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Education: An Everlasting Legacy for the Girl-Child

In those years my village had one of the best all-girls secondary schools in my state. This school was built by early missionaries coming to the eastern part of Nigeria. The school was later taken over by the state government. But, I was told that the number of girls coming from my village in this secondary school was skeletal. This answers my question on ‘how many girls from my village have access to post-primary education?’

Ironically, if at all, the highest education girls in my village could attain then was primary school. A few number of girls from my village who could attend school then were only children of rich and educated parents. Daughters of poor parents-- as my village had more than 90% poor people are hardly sent to school. Among the families that made up this percentage are found illiterate parents who do not place much value to education. Education was not free and cost of education was not affordable to the poor class.

A general reason why girls are not sent to school is that girls are seen as another man’s property. And because girl-children are seen as another man’s property, it seems a waste of resources spending a man’s wealth to send his girl-children to school when in the very near future the girl will be married out to another family. A woman married out is automatically the property of another family.

Again, it is a popular saying that a woman’s education ends in the kitchen. This indicates that even if a girl-child is sent to school and no matter how educated she may be, she will end up not using her educational knowledge to work. Her domain is only in the kitchen and not in the office or work place. Therefore girls were better sent to learn trades like sewing.

“Why would Eze even think of sending his daughter to school? What will he then do to his boy-children? What is the prospect? Will this girl retain Eze’s name or succeed him when he is no more? Why wasting resources sending her to school?” These and other more questions form topics for discussion at palm wine drinking joints in my village. Eze’s kinsmen ‘advisers’ would continually table the issue, making jest of Eze until he is dissuaded to change his mind from sending his daughter to school or withdraw his daughter if the daughter has already started schooling. These questions found strong basis on the patriarchy-influenced community where I was born and brought up. Male children are preferred to female children and therefore priority for any benefit or expenditure on children-- seen as investment-- is better placed or done on male children.

Story has it that Mama Rose was one of the first girls who broke tradition and had basic education in my entire village. I was told that she was an only child of her widowed mother. Her widowed mother was maltreated so much after the demise of her husband that she ran away to a ‘township’ where she lived and trained Rose-- her only child. It was hard for me to know if Mama Rose went to school up to tertiary level. Her English is always intimidating to men in my village. I was told that so many men in my village were afraid to ask her hand in marriage because they thought she so ‘open-eye’ and has the capacity to overrule a man.’ It is a popular belief that girls who are educated are too wise and are dreaded by suitors. No sane man will want to marry a woman who will be at par with her husband. Women are supposed to be seen and not heard.

A distant uncle—‘Mr. Angel’ later braved it and got married to Mama Rose in those years when it was a taboo to marry an educated woman. I was told that stories were made round of how he got married to that woman who ‘open-eye so much.’ Their marriage was the talk of the town.

Mr. Angel died shortly after the Nigerian civil war and left Mama Rose with their three daughters and two sons to fend for. During the post-war reconstruction, the government mounted a search for a female educated indigenous person to man the position of matron of the all-girls-secondary school in my village. Because Mama Rose was well-educated, the search light shined on her. She was employed as a matron in the Girls’ Secondary School in my town! This position gave her opportunity to mentor thousands of girls who passed through this boarding school. She was well known and respected in the entire state and beyond for her decency, level of knowledge and integrity. Till date, her name rings bell in the ears of every parent and student who passed through the school.

In her home front, she single-handedly trained her first three children-- all girls and then the two boys up to higher institution. Today the life accomplishments of her well educated daughters are the talk of the town. Her first daughter was the first secondary school teacher from my village. She introduced a popular slogan in my community which says ‘educate a boy, educate an individual, but educate a girl, educate a nation’.

Mama Rose is now retired but remains a strong advocate for change. Mama Rose holds house-to-house mentoring with women and girls in my village, encouraging that parents should borrow a leaf from her by sending their girl-children to school. She approached my widowed mother when I was a child and talked her into sending me to school. My mother and I stick-on to this impressive advice she left in my life. That I am not a street-beggar like my peers in Nigeria today is simply because I refused to give up-- I found education a gate-way to decent life. Mama Rose instigated this reality in me.

Aside from the general impediments to education for girls pointed out above, I personally faced other barriers as a girl growing up with disabilities. Girls like me face double tragedy-- discrimination in education because of my status; stigmatization because societies do not want to site a disabled person-- double discrimination for living with a disability and for being a girl. When I was 10 years of age the Principal of Girls Secondary School Orlu did not see any reason why I should be enrolled in the school where I was placed by the board in charge of placement of children for post-primary education. The ‘best’ option she thought to be appropriate for me was to dump ‘this disabled girl’ in the Cheshire home. Her stereotyped thinking was that school setting and education is not for girls with disabilities. Ironically, I went with Mama Rose who was then retired. As Mama Rose tried to make a point, the Principal said to her “but she is not your daughter, so… take this girl back to her mother.” When the Principal insisted, I went home a rejected and dejected girl.

That I am raising up my voice advocating for change in the world is because I refused to give up my ambition. I held on to the impressive legacy of Mama Rose, even when my school fees were paid by my poor and uneducated widowed mother. Education has bestowed me with knowledge, I am knowledgeable that is why I raise up my voice to say education is the best legacy to every girl-child. I raise my shoulders high to say “I can do it” because I refused to yield to the thinking and dictates of my society. My mother bestowed me with everlasting legacy.

This story was written for World Pulse’s Girls Transform the World Digital Action Campaign.

World Pulse believes that women's stories, recommendations, and collective rising leadership can—and will—bring girls greater access to education which will transform their lives, their families, and communities. The Girls Transform Campaign elicits insightful content from young women on the ground, strengthens their confidence as women, and ensures that influencers and powerful institutions hear their stories.
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Comments

ikirimat's picture

Thanks Celine for good

Thanks Celine for good analysis and sharing your voice. Equity of accessing education by all girls is indeed critical. It is the best legacy we can give girls in our community. Lets raise our voices to it.
be blessed

Grace Ikirimat

"It takes the hammer of persistence to drive the nail of success."


Celine's picture

Dear Sister Grace

Thanks for reading and comment. Yes, we must raise our voices speaking out on the realities confronting girls around world.

Blessings dear.
Celine

Anais Tuepker's picture

women who make a difference

Dear Celine,

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story of the women who made a difference in your life, and the lives of countless other girls and young women, by the sounds of it. Although the context of life and culture in Nigeria is very different in some ways from the United States, I could relate to your story well. It brought to mind the women I have known, like my own grandmother and great aunt, both of whom fought hard to get access to an education equal to that of their brothers, who were given so many more opportunities. For the rest of their lives they encouraged me and my sisters and cousins to strive for education. What a legacy!

I like how your story highlights the ways that both your mother and Mama Rose had a role to play in fighting for your opportunities. It shows how we can help each other and work together to accomplish things for girls.

I hope you continue writing and I look forward to reading more about your accomplishments and your aspirations!

best wishes,
Anais

Celine's picture

You also

Dear Anais,

Thank you so much for reading my post and showing interest about my accomplishments and aspirations. You also make a difference in others women's life.

Warm appreciations dear Anais.

Celine

Lorraine R. Cook's picture

Your story inspires me!

Wow, Celine! You are so beautiful (I love your photo!) and your words are so powerful. Thank you for writing this story. There is so much in what you have written that moves me.

Your writing taught me some things I never thought about before--like how a father would feel pressure from his friends to keep his daughter from education--I hadn't thought of it that way before. How hard it might be for the father to go against that kind of peer pressure. Also, the idea that a girl is the "property" of her future husband and therefore not worth the cost of educating. You explain very well the way society's barriers to a girl getting educated show up.

But also, you show so magnificently how Mama Rose made such a difference to your life. I love that you told what you know of Mama Rose's background--her widowed mother wanted something more for her daughter, and look at the life-line of blessing that mother's intention gave to you and so many others. It shows the power of one person taking a stand.

And you, my friend, your life is a demonstration as well, of refusing to yield to society's ideas of who you could be. You choose to give the gift of your life and strength and voice--you take a stand and this inspires others. I am very happy to "meet" you here through the words you have written.

I am so grateful to know you are on the planet, Celine. You inspire me through your words and I believe that your life will inspire many. May it be long and filled with the joy of being who you are.

Lorraine Cook

Together let us create "an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, socially just human presence on the planet" now.

Celine's picture

My friend Lorraine

Thank you so much for your compliment and nice comments.

Yes, in Africa, kinsmen play a great role influencing daily activities. People are closely tied to the extended family members that consultations and advice are sought on issues. One's kinsmen have great influence on one's decisions especially in the remote villages.

Mama Rose is a very strong woman-- her significant roles in encouraging girls' education in the entire town are remarkable. We are really grateful to her.

I am so happy that my words inspire you. What a nice opportunity provided by WP to meet and make friends with encouraging and inspiring women like you Lorraine. My heart is astoundingly grateful that you took time to read my post.

Lots of love
Celine.

jeannettemsager's picture

Amazing Gifts!

Celine,

I share the sentiments of the women who have commented before me, and just as Anais said, although the context is so different, I can relate some of your story to that of the generations of women in my family who have preceded me and moved our family forward. I am grateful and indebted to them for their efforts and hard-won opportunities to support and educate themselves, and I can see that you are doing the same thing in your own life for so many other girls. My grandmother -- my mentor -- used to tell me that it is not enough to receive a gift as amazing as education and use it only to improve my own life, but that with such a great gift it was my privilege to reinvest what I had learned into my community and work hard to benefit others with it. I see that you are doing that, and I am moved and inspired by your dedication to the legacy of Mama Rose, to yourself, and to all the girls and women who stand to benefit from your actions, despite the cultural and social norms you have to overcome in order to accomplish your goals of creating greater justice.

Thank you so much for being who you are, for seeing the value in education and in being a woman, and for doing something to make that value known to the rest of the world. You are an amazing human being!

Jeannette

Celine's picture

Dear Jeannette, Thank you so

Dear Jeannette,
Thank you so much for sharing your grandmother's-- your mentor's inspiring words of advice with me. You and I are truly contributing our great gifts-- reinvesting our skills into our community. The challenges are there, but I will not give up in my desire to create greater justice for the less opportuned.

Gracias
Celine

jacquesato's picture

Congratulations!

Dear Celine:
You gave us a very inspiring portrait of Mama Rose.The fact that you had the courage to pursue your own education, despite all the prejudices and obstacles you had to face as a poor and disabled woman, is really admirable. I wish you all the best in your journey.
Kind regards,

Jacqueline

Celine's picture

Thank you so much dear

Thank you so much dear Jacqueline. May the good LORD bless you lots.

Regards,
Celine.

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