The Girl Who Became Her Mother’s Teacher


By Jimmy Nzau, Senior Regional Advisor, is sharing the story from his recent technical visit in Djibouti.

It is day one of our training on the basics of family planning and social communication in one of the Somali refugee camps in Djibouti.

Many women and some girls take part in this training session, which looks a lot more like a group discussion. During this session, women enjoy the opportunity to talk about daily life in their household, such as the threat of men and use of religious arguments in case of refusal to have sexual intercourse, forced sexual intercourse even during menstruation, etc.

It is exactly noon and participants have 45 minutes for prayer. The training room is empty and while my interpreter and I are waiting for participants to come back, a woman returns with a young girl named Zahra (not her real name).

Zahra is around 12 years old. She is in primary school in Grade 6 and speaks, understands and writes English.

The woman gives Zahra a chair and hands her a notepad and pen, explaining that Zahra will take notes for her and write down everything that the facilitator says about the benefits of birth spacing and limiting and the different methods available in the camps.

After observing the scene from afar, my curiosity causes me to ask the woman “who is the girl with you and why you do not take notes yourself?”

Proudly, she tells me “Zahra is my daughter. I cannot read or write because I did not go to school.  So, I asked my daughter to accompany me here every day so that she can take notes and read them back to me at home.”

I nod and tell her that it is a good idea, not only because her daughter makes a good teacher but also because her daughter is learning about things that she needs to know in order to safeguard her health and well-being.

During the three-day training, Zahra helps her mother to get the most benefit from the training session by recording the content and repeating it at home.

I leave the training with the hope that this girl, who can already read and write, will have a better future than her mother due to recent establishment of a secondary school in the refugee camp.

Girls' education and the promotion of women's rights to access information and sexual health services is an investment that will improve the reproductive health and well-being of girls and women for generations to come.

Written by Jimmy NzauSenior Regional Advisor, in Nov 2013

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