When the cameras are not rolling, Ummar Idirisa, 17 displays a clout of confidence, she pokes at her classmates, playfully order them to toss her around on her wheelchair. Ummar made the A.A Special Secondary School proud when she scored credit pass in all her West Africa Examination Council, WAEC while she was in Senior Secondary School 2.
Ummar suffered a badly treated measles as a child; she could not access quality healthcare on time. At 5 she became unable to walk because of the measles complication. As long as her mother was with her, it was easy to cope with schooling. But that would be interrupted when her mother died: “I was only 10 years old, when my Mummy died; it was very difficult for me because I had lost my Daddy when I was a toddler. My Mummy was my only motivation to go to school because she would encourage me when children of my age mock me because of my condition” said Ummar.
Somehow, Ummar found the courage to continue her education. The special secondary school’s new policy on inclusive education tells on her renewed confidence: “I mingle easily with other students, we play together, we learn together. It is better than my experience before I came to this school” Ummar recounts moments of stigma and discrimination during her primary school: “In my primary school, I use to face a lot of teasing and name-calling from other students, it used to be discouraging though I try to fight back” she recalls.
“I enjoyed the boarding school here because of the cooperation and understanding of the teachers and the students but it was very difficult learning during the school lockdown. My elder sister whom I live with could not afford a phone that enables internet connection, we could not even eat well during that period” she said.
As part of the activities to assist vulnerable children from poor households and students with disabilities, ActionAid and Rural Women and Youth Development engaged in intense sensitisation on COVID-19 pandemic and the prevention methods. The intervention involved training girls and women on making locally made facemasks and hand sanitizers. About 500 transistor radios were distributed to girls in the safe spaces to enable them continue studies during the period. The impact was reflected in improved grades and enhanced self-confidence of the students.
One beneficiary of the COVID -19 support is Mairi Salihu, 16. Mairi wakes up at 5a.m; she immediately sets out of the house with empty kegs to fetch water. She would move round the neighbourhood where she sells the water to raise money for school. “From the age of 8, I began to sell water. I had to sell water every day to enable me go to school, if I do not sell water, I would not be able to go to school. I remember I did not attend school for two weeks when one of my clients travelled” she recounts. Mairi said she makes an average of 500 naira every day she sells water, from the money she pays for transport to school for herself and her siblings.
Her participation at the Safe Space has helped to shore up her confidence and the courage to continue her education despite the challenges of apparent poverty and lack of support from her parents. “I have learnt a lot of things during the school lockdown, I have learnt better hygiene, I learnt tailoring, I learnt how to make soap and how to protect ourselves and report cases of sexual violations” said Maria.
The Breaking Barrier project in Sokoto State is targeted at schools in bordering communities with element of high vulnerability and high incidences of out of school children.
So far, the project is counting down at reaching 5250 girls and 300 boys in 15 schools across the state. School enrolment has also peaked because of the different activities such as the formation and monitoring of the Safe Spaces girls club, the capacity building of SBMC, Girls and other stakeholders on Advocacy, Taxation, Gender and Rights, including participation in the International Day of the Girl Child.
At the inception of the project in 2018, Maikuli Junior Secondary School and Binji Junior Secondary Schools had population of a very low student enrolment. One year into the project, 2019, the population of Maikuli JSS increased from 20 students to 92 students, enrolment at Binji Junior Secondary School also jumped from about 70 girls to 480 girls.
Yahaya Bello, Binji JSS School principal said the rise in school enrolment is because of advocacy and the incentives provided by ActionAid: “ActionAid provided some facilities for vocational training; they came here to train the girls in various vocational training. This really encouraged parents to begin to enrol their girl children into the school” Bello affirms.