Why am I not in school too?
Pijinu was born and spent her early years in a village called Bambalang in the North Western region of Cameroon. Like other girls at five years old, she was entrusted with the daunting task of caring for younger children. She always admired how other kids, dressed in their uniforms walked to school every morning. She wanted to be like them but no one would send her to that place where the other kids went. She was to remain at home, feed babies, rock them to sleep and change their nappies when the need arose. She carried out her tasks judiciously but lacked fulfillment.
One day, she picked up an old piece of a writing board in the compound where she lived, put it on her head and started running, following other pupils to school. She forced herself to school. It was this act of rebellion that caused her maternal aunt (whose children she cared for) to reluctantly register her at the government primary school in Bambalang. She was given just one school uniform that eventually got torn due to frequent washing. However, with her worn out uniform, bathroom slippers and a damaged bag (which her great grandmother picked up for her) she rocked her way to school with joy.
Pijinu is my brother-in-law's daughter. When my husband and I heard her story, we decided to become her sponsors. So she came to live with us as our first daughter. Today, she is thirteen years old, in Grade 6 and will soon be writing the Common Entrance and First School Leaving Examinations. From not being able to spell her own name she is now an ardent reader and is always among the best three pupils in her class. She hopes to be an international fashion designer in future. Without this education she would have by now been married. Unlike other girls in her class, she is already full breasted, looking more mature yet she thrives on. I hope to put more smiles on the faces of girls like Pijinu.
In most villages in Cameroon, when girls do not go to school, they get married early. Most of them migrate to urban areas to acquire an education. I remember how my aunt always complains: “If not of my father, I would have been an intellectual!” She loves to speak English instead of the colloquially spoken Pidgin English. She constantly regrets the fact that she never went to school. She was born in the era when one could count the number of fathers who sent their daughters to school. With the natural charisma she possesses I have no doubt that she would have been in the high places of society. But illiteracy remains a barrier. However, Aunty Salome has lived her dream through her three children who are all girls. She sent all of them to school and today they are all in successful careers.
There is a plethora of reasons why girls in Cameroon do not go to school. Some are hindered by early pregnancy. They get involved with boys who put them in the family way. They are then forced to drop out of school to care for their babies. Some are forced into early marriages. So their focus tilts towards managing their homes. Some parents especially in the rural areas simply see sending a girl to school as waste of money. To them it is “tilling another man's farm.” In the Northern part of Cameroon among the Hausas, access to education is still a big issue for girls. Women are still largely seen as baby producing factories. Despite all these, poverty is the greatest challenge. Some parents simply cannot afford it. Even though primary education in public schools in Cameroon is free, parents still need to sew uniforms and buy books. To some in my highly impoverished community, this is a huge bone in their throats.
Money indeed answers everything. If free uniforms, books and other school needs are provided for the girls especially in the rural areas, many more girls will be educated. The community should be continuously taught through the media of mass communication on the essence of educating the girl child. We have lost a lot of great female minds because they were not sent to school. Further loss will be prevented if EVERY and I mean EVERY girl goes to school.