It reads like fiction. Young girl turns 13 – the makings of a celebration. Yet what is being “celebrated” is not so much the envious title of “finally a teenager”, but rather, an unwilling marriage to a man who – in many cases – is at least twice her age.
It’s the kind of thing you hear on CNN about one Middle-Eastern nation or the other. The kind of thing girls education activist Malala Yousafzai probably talked about during her recent birthday visit to Nigeria to #BringBackOurGirls. Precisely the kind of thing you wouldn’t immediately associate with Ghana, or more specifically, Accra. And yet, it’s a reality many of Ghana’s slum-dwelling girls face.
The reality Aminatu Ismail Daru barely escaped at 12 years.
Amina – Activist & Catalyst
Young, female, hungry for education, an almost child bride – the makings of an impassioned activist:
“Our parents who are not well educated think the best place for a girl is in her husband’s house and the kitchen. This is not the best because education is the key to success and to also help build a girl’s confidence and potential.” – Amina, Achievers Book Club Co-Founder
Today, Amina is the girls’ prefect of her primary school Rising Sun Montessori School. In addition to her full course load, she and Amadu Zulkarnain Mohammed run the Achievers Book Club, an NGO they established. Their “why” is quite simple:
“What she [Amina] experienced has happened and continues to happen to lots of innocent girls in our community. Everybody is doing nothing about it because of cultural and religious acceptance…The aim is to prevent similar situations to be suffered by other young girls in the community. – Amadu, Achievers Book Club Director & Co-Founder
Achievers Book Club (ABC)
Achievers Book Club (ABC) was started in 2011 by Amina Ismail Daru and Amadu Zulkarnain Mohammed as a reading club to mobilize young girls, educate them on their rights, build their self-confidence and prepare them to be responsible citizens.
At the heart of ABC is a resolve to empower young girls and women living in Ghana’s slum communities – a population that is vulnerable and often treated as second-class citizens.
In addition to living in often deplorable and unsanitary conditions, many slum-dwelling girls risk getting raped and impregnated. In many cases, they are regarded as a burden to their impoverished parents and families. Consequently, they become a bargaining chip – unwilling child brides who are traded in for economic relief.
“Life for most girls in the slum communities is unbearable. I believe the only way to help salvage their plight is to give them quality education and the necessary platform to acquire skills that will put confidence in themselves…Good education breeds confidence. With these two, they can take responsibilities upon themselves to help change the status quo.” – Amadu
As a step in this direction, ABC organizes debates and competitions (quiz, poetry, spelling B, public speech competitions) as well as free educational excursions geared at inspiring the girls and nurturing tolerance and an appreciation for culture. Visits have included historical sites like the Elmina Castle, environmental interest locations like Kakum National Park and the Ghana Planetarium, as well as national sites like Parliament House.
Three years since its inception, ABC students are looking at becoming Ghana’s newest crop of female coders and technology enthusiasts through a partnership with Soronko Solutions’ Tech Needs Girls Program. The impact so far? According to Amadu, wonderful:
“The program and its ICT training is one of the best things that has ever come to ABC. The girls are trained on how to find solutions to simple logical reasoning questions. The girls now know all the names and components of a computer; they are also learning how to code and create simple websites and applications. It is really interesting and educative with the Tech Need Girls Program.”
ABC’s successes don’t end there. To date the club has mentored and assisted in getting over 250 girls back into school; all from the Nima, Maamobi and Accra Newtown slum communities. In 2013, ABC participated in the premier Ghana Islamic Tournament (GIT). The only NGO amidst 25 participating schools, the club won 7 out of 15 awards. This year, the club was adjudged the “3rd Best School” with one of their students winning the “Best Overall Student” award.
The co-founders’ efforts haven’t gone unnoticed – in April this year, Amadu was recognized as a community crusader by the MTN Heroes of Change program organized by the MTN Foundation. Two years prior, Amina became one of three finalists for the World Children’s Peace Award, an experience she describes as exciting and enriching. That said, her biggest fulfillment is this:
“I am so proud that I have been able to bring some changes to my community. I am glad that I have been able to encourage girls in the community to read more storybooks that talk about the world. I am also happy that I have been able to change some of the mentalities of these girls.”
As any NGO practitioner will tell you, the challenges of running a successful non-profit often outweigh the gains. This is especially true for organizations like ABC which seek to initiate social and behavioral change.
“We had and continue to experience criticism from some of our so-called mallams [Islamic teachers] and imams [Islamic leaders] in the community. They are not ready to acknowledge that a girl child needs to be given a chance to secular education…The general perception is that giving a girl child a higher education will make her immoral and wayward from Islamic teachings.” – Amadu
As Amina’s experience highlights the resistance to girls education often goes beyond the classroom and creeps into the confines of the home:
“We face a lot of problems with especially the parents. Because they don’t understand the real meaning of education, they think that when they force the girl into marriage, the husband will solve all their social problems such shelter and more.” – Amina
This lack of support for girl child education in Accra’s slums also translates into weak fundraising which curtails ABC’s efforts:
“How can someone help change something that they do not acknowledge? There are no female individuals in the community who has made it through secular education, so there is a lack of female role models for the young girls to emulate. This is very challenging especially when you are a man trying to bring change in the lives of females in a society dominated by men in all affairs.”
Challenges not withstanding, Amina and Amadu have a lot to look forward to and are working hard to achieve their goals, one of which is gaining increased parent buy-in on the need to educate girls, raising funds for scholarships, and securing story books and stationary for their activities.
Looking Ahead – How You Can Support ABC
ABC has certainly come far in three years, however a lot remains to be done to help empower slum-dwelling girls and change mindsets about girls education in Ghana’s slums. Does ABC’s mission resonate with you or that of your company or organization? Here are opportunities to support them and collaborate :
“Africans shouldn’t give up their lives or their dreams because life is still ahead of us. Education is the gateway to success.”
– Amina Ismail Daru
Written by Jemila Abdulai.