Maimuna's story was shared by Girls Not Brides member Girl Child Concerns
Where I am from, education is disregarded by so many. Everyone wants to be successful, drive flashy cars, wear the most expensive clothes and carry the latest phones. But I believe that education is essential for everyone; it is education that helps people to earn respect and recognition.
In my village, which is in Kaduna State in northern Nigeria, hawking is seen as more productive than educating a child. Kids are married off at a very early age, too. You will see a 12 year old who already has a baby and is tied down with so many responsibilities.
In my community, if a parent allows their female child to reach the age of 15 in the house, they are seen as irresponsible and their children will be insulted. At 15, single girl is considered a disappointment because all of her friends are married. No man in the village will want to marry her.
The only girl in school
I was 14 years old when our village school re-opened. Most parents only sent their male children. But my dad had made up his mind to do whatever it took to send his children to school because he had dropped out when he was very young. I was the only girl in the whole school.
With time, my friends started developing interest. Most of them joined because they found it a way to escape chores and others were impressed by the changes they saw in me. Registration was free so anyone could join the school. As for my mum, she only allowed me to go to school because my dad said so. Every morning she gave me stuff to sell when I got to school.
My teacher noticed my interest in studies. He checked my work and corrected me when I was wrong. Anytime he didn’t see me in school, he’d come all the way home and take me on his bike to school because he didn’t want me to lose interest like others did.
By the time I reached my sixth year of primary school, all of my friends had been married off and my relatives kept pressuring my dad to marry me off too. They said: sending me to school was a bad decision because “Educated children end up spoilt and irresponsible”. But he refused.
My dad, school and training have helped make my dreams come true
One day after I completed primary school, my father asked my cousins and my brothers and sisters what plans we had for the future. I was sure that I didn’t want marriage yet so I spoke out. I told him I wanted to continue my studies to university level. He was impressed by my ambitious response and gave his word to support me even though we didn’t have the money.
Three years into secondary school, with no friends but my Dad, bearing long walks to school and back, hardship, hunger, and no money, I almost gave up. But Girl Child Concerns helped me. They helped pay for my school fees and books and gave me life skills training too. My dad and I have decided that any time I come back home for holidays, I will teach my younger relations, married women and other youths who are interested in the things I have learnt at school, including Islamic knowledge.
Many people are impressed by this action I have taken, and wish they chose school over marriage. My sisters say that once they got married, it’s the same routine all the time: chores, babies and all with no money to take care of themselves. The women I teach tell me that they wish they had had the chance to go to school, even for a day.
Others, especially my relatives, are still against it. Whenever I come back for the holidays they look at me in pity and say: “oh maimuna, so this is the path you have chosen for yourself”. Well, “idan ba’a yi sharan masallaci ba ‘a yi na kasuwa” meaning- one day, in the process of getting western knowledge, I will end up with an unwanted pregnancy. Their words hurt me but I refuse to give up.
When I finish my studies I want to improve health in my community
I have chosen to study health. My community has a large population and an unending problem of early marriage, which means children are born every day. But there is only one hospital, with 6 wards and few attendants. It’s more like a pharmacy or clinic because only minor injuries can be treated. For most problems, they just prescribe panadol, drips and injections, without finding out what the patient’s problem is.
Lives are at risk, and that touches my heart. When I finish my studies I will go back to my village and make a change. To help with the reconstruction of the hospital; treat as many people as possible, assist the pregnant, old and helpless. I believe that with good health we can all work to achieve our dreams. This is the goal I have set for myself and by God’s grace nothing will stop me from achieving it.
I would like to use this as an opportunity to advise or plead any parent who is reading this to allow their children, especially girls, to go to school. Those who have been lucky to go to school should please try to share the knowledge they have acquired with siblings, friends, whoever they can reach out to. We should recognise that “the best gift any parent can give to their child is education”.
VIDEO: Maimuna's story in her own words: Maimuna story
In the time it has taken to read this article 58 girls under the age of 18 have been married
Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18
That is 23 girls every minute
Nearly 1 every 3 seconds