Wings to Fly: Conversations on the Fight for Women and Girls’ Education

by Zamzam Abdikadir, Intern, Aspen Institute Forum on Women and Girls

“Women and Girls’ Honor is earned when society gives them the wings to fly, by educating them”, Unknown

I sat down early one morning with Kifah and her mother to find out her perspective on the impact of seven months of school closures on her daughter and where the journey of her daughter has taken her since the pandemic. Kifah is the third born of her family and she loves education. Hadio Muse is a mother who is responsible for nine individuals, both family members and children. Hadio is always focused on the best possible way that her children can get a quality life, and she believes that no one will help her while she is at home, unless she works and helps herself and her children. I was excited to hear from her.

How do you feel seeing your children at home every day and not going to school?

To be honest, I feel sad to see this because my daughter is not able to learn at home due to a lack of resources like a teacher, a group of students that motivate her to study, electricity, and books. Now instead of going to school, she is busy doing house chores, and I think if this continues she will forget the things she learned before. I just hope that schools open soon so that she joins the school and fulfills her dreams.

What have you been doing to help Kifah since the school closure?

I believe the best way that a parent can give support for their kids during this situation is motivation; I give her the motivation and advise her to learn at home. Although, there are some challenges I try my best to help her study at home by keeping my small business, and with the small money I get, I try to support my children to buy books and light lamps to study at night.

“I am very proud that, I have my mother who motivates me and supports me during this situation and every situation” Said Kifah who was sitting next to her mother. She also added that when she finished her secondary level, she has many dreams including going to university and pursuing her dream career of becoming a doctor one day.

“During this pandemic, I saw how doctors are very important. Here in the camp, there is a shortage of health infrastructure, like doctors and good health facilitates, hence I would like to be a doctor and give back to my community” said Kifah with a big smile on her face.

The breakout of the coronavirus has negatively impacted the lives of refugees, especially women who take care for their families and girls who are going to school. As a result of the lock down, businesses have shut down, the price of common items have increased and has left half of the population to live in poverty and about a third unemployed.

She also added “As single mothers in the community we come together and do money saving (ayuuto) to help our children and to buy food for the family”. Ayuuto is a saving system that does not incur debt. Let’s say that there are 11 people and each pays $1,000. Every month someone gets the full amount, so by the time it rolls around to be your turn, you will get $11,000 back). The roll around can be weekly or daily, it depends on how the group’s agreement. To be among the group one must be trustworthy.

Ayuuto- is a Somalian term used by women in the community, and it is mostly done when someone wants to start a business or needs support. This ayuuto is mostly used by a group of trustworthy women.

In addition, despite the challenges that the communities in the camp encounter during this hard time, it seems that the community members, youth, students and volunteers become each other’s strength by supporting each other. On a phone call, I had an interesting conversation with Zakaria Mohamed who is trying to help women and girls with their education during the pandemic.

Zakaria Mohamed, is a Somali refugee, university student, community volunteer, and former secondary school teacher. I got the chance to talk to him and I was thrilled to hear how he is trying his best to help women and girls get their education during and beyond the pandemic.

“I am a student and also have sisters who are going to school and nothing makes me happy than seeing my sisters and other girls getting an education because I believe that educating a woman is like educating a society,” said Zakaria

“I am also studying online and with this pandemic I encounter challenges,” he said “I have the responsibility of giving informal lessons at home to the women and girls who were in secondary level since the schools are closed”

“It is my passion to empower women and girls and I hope to see one day, every woman and girl in my community getting a higher education like a university degree” Zakaria concluded.

Besides Zakaria, I had a wonderful talk with Zeitun during a coffee conversation in one of the restaurants in Kakuma camp. Zeitun is a university student, community volunteer, and Executive Director of Kakuma READ Project, a new community-based initiative. With the help of other community youth, Zeitun took the responsibility of building an awareness for youth especially women and girls.

“As all schools and learning centers are closed, youth happen to do bad things like drug abuse and having illegal sexual activities in the camp, hence women and girls mostly become the victim of the consequences such as unwanted pregnancies, and probably dropping out of school,” Zeitun said as she was feeling unhappy about such incidents still occurring.

In Kakuma refugee camp more than eight different communities live here, and each have different languages, culture, religion and background and currently few organizations like the Film Aid International is building awareness in the communities. However, those awareness messages are only in the English and Kiswahili language where most of the communities especially elders are unable to understand. Zeitun told me that she is helping to voluntarily translate the message to her community and shares the information with her network by using her social media platforms.

She also added “with the new Initiative Kakuma READ Project,

“we are hosting a weekly podcast where we build awareness for girls’ education, COVID-19 awareness and empowerment messages for women and girls so they feel encouraged and also for their parents to learn more about the importance of education.”

The project conveys messages using different languages in the hope to reach every community in the camp by making the information accessible in local languages.

Our conversation ended where she shared “I believe I encounter challenges the same way others women and girls in my community encounter them and I am happy that I am trying to solve some of the problems occurring in my community”

Furthermore, women’s leadership plays an important role in the communities in the camp and to conclude my discussion with leaders on the camp, I spoke to a community secretary and block leader.  As a community volunteer, Makalin is engaged  in community issues and particularly girls’ issues such as rape and sexual violence. She works hand in hand with humanitarian organizations in the camp to support the needs of the people in her community. Makalin shared that she works closely with girls and women in the community by doing weekly visit sessions and collects their stories. She added that“when I tell my stories and they tell theirs I feel like we share the same stories”.

It is evident, from my conversations with leaders on the camp, when women and girls are given a seat at the table through education and the ability to make decisions, they will be able to change the world.

Zamzam is a college student, based in Kenya pursuing her bachelors of art degree with concentration in public administration. During her free time, she likes to spend time with elders and the young girls in her community by listening to their stories and also sharing her own.

Cover photo credit: Literacy Class Kakuma Refugee Camp, May, 2017. (2017). Kakuma: Youth Education and Development Program

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