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.