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Lack of Education Stole her Dream

She was sitting amongst a group of women, supervising the cooking of a big pot of ‘Jollof’ rice at a naming ceremony. I sat watching how they admired the attire of the guests as the griot sang praises to the women linking them to their linage. Then I observed that she was less busy and it was time to sit down under the veranda for a bowl of chakiri - locally made couscous with fermented milk.

Haja Ngundo Koita lives in an old settlement near the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by tourist attractions. Haja is married but she is a matriarch in her household where she lives with her sons, in-laws and grandchildren.

Haja sells iceblock to the fishmongers to preserve their fish for sale in the local market and nearby towns. She is also engaged in other businesses. She buys dried fish and sells it in rural, farming communities three hundred miles away. In exchange, she receives coos and groundnuts needed in the urban areas. She is aware that if she had financial support, she could expand her business to a larger scale.

Haja is a leader of over fifty women vegetable gardeners in her neighbourhood, Kuteh Jong bulu. They give moral and financial support to each other. Their weekly contributions of D50 (less than $2) accumulates to D125,000 (about $4,464) circulates amongst them in a year . Kuteh Jong bulu members support their families from this money. This was how Haja was able to buy her fridge and explore the need for iceblock amongst the fishmongers in her community.

Leadership in family, business, and women’s organizations leads to political awareness and activism. Haja is alert about the current debates about women’s rights issues regarding harmful traditional practices such as early marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). “Early marriage takes women backward. If the marriage is not successful, they suffer, that’s the situation of many women,” She opined. As she explained the consequences of early marriage one of the young girls from the village approached us and she commented, “Look! She is an example of how early marriage can make girls suffer. She married young, lost her baby and her husband left her and traveled.” Haja follows the debates on FGM and is aware that it is not good for women’s health. She noted, “Now that we know it is not good for health, we do discuss it amongst our group and I have decided that my grand daughters who have not been circumcised will not go through it, because the doctors know health issues better than us.”

In the Gambia, there is perception that political commentary is equated to having personal interest to be a politician. This inhibits a lot of educated women in particular from discussing politics openly. Paradoxically, illiterate or semi literate women tend to openly show their political affiliation without fear.

This unassuming 60 year old is one such woman. She is amongst many in her community affected by high illiteracy, amongst women and girls in particular. Lack of education stole her dream of becoming a career politician.

Haja did not go to school because being the first and only girl at the time, helping her mother with household chores was seen as more important than going to school. She laughed when I asked how she got into politics. “I’ve been in politics for a longtime, since Sherrif Dibba’ s time but earlier than that I used to listen to Pierre Njie and Jawara. I supported Pierre Njie because of his plans for the country. Even though he led for a short period, he demonstrated leadership.” As a teenage Haja attended political rallies of early politicians and at an early age she decided to give her support to the United Party- UP against the Peoples Progressive Party - PPP. Since then she has supported main opposition parties like the National Convention Party and now the United Democratic Party.

What is amazing about Haja is her strong believe in having an alternative. She observes the political situation with regards to women and asserts “Gambian women in politics is one sided, if you do not support the ruling party, you’re not considered as a patriotic citizen and not contributing to national development. We are equal citizens.”

Haja believes that women can become politicians because they are equally educated like men. She further argues that women should engage in politics from a gender perspective. “Men help men. When women become politicians they will take women’s concerns more seriously; women don’t want to see their fellow women suffer.” Haja argues that there is spiritual guidance for women and when they hold leadership position they will be blessed.

When I asked if she would have become a politician if she was educated, Haja sighed and said “If I was educated, I would stand for elections. My only regret is not being educated. If I was educated like my brother Muhammed, I would definitely be a politician.” She realizes the importance of education for women to take leadership in national politics. That is why she supports her granddaughters to becoming educated because it is lack of education that has stolen her dream of becoming a career politician.

She suggests that politicians should give priority to providing employment opportunities for educated women as well as support the women who are not educated to ensure that the future of women’s political leadership is guaranteed by educating the girls today. “We should send our girl children to school so that they would not end up regretting like we do.” In her final comments she reiterates women’s concern and asserts, “First let’s stop mutilating girls, second let’s educate our girls and finally let’s support the women who are not educated to ensure that the girls are educated. These are our important concerns.”

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Comments

Rachael Maddock-Hughes's picture

Great!

Great profile. Her message is so simple and straight-forward--and the impacts are easy to understand. Good use of quotes throughout the profile piece. I wonder what her thoughts are for illiterate women participating in political positions. Does this ever happen in Gambia, even if only on a local level?

Keep up the good work!

Rachael

"In every human heart there are a few passions that last a lifetime. They're with us from the moment we're born, and nothing can dilute their intensity." Rob Brezny

amiesissoho's picture

Thanks for comments

Hi Rachael,
Thanks for the comments. Few illiterate but dynamic women at the local Council level are nominated as token representation of women at the local government councils. Mostly one is identified based on their partisan affiliation to the ruling party as representative of 'women' in the area councils.

Cheers,
Amie

Amie

usha kc's picture

Amie sista, Haja's thurst

Amie sista,
Haja's thurst for education has clearly been picturised. Her leadership is encpuraging. thank you for sharing.

love

amiesissoho's picture

leadership

Thanks Usha, indeed she is a real local leader amongst her group.

Amie

Leina's picture

Hello Amie, I

Hello Amie,
I could not help falling in love with Haja Ngundo after reading your piece.Your vivid description made me feel like I had met her before!She is a symbol of hope for women and a pointer to the ardent need for girl child education.Keep it up!
Best Wishes
Shekina

amiesissoho's picture

Education is important

Dear Shekina,
Thanks for identifying with Haja's story. Indeed edcucation is key to women's advancement and political participation.

Amie

MaDube's picture

Dear sis Amie

I am humbled by Haja's story. Often we take it for granted that we managed to get an education and pursue our dreams. Here is one woman who could have done amazing things with her life but was never given the chance to do so.I admire the fact that she realises what stopped her from being who she wanted to be and is now doing everything possible to ensure that it does not happen to the younger generations. She is amazing. Well done to you. Your story is great.

amiesissoho's picture

Thanks Madube

Thanks Madube for your thoughts. We should not give up.

Amie

malba66's picture

Haja reminds us that our WILL

Haja reminds us that our WILL is often more powerful than our circumstances, and stands as a beacon of hope for other women and girls in her community. I really appreciate how she connected a variety of critical issues for women to the struggle for education. Some people believe that it's just about building schools but the struggle goes so much deeper.

Thank you for this.

amiesissoho's picture

Indeed struggles are

Indeed struggles are deeper in us and our will to succeed is important in realizing our dreams.

Cheers,

Amie

mrbeckbeck's picture

Well done

Amie, thanks for this great profile of Haja. She sounds like a really active, engaged woman in her community. I'm impressed at her entrepreneurial work especially!

I am hopeful that her granddaughters will grow up to be inspired, empowered leaders in their own right. Clearly she believes in the power of education to change the course of history for Gambia's women. It is a struggle worth enduring!

Keep up the great work,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Manager

amiesissoho's picture

Thanks Scott

Thanks Scott for finding time to read my article. Indeed she is engaged in making a livelihood through her business. I am also hopeful that young women would learn from her experience and take education seriously.

Seasons greetings to all WP family

Amie

Eileen Page's picture

Great work!

Well done Amie, your story is interesting and reminds me of all the struggles women endure to be leaders. It is clear, develops a picture of the woman you are observing and have interviewed.

I would love to meet Haja and hear more of her story - what she is really passionate about and perhaps wanted to change. I wonder how did she overcome the gap in education and became a business leader? Where does she get strength and courage? Perhaps she has some young women around her who aspire to do the work she imagined?

And you have made me very curious about your country - how many girls are currently educated enough to be political leaders? What are some of the key issues for girls in getting an education? How do politicians become politicians? What can girls and women do for themselves, as a group to succeed as leaders? How many current politicians are women?

Great work!
Eileen

Eileen

amiesissoho's picture

Welcome to Gambia

Eileen you're welcome to the Gambia. Most women involved in small businesses are not educated in the formal sense but they know how to buy and sell and some few have grown to be successful. your questions are interesting and I hope with some more research you will get more information with statistics which is difficult to come by. The national illiteracy rate is pegged at 75% . It gives you an idea of the limitation nationally but more seriously amongst women. There are many social and economic factors that hinder the education of girls amongst them, early and forced marriages.If you read my article "She can only be heard 500 miles away" it will give you some hints on the issues and how strong they are in our society.

I have not done any research on how politicians become politicians but presently there are 4 women out of the 54 Parliamentarians in our National Assembly.

Thanks for your interest in my country.

Amie

Eileen Page's picture

Thank you!

Hello Amie,
I really appreciate your taking time to tell me about Gambia, especially when you are in this intense programme.

It sounds like there is much to do to encourage and support girls and women and your voice of leadership is a wonderful role model.

Warmest wishes for a 2012 that is all that you imagine!
Eileen

Eileen

amiesissoho's picture

Warm wishes!

Hi Eileen,

Thanks for the warm wishes and may we share the best of 2012 in raising the voices of women around the world.

Amie

amiesissoho's picture

Warm wishes!

Hi Eileen,

Thanks for the warm wishes and may we share the best of 2012 in raising the voices of women around the world.

Amie

Liz4peace's picture

Great story!

Hi Amie,

What an inspiring woman you chose for your piece! Haja sounds like a "social entrepreneur" - finding ways to improve her community as she goes about her business. You touched briefly on the issue of female genital mutilation - something inconceivable for me, living in the US. I wonder how that practice affects women psychologically - do you think it's a way for men to exert their control or to disempower women? Why do some women still support the practice? I am glad to see that Haja will make sure her granddaughters don't have to go through that. I think she would have made an excellent politician. Thanks for giving us her story!

Great work!

Liz

amiesissoho's picture

More on FGM

Dear Liz,

Thanks for taking time to read my article but more so your interest in FGM. There are many reasons for FGM being practiced in my country. Controlling Female sexuality is one of them. It is a deep rooted practice and some women belief it is part of their identity and many more. Please find time to visit my organization's website www.gamcotrap.gm and you'll find more information on the work we're doing with grassroots communities to protect girls and women from FGM and other forms of GBV that affect sexual and reproductive health rights. We're working on updating it very soon.

Regards,
Amie

Amie

Liz4peace's picture

GAMCOTRAP

Hi Amie,

Just looked at your organization's website. What great work you are doing! So encouraging to see the
"drop the knife" ceremonies. I know this has been the product of years of work on the part of tireless volunteers and advocates like you. This is such a positive story - I hope it gets more attention in the media! I'm happy to know about your work - I will spread the news. I have to tell you that we do not hear about these positive stories in the US media.
One more reason I love WorldPulse!

I look forward to reading more of your pieces!

Peace!

Liz

amiesissoho's picture

Access to Media

Dear Liz,

I'm glad that your found our website useful. Access to main media outlets is a challenge for small organization's like our to get the attention. I'm glad you will share the news about our work. A lot more can be done but the opportunities are limited. As you said WorldPulse is great in connecting people and getting the voices of women out in the big wild world.

stay connected,

Amie

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