Umi is 14 years old, the oldest girl out of my host mom Fatoumata’s 6 children, and my first little sister ever. She’s sweet and kind and like any teenager she disappears to who-knows-where with the cool kids after her chores are done.
First let me give props to all the big sisters out there who have no choice but to have their little sister follow them around at the most inconvenient time, tell them things them don’t care about, and just generally bother them when they aren’t in the mood. I feel your pain now.
Big sister woes aside, Umi is one of the few children in my village who wants to go to school and want to learn to read an write. She practices a few hours a day with whatever pens or pencil nubs she can find and paper I’ve usually supplied her to practice her alphabet because she’s still at kindergarten level. The sad thing is that someone so dedicated and smart is not allowed to go to school because my host father doesn’t like the Western schools here and mostly because she’s girl. Most people like my father don’t see the point of educating a girl child because you don’t need to be smart to cook, clean, and pop out a baby every year. The only thing being smart and educated does is give you the tools analyze your world and yourself. But we cant have that because then women will start thinking and making decisions, and then what will their husbands do?
Yeah, school is compulsory here and education is free but that doesn’t mean the rules are enforced or that parents care. Don’t get me wrong, parents here love their children like any half-way decent parent should but most don’t see the value of education. This is the part of early foreign aid requiring conversions to Christianity for children to attend school and the push for Western values over Islamic values in a culturally insensitive way over the years. This has lead to a distrust of schools in general, Western schools in particular, that keeps children in the fields and out of school because parents want to raise their children their own values that they feel aren’t at these Western schools.
There are success stories and there are exceptions where girl children persevere and go to school. I know because I’ve me these amazing women but the sad reality is that no matter how much I help her its not the same as school. Her chances at an education a near non-existent and she’ll probably be married in the next two years and be the property of her husband.
Umi will not be a success story or an exception to the rule