Friday, December 12, 2008

Hadiza's success

Hadiza and family

The Young Girls' Scholarship Program is funded mostly by Friends of Niger, an organization of former PCVs/family/people who have lived or worked or care about Niger. Girls ages 13-to 18 who are enrolled in school are eligible for sponsorship through the YSGP, meaning they receive monetary support, books, uniform, and support of a PCV. This year I think there are around 20 girls being sponsored by the YSGP in Niger. Back in July I filled out a YSGP application with the headmaster in my village for a girl named Hadiza, who is 13 years old and was the first and only girl to pass the exam that all 6th graders must pass to be eligible for secondary school. It was a big deal that she passed; her teachers, the headmaster, and especially her parents are super proud!

The way it works here is students have a first chance to take this test; if they fail they can do 6th grade over and try again; if they fail a second time, that's the end of school for them. If they pass, they have the option of starting high school, which in most cases requires them to move to a larger village or city. Our village has no secondary school, so any students who pass and are able (ie allowed/encouraged/made) to continue their education must move to either Tajae or Illela. Even for students who pass, it's not a sure thing they'll move on to high school. For one, their labor at home is valuable, and it can be hard on a family to "lose" a child to school in another village; also moving requires parents to find a family willing to house and care for and feed their kid while he/she is living in the new village.

Because girls play an extremely important and constant role in household work--carrying water, caring for babies, cleaning, pounding millet, cooking--there are significantly more barriers to their ability to continue school than for boys. (In fact these barriers are usually enough to prevent girls from ever starting school--and from performing well or having time to study. However it is becoming more common and accepted for them to go to primary school.) So you can see why the event of (1) a girl passing the exam to begin high school and (2) being encouraged and supported by her community to actually GO to high school, is pretty cool.

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