By Msen Nabo (Digital Media Associate, CODE)
One important lesson being in the civil society space has taught me is: “It doesn’t matter how backward you think a people’s culture and beliefs are, you must approach and engage with respect and carefully plan your actions and execute them in ways that doesn’t expose them to more harm”! The goal is to win them over, not prove a point.
You can’t show up scantily dressed to a meeting with stakeholders who have deep rooted culture of being covered up and hope to convince them on why the girl-child belongs in the classroom. These are people from communities whose larger population believes western education does nothing but makes the girl-child go wild, in their words “lalata, karuwance, da rashin kunya” hausa words loosely translated to mean “getting spoilt, turning to harlots and throwing all moral caution to the wind” if anything, showing up dressed in any way other than what conforms to their culture and beliefs only strengthen their resolve to never let their wards see the four walls of a classroom cause in their mind, “I wouldn’t want my daughter dressed like that”
I had the rare privilege of representing our CEO and Malala Fund Champion, Hamzat Lawal at a two-day capacity building workshop for School Monitoring Teams (SMTs) in Adamawa State Northern Nigeria, for the continuation of the ongoing engagement for Girl-child education in the state. A campaign by Connected development with support from Malala Fund.
During the workshop which had stakeholders comprising of religious leaders, teachers, principals, community leaders, students and other key stakeholders, the team assured them of CODE’s commitment to bridge the communication gap between them and the government in providing a safe, conducive learning environment, with WASH facilities, lack of which has been one of many factors why parents don’t enroll their wards.
To further sensitize them, I facilitated a session on the role of social media in amplifying conversations around community needs and guided them on how to sign up, use these platforms, add hashtags and tag the appropriate handles to their posts to achieve desired results.
A key advantage for me on this trip was understanding and speaking hausa fluently which is the Lingua Franca in the North. It was handy in facilitating the workshop both in English and Hausa to further drive the message home and ensure no one was left behind due to language barrier. This, in addition to our appearance, helped shape the conversation and strengthen the feeling of “togetherness” which made them see us as the solution and not the threat.
The end result of the team approaching them with the respect they deserve was an engaging two days where participants were actively involved and made contributions towards addressing issues like insecurity that has been ravaging the region, dilapidated school buildings, understaffing of schools due to lack of trained teachers, and cost of Education. To address these issues, CODE is advocating for 12years free compulsory education in the state and getting the government to commit to recruiting more qualified hands and address insecurity to ensure a safe learning environment.
As we go about seeking to intervene and address injustice in various sectors, I hope we take a step back to look at the broader context. I hope we make a deliberate and conscious effort to put ourselves aside for a moment and “DO NO HARM” while trying to help. The cause will always be bigger than us!