In 10 countries with highest out-of-school rates, 40 per cent of children are not accessing basic education

 NEW YORK/ ADDIS ABABA, 1 September 2016 –In the top 10 countries with the highest rates of children missing out on primary education, nearly 2 in every 5 children – 18 million – are out of school, UNICEF said today.

Liberia is home to the highest proportion of out-of-school children with nearly two-thirds of primary-aged children not accessing school. The second highest is South Sudan, where 59 per cent of children are missing out on their right to a primary education and 1 in 3 schools is closed due to conflict. 

Afghanistan (46 per cent), Sudan (45 per cent), Niger (38 per cent) and Nigeria (34 per cent) also feature in the top 10 countries with the highest primary out-of-school rates, painting a clear picture of how humanitarian emergencies and protracted crises are forcing children out of school. 

The UNICEF data analysis, which comes as millions of children return to school this month, highlights the extent of an education crisis affecting countries already blighted by conflict, prolonged periods of drought, flash floods, earthquakes and high rates of extreme poverty.

UNICEF fears that without education, a generation of children living in countries affected by conflict, natural disasters and extreme poverty will grow up without the skills they need to contribute to their countries and economies, exacerbating the already desperate situation for millions of children and their families.

Education continues to be one of the least funded sectors in humanitarian appeals. In 2015, humanitarian agencies received only 31 per cent of their education funding needs, down from 66 per cent a decade ago. Despite a 126 per cent increase in education requirements since 2005, funding increased by just 4 per cent. Moreover, education systems equipped to cope with protracted crises cannot be built on the foundations of short-term – and unpredictable – appeals.

During the World Humanitarian Summit, held in May 2016, a new global funding platform, Education Cannot Wait, was launched to bridge the gap between humanitarian interventions during crises and long-term development afterwards, through predictable funding.

Though not one of the top 10 countries with the highest rates of out-of-school children, Syria is home to 2.1 million school-age children (5-17) who are not in school. An additional 600,000 Syrian children living as refugees in the surrounding region are also out of school. Recent, reliable data from countries including Somalia and Libya are not available either from administrative or survey sources partly due to the continuing conflicts. 

“For countries affected by conflict, school equips children with the knowledge and skills they need to rebuild their communities once the crisis is over, and in the short-term it provides them with the stability and structure required to cope with trauma. Schools can also protect children from the trauma and physical dangers around them. When children are not in school, they are at an increased danger of abuse, exploitation and recruitment into armed groups,” said UNICEF Chief of Education Jo Bourne.

kalkidan , a 4th grade student at the Arara Kidanemeherete Primary school attending her class.Ethiopia has made remarkable progress in the past two decades towards universal primary education. Primary school enrolment is up, and mobilization efforts are enrolling school‑age populations across all regions. However, the number of out-of-school children remains high, and only just over half of all students who enter grade one complete a full primary education cycle. The Government of Ethiopia has continued its strong commitment to ensuring accessible, quality schooling for all as captured in its Education Sector Development Plan 2015–2020.

Drawing on Education Management Information System (EMIS) data for 2014/15, over 2.6 million children are estimated to be out of school. These out of school children represent “the most difficult to reach” population comprising of the last 10 per cent of the eligible school population. 

In 2012, UNICEF commissioned a study on the Situation of Out-of-school Children in Ethiopia which led to a large media based ‘Go-to-school Campaign’ to reach to out-of-school children and accelerate their enrolment. In 2014 alone, the national campaign brought back 47,511 out of school children in the four developing regional states of Afar, Somali, Benishangul-Gumuz and Gambella.

UNICEF, through its programme of cooperation with the Government of Ethiopia, has supported the Ministry of Education in the establishment of over 1,600 Alternative Basic Education Centres (ABEC) which have enrolled 276,777 students in marginalized localities. In conjunction with other Development Partners, a national Strategy on Education for Pastoralist Communities has recently been revised and provides a strong basis by which children in remote areas will be able to better access relevant educational services.

UNICEF and religious leaders commit to improve the lives of children and women in Ethiopia

By Hanna Woldemeskel

MoU between UNICEF and major religious institutions for the wellbeing of children and women in Ethiopia
Haji Alfadil Ali Mustafa, General Secretary of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Counsel Signs Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between UNICEF and major religious institutions for the wellbeing of children and women in Ethiopia. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Sewunet

Addis Ababa, 2 August 2016 – Ethiopia’s Leaders of major religious institutions signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with UNICEF marking their joint commitment for sustained promotion of the rights and wellbeing of children, adolescents and women through strategic behaviour and social change interventions. Fourteen signatories signed the MoU, including five major religious denominations along with their respective development offices and four umbrella institutions.

Religion is at the heart of people’s value and identity and religious leaders enormously influence moral values and socialization of children in all aspects of life. Religious institutions reach out to vulnerable and disadvantaged children and families, through their inherent values of humanity and extensive structure reaching up to the family and individual levels.

Evidence shows that if investments are made to build capacity and engage religious institutions, they can create major impact for behaviour and social norm change. For example, in the Somali region, religious leaders massively contributed to stop the 2013 polio outbreak, by informing and encouraging their communities to regularly immunize their children. Religious institutions declaring against harmful traditional practices and their active engagement has a huge impact in accelerating Ethiopia’s commitment towards eliminating the female genital mutilation/cutting and child marriage by 2025.  In Amhara region, for example when priests teach against child marriage, when they refuse to bless such unions, communities are receptive and young girls are given the opportunity to pursue their education and their dreams.

Although religious institutions have been working with UNICEF in the past, their unique opportunity for influencing positive behaviour and social norms was not fully maximized. The core purpose of the MoU, as stated by Gillian Mellsop, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia, during the signing ceremony is “to build on existing commitments for the wellbeing of children and women in Ethiopia through sustained and long-term behaviour and social change actions with full engagement of the development and spiritual wings and umbrella institutions.” Gillian stressed, “This partnership will accelerate our efforts to alleviate chronic challenges in communities by addressing them at the core – in people’s minds and attitudes”

In their statements, all the signatory religious leaders avowed their commitment to what they called ‘Historic Consensus’  and outlined their respective faith values that create favourable grounds to promote the rights and wellbeing of children and women.

Dr. Abba Hailemariam Melese, the Deputy General Manager of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church Patriarchate remarked “…towards this cause the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church is ready to engage over half a million clergies and religious fathers with the joint leadership of our spiritual and development wings.” Similarly, Haji Al – Fadil Ali Mustafa, General Secretary of the Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council remarked that developmental partners have become wiser by involving and engaging religious organizations and leaders to work for a common goal.

Reverend Dr. Wakseyoum, Idosa, President of Ethiopian Evangelical Mekane Yesus Church tells the story of a girl he met a week ago who had dropped her studies from eighth grade and came to Addis Ababa fleeing forced marriage, when her relatives insisted that she returns to her village, she refused and opted to go and work in one of the Middle East countries as a house maid. “This story is one of many stories in our communities, and this is why a united effort is needed to reach to the grass roots in order to alleviate the pain that is still fresh and deserve our urgent response.”

In addition to the five major religious denominations of Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (EOTC), Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council (EIASC) Ethiopian Catholic Church (ECC), Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) and Ethiopian Kale Hiwot Church (EKHC) and their respective development wings, four umbrella institutions including; Inter-Religious Council of Ethiopia (IRCE),Ethiopian Interfaith Forum for Development Dialogue and Action (EIFDDA),Evangelical Churches Fellowship of Ethiopia (ECFE), and  Consortium of Evangelical Churches of Ethiopia Development Association (CECEDA) forwarded a statement affirming their commitment.

African youth to African leaders: “You must do more to end conflicts in Africa”

Nyabon Guin (female) 3 years, Bilikum Kebele, Lare Woreda Gambella
Nyabon Guin, 3 is happy that she is back and reunified with her family in Gambella, Ethiopia after being abducted by armed men from the neighbouring South Sudan © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia/ DAKAR, Senegal/NAIROBI, Kenya, 16 June 2016 – African leaders are not doing enough to stop conflicts in Africa, said two-thirds of the nearly 86,000 youth surveyed in a recent mobile-based poll conducted in nine African countries.

Using a messaging tool called U-Report, the short survey was sent to 1.4 million mobile users in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic, Senegal, Liberia, Zimbabwe, Cameroon and Guinea, from 18 May to 1 June 2016.

The U-Report users surveyed, who are typically between 15 and 30 years of age, were asked to provide their opinion on conflicts and crises in Africa through short multiple choice questions on their mobile phones.

The findings of the survey will be shared with African leaders on the Day of the African Child, which is marked every year on 16 June by the African Union.

“It is so crucial, and even urgent for the leaders to heed the voices of the youth, if we must silence the guns by 2020, as set in our Agenda 2063. This is flagship project to which the youth must also recognize their role and take their responsibility,” said the African Union Commission Chairperson, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Key findings:

  • Asked whether African leaders are doing enough to stop conflicts and crises in Africa, two out of three respondents (70 per cent) believe that African leaders are not doing enough.
  • When asked why Africa is more prone to conflict than other regions, 56 per cent of respondents believe that ‘politicians fighting for power’ is the main reason while 19 per cent said ‘inequality’, 17 per cent said ‘poverty’ and 4 per cent said ‘access to food and water’.
  • What can leaders do to stop conflicts? Nearly a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) said a ‘strong economy’ while 20 per cent believe African countries needs to be more independent in their ‘foreign policy’, 19 per cent said investing in ‘good education’, 14 per cent said ‘talk to each other’, 10 per cent said ‘talk to other country’ and 9 per cent said ‘security’.

Humanitarian crises in Africa continue to spill over borders in recent years, with children and families increasingly on the move. More than 1.2 million people face insecurity in the Central African Republic due to a complex humanitarian and protection crisis that has spread to neighbouring countries.

Nearly 1.3 million children have been displaced by violence linked to the Boko Haram insurgency across Cameroon, Chad, the Niger and Nigeria.

Two years into the conflict in South Sudan, nearly 2.4 million people have fled their homes, including 721,000 living as refugees. Burundi is facing a protection crisis that has driven some 265,000 people to flee across borders.

“The lives of millions of children and their families are disrupted, upended or destroyed by conflict every year in Africa,” said Manuel Fontaine, UNICEF’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “This survey speaks to every child’s right to be heard and gives African youth an opportunity to express their hopes for the future of their continent.”

U-Report is a social messaging tool available in 23 countries, including 15 African countries, allowing users to respond to polls, report issues and work as positive agents of change on behalf of people in their country. Once someone has joined U-Report, polls and alerts are sent via Direct Message and real-time responses are collected and mapped on a website, where results and ideas are shared back with the community.

For more information on U-Report: https://ureport.in/

Children need peace for education, and education for peace

By Wossen Mulatu

Nyamat Oactoct from Pagak village in Gambella.
“We need peace. If there is conflict, I cannot follow my education properly and there will be no development,” Nyamat. Her five year old younger sister and brother are abducted to a neighbouring South Sudan by the Murle tribe. © UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

GAMBELLA, Ethiopia,  25 May 2016 – On April 15, hundreds of heavily armed men stormed through Nyamat Oactot’s village of Pagak in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region, stealing cattle, shooting people and kidnapping children.

The 16-year-old girl’s younger brother and sister were taken by raiders believed to be from the Murle tribe from neighbouring South Sudan, and have yet to be recovered. In the aftermath, parents across this part of Gambella have kept their children out of school in fear of further attacks.

“We need peace, if there is conflict, I cannot follow my education properly and there will be no development,” Nyamat said.

Ruey Tut Rue,15, lost his mother and brother and wishes he could bury himself in his studies to keep from thinking about them, but instead he has been frustrated by three weeks of school closure.

“I feel upset and my mind is not focused,” he said. “Reading complicated subjects like biology and chemistry is now helping me to divert my attention from thinking about my mother.”

The attacks have also destroyed school materials making reopening the schools even harder, said Paul Puok Tang, the head of the Lare Woreda (district) education office.

“The dropout rates have also increased,” he said. “Through UNICEF and government  support, we are now trying to rehabilitate the schools and purchase school supplies for the communities that are affected.”

Gambella Region is one of the states in Ethiopia that is part of UNICEF’s Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA), along with Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz and Somali regions.

These four regions suffer from neglect and frequent exposure to man-made and natural disasters such as drought and floods and because of their close proximity to conflict zones. Since 2014, annual disaster and risk response plans have been put in place to help them cope with major disasters.

Ruey Tut Rue, 15, and 7th grade student, Pagak village in Gambella.
Ruey Tut Rue, 15, and 7th grade student did not go to school for three weeks due to the recent abduction of large numbers of children in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia by Murle pastoralists from South Sudan ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Mersha

UNICEF has enlisted the support of the African Centre for Disaster Risk Management to come up with disaster and risk response plans at 31 schools in Gambella and 13 schools in Benishangul-Gumuz to develop the capacity of schools and communities to respond to disasters.

In the case of an attack like the recent cattle raid, villagers are taught to know when the raids come and what to do with their children during that period, said Omod Abela, Process Owner of Planning and Resource Mobilisation in Gog Woreda, Punido Kebele (sub-district),.

“We know that it is a seasonal occurrence – they come between March and May following their cattle and we teach communities not to send their children to herd cattle during this season, but to keep them at home and study,” he said. “Also, we teach parents that children should not play in isolation but surrounded by adult members of the community.”

PBEA seeks to strengthen resilience, social cohesion and peacebuilding in the four regions through strengthened policies and practices in education.

In Gambella, over 1,200 educational officials have been trained to promote peace and social cohesion within the region through disaster planning, peacebuilding, combatting school-related gender-based violence and promote child-friendly schooling.

“Parents and children need to understand the value of education,” explained Tok Bel from Lare Woreda Education Office. “Out of school children are more prone to be involved in conflict situations. Even during the recent Murle attack, most lives that were saved were those of children who were attending classes when the incident happened. Education saves lives.”

Ethiopia started the implementation of the PBEA in October 2012 with the Federal Ministry of Education and the four regional education bureaus.

The programme, which ends in 2016, is integrated across UNICEF’s US$60 million Learning and Development Programme and is a global initiative funded by the Government of the Netherlands.

“Where there is peace, education will go well. Without knowledge and education, there are no doctors and without doctors, many people will die,” said Gatiat Wal Rik, 15, a student from Bulimkum Primary School.

The power of education for building peace in Africa

infographicADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI/DAKAR, 1st JUNE 2016 – Ensuring equitable access to education is key in addressing the root causes of conflict and instability in Africa, stakeholders said today ahead of the Pan-African Symposium on Education, Resilience and Social Cohesion, at the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa.

The three-day event shares evidence and best practices from UNICEF’s Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy Programme (PBEA), and the Inter-Country Quality Node (ICQN) on Peace Education, established by the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA). In doing so, the Symposium will seek to assess how inclusive, equitable and innovative education policy and programmes can contribute to sustainable peace and development across the continent. Currently, three out of 10 children in Africa are living in conflict-affected settings and exposed to numerous risks.  

“The capacity of education to support children develop and thrive is well documented, however we now also know that education can prevent and reduce the impacts of conflict,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala. “If the right policies and interventions are in place, together with financial investment, education can be a driving force in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 36 out of 45 countries are at medium or high risk of experiencing manmade disasters, the highest rate globally. Moreover, at least 327 million children in Sub-Saharan Africa live in fragile contexts and the majority of the estimated 29 million primary school aged children who are out of school are primarily found in fragile settings and are particularly at risk or threatened by conflict.

“We need to reorient Africa’s education and training systems to meet the knowledge, competencies, skills, innovation and creativity required to nurture the continent’s core values,” said Dr Martial de Paul Ikounga, African Union Commissioner for Human Resources, Science and Technology. “We will then promote sustainable development at the national, sub-regional and continental levels.”

The African Union Commission, under the Agenda 2063 “The Africa We Want”, envisions that by 2020 all guns will be silent and a culture of peace and tolerance would be nurtured in Africa´s children and youth through peace.”      

Oley Dibba-Wadda, the Executive Secretary of ADEA, sees education as “a key tool against all kinds of violence” and strongly appeals to African governments to “endorse and develop integrated, peaceful, inclusive approaches and strategies that support the implementation of a comprehensive program on non-violence, tolerance and peace, especially for the young generation.” 

The high-level event in Addis Ababa, which is being attended by Ministers of Education from 16 African countries, including conflict-torn states, will close with concrete recommendations on how to strengthen education sector policy and programmes in Africa to address the risks faced by children and to support sustainable peace and development across Africa. The symposium will also provide evidence to inform both donor and public funding strategies and investment priorities.

“Education can play both a protective and preventative role. In doing this, education’s power is transformative and serves as a peace dividend, reducing inequities and grievances between groups and strengthening social cohesion” said the Ethiopian Minister of Education, Ato Shiferaw Shigute.

The symposium is co-organized by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Education, UNICEF, the Association for the Development of Education in Africa (ADEA), and the Inter-Country Quality Node (ICQN) on Peace Education.

In drought-stricken regions, children search for water and a lifeline for their hopes

In drought-stricken regions of SNNPR, children travel for hours to collect water for household needs.
In drought-stricken regions of SNNPR, children travel for hours to collect water for household needs ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

HALABA SPECIAL WOREDA & MAREKO WOREDA, SNNPR, 22 March 2016 – In the northern part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia, bright yellow jerry cans are everywhere: on main roads and dirt roads, carried by hand or piled high on donkey carts being led on long journeys. Whatever the method, the goal is the same: water.

In SNNPR, 73 out of the total 136 rural woredas (districts) are grappling with water scarcity. Out of those, 45 are severely affected. In many of these woredas, water scarcity is an old problem, made much, much worse by the ongoing drought, which is the worst this country has experienced in decades. The result of a double blow of climate change and the El Niño phenomenon, the drought has led to food shortages and threats to livelihoods and survival. 

When there is no water, education takes a backseat

Wogbela, 15, travels to a neighbouring area for water, returning home the next day
Wogbela, 15, travels to a neighbouring area for water, returning home the next day. “I am late to school every day,” he says ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

Lack of water affects everything: food, health, education and children’s futures. In Washe Faka Primary School, located in Washe Faka Kebele (sub-district), Mareko Woreda of SNNPR, approximately 20 students have left school in search of work to support families whose livelihoods have been turned upside down by the drought. The children who remain in school are struggling.

“Students are coming to school with empty stomachs and leaving early because they can’t focus,” says Selfa Doloko, the school principal.

Fifth-grader Wogbela, 15, is struggling too. Every day after school, he travels hours to a water point in a neighbouring area. Because of the distance from his home, he has to stay overnight at a relative’s house. There are closer water points, but the long lines often mean hours of waiting.

“I used to go every other day, but the drought has dried up the ponds here, so I have to get water for the livestock in addition to water for the family,” he says.

In the morning, Wogbela travels home with his supply of water. He is tired by the time he gets home, but has to rush to school. “I am late to school every day,” he says, worried. Education is important to him, but it takes a backseat when there is no water.

Relief in sight

HALABA WOREDA, SNNPR – 24 JANUARY 2016
Munira, 13, is a student at Asore Primary School, located 30 metres away from a new UNICEF-supported water point. “It is much easier now. We can drink and wash easily,” she says. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2016/Ayene

This is the story of so many children here, but thankfully for some, there is finally relief in sight.

For the students of Asore Primary School in Halaba Woreda, a new UNICEF-supported water point approximately 30 metres away means a new shot at learning. Students like Munira, 13, an eighth-grader at the school, can finally breathe a sigh of relief. “I used to travel two to three hours a day to fetch water. The wait at the water point was even longer. Sometimes the taps did not work and I would have to spend the whole day there and go home the next day. It was so tiring and a waste of time,” she says, glad that clean water is now just a short walk away.

Abdusamad, 16, another eighth-grader at the school, adds, “Some students had to drop out of school because they had to spend so much time collecting water. I’m more confident now that I can finish my studies and I want to help bring the students who dropped out back to school.”

As part of the drought emergency response, UNICEF, as the WASH cluster lead, is supporting the Government of Ethiopia and other partners in the rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of new water supply systems, provision of water purification and treatment chemicals, scaling up of water trucking activities, and provision of  sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools. UNICEF is also exploring innovative ways to use satellites to detect deep groundwater for large scale, multiple-village water supply systems.

With 5.8 million people around the country in need of access to safe drinking water, UNICEF and partners are racing against the clock to provide urgent help.

For children like Wogbela, it cannot come soon enough. “I hope things change soon,” says Wogbela, “so that I can get back to learning.”

The Teenage Parliamentarian

By Bethlehem Kiros

Ubah Jemal, 15, makes a call before a meeting of the Girls Club in Jigjiga, Somali Region, Ethiopia
Ubah Jemal, 15, makes a call before a meeting of the Girls Club in Jigjiga, Somali Region, Ethiopia, 24 January 2015. Ubah is the vice president of the Somali Region Children’s Parliament, a position that enabled her to engage and empower girls in Jigjiga town, where she lives. In addition to heading the Girls Club in her own high school, she is responsible for setting up similar clubs in all the primary schools of her town. Ubah wants to pursue the field of medicine while continuing to serve in leadership position. “I want to become a doctor because it grants the opportunity to touch peoples’ lives directly, but ultimately, I want to become a leader, preferably a president,” she says. ©UNICEF Ethiopia/2015/Bindra

SOMALI REGION, 24 January 2014 – “Dreams won’t cost you a thing, so dream,’’ cheerfully exclaimed Ubah Jemal, as she concluded delivering one of her weekly pep talks to the Girls Club members from all the primary schools in Jigjiga town, the capital of the Somali region. A 12th grader at the Jigjiga Senior Secondary and Preparatory School, 15 years old Ubah is well known among female primary and high school students in Jigjiga for her inspirational speeches and her ability to organise and lead. Even at her childhood, she was made to skip third and fourth grade because of her intelligence. Spotted first by the Regional government officials while presenting a speech as a representative of her School Parliament, Ubah was often invited to attend meetings that were organised by the Regional Bureau of Women, Children and Youth Affairs (BOWCYA). Then three years ago, upon the formation of the Somali Region Children’s Parliament, she was elected as vice president, acquiring a role that enabled her to spread her wings beyond her own high school. As part of the global initiative to promote the rights and roles of children in the society, children parliaments are formed in each of the nine regional states and the two city administrations in Ethiopia. Picked from various schools across the nation, Ubah and her fellow appointees serve as mouthpieces of all under 18 children throughout the country.

Leadership with results

Ubah Jemal, 15, applies makeup before a meeting of the Girls Club in Jigjiga Right after she assumed her position as vice-president, she was given the role to head the Girls Club in her school that was established that same year, when she was at the 9th grade. The club absorbed other existing clubs like the anti FGM (Female genital mutilation) to address more issues of girls in the region, including FGM. “We wanted it to be a safe place where we can talk freely about all our issues as girls and learn from each other,’’ says Ubah. Besides offering the opportunity of growth through continued discussions, Ubah and her group mates opted for practical ways to help girls, after she had an eye-opening encounter with a classmate. “A girl who was sitting next to me was very stressed because her period suddenly came and she couldn’t leave the room fearing that the teacher and the students will see her cloth,’’ she recalls, ‘’and she was also very hesitant to tell me because apparently, it is a taboo to talk about such things.’’ She adds that an idea came to her right there to create a space in school where girls can access the proper sanitation materials, clean and freshen up, and even take painkiller pills and nap if they feel sick. Consequently, the Girls Club called a meeting of all female students in the school to raise money, and eventually made this idea a reality. “Once they saw that we made it possible, BOWCYA started supporting us and now UNICEF provides the sanitation supplies regularly,’’ says Ubah.

She believes that the availability of the girls’ room has contributed to an increase in attendance of girl students, since some girls have the tendency of not showing up to school, sometimes for a whole week, during their menstruation period due to their inability to afford sanitation pads or painful cramps. According to a study conducted by Water Aid, 51 per cent of girls in Ethiopia miss up to four school days every month and 39 per cent show reduced performance, when they are on their periods. The severe cramps are especially common among girls who went through Pharaonic circumcision. Dubbed as the most severe form of FGM, Pharaonic circumcision–which refers to the removal of all external genitalia and then the sewing of the remaining parts of outer lips, only leaving a small whole for urine and menstrual flow–-was highly prevalent in the Somali region until its decrease in the last five years through the organised efforts of the local community, religious leaders and the government.

Passing the torch

A member of a high school Girls Club waits by the door for their meeting to start in Jigjiga After making sure that the same model of Girls’ Club is duplicated in the only other high school in Jigjiga town, Ubah spearheaded the formation of Girl Clubs in elementary schools. “I thought it would be beneficial if younger girls also got the chance to organise so I approached the BoWCYA head who regarded it as a great idea,’’ she recounts. In less than a week, Ubah met with the principals of all the four primary schools in Jigjiga town and established four Girl Clubs, each with 30 members. She now meets with them on weekly basis where they get to report and plan their activities, while receiving constant encouragement from her.

According to Ubah, the girls keep watchful eye in their communities and offer assistance when they are needed. So far, they have stopped planned circumcisions, supported indigent children with school materials, and even found foster parents for few orphaned students. Ubah is confident that there will be many girls who are now empowered enough to take over her responsibilities when she goes to university, which is in less than eight months. Her plan is to study medicine either at the Addis Ababa University or go abroad, if she gets a scholarship. “I want to become a doctor because it grants the opportunity to touch peoples’ lives directly, but ultimately, I want to become a leader, preferably a president,’’ she laughs. “Who can charge me from dreaming?’’