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Promoting girls’ education in Sudan

UNICEF Sudan 2012/SIngram
© UNICEF Sudan 2012/SIngram
6th grade girls study mathematics at Qud al Haboob elementary school, Nyala, South Darfur, Sudan. Classrooms in many Darfur schools lack even basic equipment such as desks and chairs.

By Simon Ingram

Nyala (South Darfur), 26 February 2012 -- No-one quite knows how Qud al Haboob elementary school got its name. But its location, on the dusty outskirts of Darfur’s largest town, Nyala, makes the reference to the blinding haboob dust-storms that sweep periodically across much of Sudan somehow appropriate.

Aside from its unusual name, the school has another more telling distinction – the number of girl students who attend: 98 out of a total of 186.

Fifteen-year-old Habiba Ahmed is one of them. Now in the 5th grade, she lists Arabic and Quranic studies as her favourite subjects, and dreams of becoming a nurse. Even the school’s spartan conditions – none of the classrooms are equipped with chairs or desks – quite succeeds in damping her enthusiasm.

“Some of my friends don’t go to school,” she says. “But education is important because an uneducated person has no chance in life.”

“Some of my friends don’t go to school,” she says. “But education is important because an uneducated person has no chance in life.”

It’s a message that too many parents in this western region of Sudan have still to grasp. Instead, girls are put to work herding animals or doing household chores. Others are married off at a very early age. The result is that more than fifty per cent of girls in South Darfur never see the inside of a classroom – making Qud al Haboob very much a shining exception to the rule.

For the school director, Mrs Fatma Elnour, poverty is the main underlying reason why so few parents are willing to invest in their daughters’ education.

“The school fees are small but they are too much for many families,” Mrs Elnour explains. She believes that in this deeply religious and traditional society, families might take a different view if the issue was explained to them in religious terms.

UNICEF Sudan/2012/SIngram
© UNICEF Sudan/2012/SIngram
Amani Suleiman with her niece. Amani was taken out of school when her father could no longer afford the fees.

“We can remind parents that the Prophet Mohamed told us to look for education from childhood to old age. To become educated is an obligation for men and women alike.”

It wasn’t a failure to appreciate the value of schooling but the unrest that swept Darfur starting in 2003 which forced Abaker Suleiman to make a decision that would be fateful for his children’s prospects.

“We had livestock and depended on them,” Mr Suleiman recalls. “But then the animals were stolen, and we were left with nothing. So I had no choice but to pull all four of our children out of school.”

Now 20 years old, Mr Suleiman’s eldest daughter, Amani, is well aware of the opportunity that was taken from her.

“When I’m staying at home and I see other girls going to school it makes me sad,” says Amani. “In this village, there are more girls at home than at school”.

In an effort to boost the number of girls in school, UNICEF is working hand in hand with the government and other partners. Central to the strategy is an effort to make both the learning experience and the school environment more child-friendly – not least by providing water and toilet facilities.

“One challenge is the school fees,” says UNICEF education specialist, Idrissa Diarra. “”We need to work on how to alleviate the cost of education for poor families by providing school materials and more support to the community.”

Already, UNICEF supports the State Ministry of Education by constructing learning spaces, and providing textbooks and other education supplies – all costs which would otherwise have to be met by parents.

By bringing more girls off the streets and into the classroom, South Darfur -- like the country as a whole -- has much to gain. Indeed, it might be argued that harnessing this human potential will greatly improve Sudan’s of meeting the enormous developmental challenges that confront it.





Video story by Simon Ingram.

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