,118 out of school children in Sudan, with a percentage of 49% girls, comprising of 271,780 children in basic schools and 189,338 in Alternative Learning Programme.

Despite Spartan training conditions, in a masonry processed in small windowless classrooms, the dirt floor and children redundant where some students sit on the floor, while others share a bench with four, Insaf said she has found an alternative to her thirst for education, and gradually recovers her potential: “Through this accelerated program with the ALP, I am improving my science education. Now I am attending the morning training in the second cycle, and I am quickly recovering my abilities and my knowledge easily.” She said, with excited brighten eyes. Next year, after the third cycle, I wished I could go back in a classic educating institution, and pursue my education until I become a lawyer.”

Insaf efforts in learning are valued by her teacher, who sees it as a promising proof. "They are two old girls to be in my class, and their integration and learning take place without problems, says Zeinab Mohamed Ahmed, Insaf’s teacher. In fact, as they quite finished being mentally adults compared to the rest of their classmates, they are aware of what they want, and in view of efforts Insaf provides, I do not doubt that she will really go far beyond after the ALP ", she concluded.

Insaf also didn’t had difficulty integrating among the other children, actually, she even quickly made new friends with whom she often hang out in this new life she combines motherhood and schoolgirl life. Thanks to the ALP center environment, she had no difficulty integrating socially; she says : "no one here, whether among my friends or other children, no one cares to know that I am a mother just divorced; in fact, nobody even approached me never this. We meet in class, have fun with friends ... I do not know if others are aware as they have never shown me that. But above all, coming back to school helped me to recover my childhood.” Says Insaf with a smile.

Despite the enthusiasm and ambitions, the specter of her traditionalist entourage and old cultural demons never law; Insaf acknowledge to be all the time trying to convince her relatives of the benefits to continue the education path rather than return to her former husband: "on several occasions, relatives as well as some in my family keep telling me that my place is with my former husband, that I have to go back to him because without him, I wouldn’t go so far in life, especially since I already have a child. I spend my entire time to show them that education is more than an asset for my future and for my child says Insaf. In fact, to conclude the debate, I often invite them to give me the answer to this question: what will I and my child become at the time my husband would not be there? There, they have nothing to argue, and I know I won the battle of the day. It’s a battle for the day because I know next time, we’ll be again in the same discussions”








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