An hour outside of Kaduna, we arrived in a small village to document the Bixby Girls’ Education project. It was raining, and as we waited outside a small mud structure, a few women came to sweep out the water that had accumulated on the floor and then proceeded to lay down a dry carpet. About 15 girls appeared, and they all sat down in a big circle in the room and took turns reading from a single, soft covered book.
The girls are taught once a week in the afternoon from 3 PM to 5 PM. Every group of fifteen girls has one mentor. The books consist of some folklore stories that teach them cultural values; other books teach the girls the basics of child-raising and simple ways of combating deadly diseases through vaccines, including practical details of when to get them and where they are available. Other books discuss health-related issues: oral rehydration therapy, HIV/AIDS, and gender equality.
During the Children’s Day Celebration, the girls are normally taken out for excursions to various places with Program Officers and their mentors. The girls started this program completely illiterate, but now they can read and write without much difficulty.
Some girls were removed from the program by their parents, who had arranged marriages for their daughters. Nevertheless, some of these girls later came back to continue with their studies.
I was very moved by the intensity of these girls as a single, very worn book was passed around so each girl could take a turn reading a single passage. Their attention was complete and unwavering as they were soaking up each and every word that was read aloud.
When everyone had had a turn reading, the mentor brought out a laptop computer and all the girls surrounded her, jostling with each other to be able to get a view of the computer screen. There was an image on the screen of a building in Europe (or the U.S.), and their hunger to get a glimpse of the outside world was palpable.
I have to admit from my Western eyes, I felt very sad that these girls were unlikely to ever have a chance to achieve their potential, to become doctors, nurses, lawyers, scientists, artists; their choice was limited to getting married and to having frequent pregnancies. I think it is wonderful that they learned how to read and write, but I could sense from photographing them that there was so much more they could achieve.
Nigeria has the wealth to educate these young girls and it is very unfortunate that the government can’t provide a full education that would give them the choice and the opportunity to attend a university. These girls’ situation is not unique; unfortunately, it is all too common. Their tragic loss of potential belongs not only to these young students who have such a desire to learn, but also to the nation of Nigeria and to the wider world.
The Emir of the village. It is customary to always greet an Emir when entering a village and get his permission to visit and photograph.
The girls reading and attentively listening:
The girls were totally captivated by the computer.