It’s that time of year again – Back to School. Vacations are over, and it’s once more time to pick up the serious work of learning. For students, (and teachers), it’s often a difficult moment – after the long summer vacation, the back to school blues set in; those long, lazy summer days are finally over.
But what we need to remember in all of this is that education is something that often tends to be taken for granted. What we sometimes forget is that around the world, for millions of children, education is something that happens to someone else. For many, education remains a privilege, not a right.
We all know about the Millennium Development Goals - or we should. The second Millennium Development Goal: “Achieve Universal Primary Education” is in second position, just after “Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger”, for a reason; without universal education, the chances of effecting real and lasting change, of empowering people to take charge of their lives, are slim.
Take the example of Fatuma, a 15 year old Somali girl who grew up in the Dadaab refugee camp in North Eastern Kenya. Fatuma could have stayed in one-roomed shack in the refugee camp where she grew up, helping her mother collect water and firewood in the daily effort to survive. She could have missed out on a secondary education and got married at 15, as so many girls do. Instead, Fatuma won a scholarship to the Kenya Girls High School in Nairobi.
What sets Fatuma apart in her school is not just the fact that she wears her veil to school, it is her ready smile and fierce determination to succeed. In an environment and culture where opportunities for girls, especially regarding education, are few and far between, Fatuma, thanks in part to her innate intelligence, and also to the determination of her mother, Fosio Jama Salat, is set to succeed. As Fatuma’s mother says:
“It was me that was taking care that she should not marry. I want her to learn something. To help herself and us… If she studies something, she can first help herself and then help her mother. Because ignorance means darkness.”
WFP also provides meals to the children in the camp schools, and Fatuma remembers just how important that daily meal was throughout her education in the camp school:
“We used to drink porridge in class, and it helped us. You find yourself hungry, and you are in class, and you have lessons to revise and do all that stuff, so it was a refreshment. In Dadaab you depend on that food.”
So what can be done to make a difference, and help to achieve the second Millennium Development Goal by 2015? Well, we can ensure that we don’t take education for granted; we can take action to raise awareness about the issues in our communities and teach about global issues in our schools; and above all, we can remember that education represents a future for the young people like Fatuma all around the world who are trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.
Fatuma’s story gives us confidence, an assurance that there is an alternative. Let's make sure we do our part.