“The Circle of Education”
by Kara VanderKamp, Executive Director
Education is the ladder by which many people climb out of poverty in Niger.
In Niger only about a third of primary school-age girls are enrolled in school and just six percent of secondary school-age girls are enrolled. Remember Niger is working to open doors for the country’s young women, particularly increasing their educational opportunities.
The first time I met Hadiza, a bright and endearing Nigerien woman, she was looking for work and introduced me to her daughter, who was quite thin and malnourished. After getting to know Hadiza I learned that she was fortunate to have attended four years of primary education as a child and even learned French in that short time in school. Because of Hadiza’s French skills, I was able to help her find a job.
Shortly after beginning her new job, Hadiza’s daughter looked so much healthier and had a new light in her eyes. Hadiza was using her income to provide foodand nourishment for her children. Additionally, she was sending her son to a local kindergarten, which she was now able to afford!
This is just one illustration of the enormous role education plays in the life of a woman in Niger. During her own childhood, Hadiza’s mother sent her to four years of elementary school where she learned French. That skill proved invaluable to Hadiza and allowed her to find a job. That job provided income that is now being invested in her children. And so, the ripple effect of education continues to move outward, impacting more and more people in its wake.
Research shows that girls’ education not only benefits the individual, but the development of the entire country. As women become more educated they typically have fewer children. Moreover, it has been demonstrated that the education level of a woman is correlated to the health of her children. This is primarily due to the fact that a woman’s wages increase on average 20 percent for every year of completed primary education! Furthermore, when a woman earns an income she invests almost 90 percent of it into her family, compared to only 30 – 40 percent of a man’s income. Yet the literacy rate for women in Niger is only 9 percent. This must change!
Remember Niger is committed to increasing girls’ educational opportunities to ensure that success stories like Hadiza’s and Hannatou’s are no longer unique, but commonplace for the women of Niger.
For the better part of a year, I had the great privilege of living with a Nigerien family and seeing first hand the impact education can have on individual lives and communities in one of the least developed countries in the world. Hannatou, the mother of the family, is an exception in Niger, where over 60% of the population has never been to school, and only 27% is literate with 9% of women being able to read and write.
Hannatou was born into a situation in which the odds of moving up economically were stacked against her. Her mother was orphaned at a very young age and never had the opportunity for education. In addition, Hannatou’s father died while she was still a small child. However, her life was dramatically changed when she was given the opportunity to attend the Tsibiri Christian Primary Boarding School through the support of a missionary. Through hard work and a lot of encouragement, Hannatou received a quality education and was able to go on to high school and university. She now works for a large not-for-profit organization and has been sent to conferences throughout Africa because of her professional success and literacy skills. Impressively, Hannatou is literate in Djerma, French, English and Hausa.
Education has an enormous impact on individual lives and, in turn, transforms societies.
Hannatou has been able to positively impact family, friends and many other community members in unique and profound ways because of her own opportunities for self-development. Her five children are receiving a solid education and are developing the necessary critical thinking skills to be successful. Her church benefits greatly through her participation as a Sunday school teacher, her intellectual and social contributions, and a weekly tithe. Moreover, her impact on the economy cannot be overstated as she frequents the local markets, eats at restaurants, employs a house keeper, and participates as an entrepreneur and small business owner. Imagine the impact that a thousand or even a million people like Hannatou could have on an underdeveloped country like Niger. How different their country would be if more Nigeriens were given quality educational opportunities!