Every Girl is a Shero!
Ajegunle, one of the communities I work with is a slum in rural Lagos and its home to about 300,000 Illaje and Yoruba speaking people of Western Nigeria.
It has a primary health care center that is not functional, a primary school and a secondary school that was recently closed down because of flooding. The students were then moved to another school compound which is about 10 minutes bus ride from the community and about 30 minutes by foot.
Visiting this community for the first time in September 2012, I noticed that a lot of teenagers (girls, boys) were not in school, I also learnt that the rate of teenage pregnancy, school dropout and illiteracy amongst girls are very high.
I knew I had to make an impact; no matter how big or small.
I then launched a project called “Empowering Women of the Future” with 20 teenage girls from this community.
Together, we identified the reasons for the very high rate of teenage pregnancy, school dropout and illiteracy amongst the teenage girls of this community.
Some of the problems we identified were:
• Proximity: The new school is very far from their homes, this they say is a huge deterrent. Some of them cannot afford to pay for the bus ride, if they decide to go on foot; they arrive very late and get punished. Some of the girls said they preferred to go to a friend’s instead of getting to school late only to get punished.
Another deterrent is the dearth of adequate facilities and a conducive learning environment – because they have to share one school compound with another school, the classes are always over crowded. Concentration in class becomes increasingly difficult for them.
• Poverty and Lack of Motivation: Most of these girls are from very poor homes, barely able to feed. The burdens of catering for the needs of their family quickly fall on them as they attain puberty – they begin hawking, become sex workers, get married, move in with an older man or start petty business to fulfill this responsibility.
Taking care of their parents and siblings from a young age doesn't go well with their education, they soon realize they have to forfeit one for the other and their education seems like a fair trade.
Many girls who live in the slums have no positive role model to look up to. No girl from the community had graduated from a University to the best of their knowledge so there really was no one to motivate them. They saw school as a pastime, not as something of utmost importance.
• Discouragement from mothers: Some of the young girls reported their mothers discouraging them about taking education too seriously by telling them that “no man wants to marry a woman who is too educated or intelligent, women who are too educated cannot be submissive wives and good mothers,” the words of discouragement goes on and on.
In order to address these issues, I knew the first thing to do was meet with the women leaders of the community.
During our meeting, I explained the CSW56 facts and figures on Education to them and how educating the girl child will improve the health of her children and reduce poverty in her family.
Secondly, we introduced the ‘Meet a Shero’ section to the participants of the Empowering Women of the Future project.
Here we introduce women from around the world mostly through social media who despite difficult challenges have acquired tertiary education and are making positive impact in their societies.
Once every month, we have a community public lecture where one of these Sheros delivers the keynote address. This has really motivated them a great deal.
Thirdly, we began a literacy school in the community where we help participants with their problem subjects and home work. They now look forward to their next school day because their assignments are done and they are prepared for their next lessons.
We also organize workshops where we train these girls on some skill acquisition like soap, jewellery making so that they can be able to support themselves in school.
We then commenced discussions with well meaning individuals and cooperation about sponsoring a potential Shero/s to the University.
Lastly, we are putting together a report to the state government/state education Board about building a new secondary school in the community.
It’s amazing what great difference just a little encouragement, motivation and support can do to people. In the 7 months I have worked with this community, I have seen these young girls transform into confident, resilient and determined young women. Their grades have improved greatly and they have become Sheros; champions of change and advocates for the education of the girl-child in their community.