By Aliyu Bashir Almusawi
On 15th August 2020 when schools were all still closed due to Covid-19 pandemic, the photo of Aisha reading a storybook by the roadside while fraying Awara (tofu) for sale quickly went viral on the social media. The girl’s picture captured the attention of people due to the poor reading culture amongst women and girls in northern Nigeria. It was the impassioned appeal the photo had on the people that led to calls by well-meaning individuals to make sure the girl had a bright future by enrolling her in school. A lot of pledges of support poured in with many promising to support her education. One of such was from Mr Abubakar Yahaya, the proprietor of El-Buhaj Royal Academy – a standard private school in Kano – who offered her scholarship.
After a day of an extensive search, the girl named Aisha was located by Tal’udu Roundabout along Kabuga Road, Kano where she helps her mother to fry and sell awara for a living. Three days later, a 3-man delegation visited her mother to inform the family of people’s desire to support her Aisha’s education.
Upon hearing the good news, the mother shed tears of joy, never imagining a day her daughter would be that lucky in life. After a long discussion with the mother, it was learnt that she has been widowed for the past ten years and supports herself and five daughters from the infinitesimal income from the awara that Aisha was pictured frying.
With this realization, the team raised funds to support the mother with food and other necessities even as they kickstart the process to enrol Aisha in school. Initially, the campaign nearly failed due to suspicion from the local traditional authority who suspected some unexplained ulterior motives.
“It was tough getting support from her paternal side, and the local traditional authority,” said Ibrahim Sanyi Sanyi who led the project in support of the girl. “But we overcame that with transparency, patience, dialogue and resilience.”
He added that: “The iconic picture of Aisha reading a book while frying awara struck the right chord in me. That image depicted a multi-tasking teenage girl with the uncharacteristic passion for reading in a public space and of course scholarship, who is not overwhelmed by the social conditions around her.”
After weeks of planning, donations were raised and Aisha was enrolled in a special class at El-Buhaj Royal Academy. A special teacher was assigned to instruct her in a prep class, who later discovered the challenges Aisha must overcome.
“For the few weeks I have been with Aisha as her teacher I can say that her greatest challenge is her inability to speak English,” said the teacher, “but the problem is half-solved as she has already begun her learning process now.”
The experienced teacher immediately put Aisha on an accelerated learning process and made sure she could speak English, improve her communication and reading skills. Within a few weeks, Aisha can write and speak basic English. With supervision, Aisha has been able to perform better than previously expected.
In view of the fact that the management of El-Buhaj Royal Academy has already offered the girl a full scholarship, Mr Ibrahim opened another crowdfunding to raise monies for Aisha’s school stipend and capital for the mother to start a food vending business so as to relieve Aisha from frying awara to support her family.
“People were excited and very supportive with donations,” according to Mr. Ibrahim. “The trustees and other good Samaritans working on the project donated generously to a fund that financed a working capital for Aisha’s mother food vending business and Aisha’s school upkeep costs.”
The story of Aisha is just one out of many, which further highlights the worsening gender inequality and lack of access to education faced by women and girls in Northern Nigeria. There are millions of uneducated girls in the region who despite their passion for learning are disadvantaged by poverty and the nonchalant attitude towards girl-child education.
It is against this backdrop that the group who led Aisha’s project saw the need to expand the program that cover other indigent children. The promoters have started the process of registering a non-profit organization (NGO) that will support exceptional but indigent disadvantaged children like Aisha.
Aliyu Bashir Almusawi is an advocate of gender equality. He lives in Kano, Northern Nigeria