Written by Godfrey AKON

UNICEF’s cash program ignites hope for Uwani’s 3 daughters

Over 23, 000 girls in Sokoto and Niger States benefited from UNCEF’s Cash Transfer Programme, CTP, executed under the third phase of the UK Department for International Development, DFID, Girls Education Project, GEP3. Aimed at tackling poverty-related causes hampering girl child enrolment in schools, the programme brought hope to Sumaya, Amina and Asmau Abdullahi. Godfrey AKON reports.

As promotion exam approaches, Sumaya, Amina and Asmau Abdullahi hope to move a step further in their ambitions. Each term, the trio’s aspirations of becoming a medical doctor, a soldier and a banker respectively, take a significant leap as they sit for class exams.

Growing up in a society fraught with low school enrolment among girls, and poverty as a leading cause, the Abdullahis’ spur and courage to carve out career paths and set out to pursue them one-step-at-a-time, indicates the optimism the girls and their caregiver have mustered.

Like many other girls across Nigeria’s rural communities where poverty remains a leading cause of low school enrolment, their history is rife with tales of deprivation and neglect as their indigent caregivers eked out a living from menial jobs with large families. 

Nigeria’s basic education policies envisage every child deserving affordable and quality education, but constraints to the realisation of the well-intended objectives are visible in the widespread lack among caregivers in addition to social, religious and cultural problems.

For 27-year old Uwani Abdullahi’s three daughters, their dreams came with hope and the wonderful possibilities it represents when the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, enlisted them as beneficiaries of its Unconditional Cash Transfer Programme, CTP, which started in 2014.

According to Uwani, the CTP not only inspired her to enrol her daughters in New Rimawa Model School, Goronyo Local Government, Sokoto State, it also birthed courage, resourcefulness and strengthened her resolve to support them through school.

“I benefited from the cash transfer programme and I am using the money to purchase school uniforms, and part of it to take care of my household in terms of buying food; my dream is to ensure that my children are retained, complete primary school and progress to junior secondary school up to tertiary level in order to have a good future,” she said.

The mother of four had been married-off early in life and struggled to raise Sumaya, Amina and Asmau in abject poverty. Unable to afford schooling for her 3 daughters, hope dimmed as they stayed out of school uncertain of what the future holds.

Sokoto offers free basic education, but like many girls in that region, the gesture was not sufficient to attract their enrolment.  While they had little idea snubbing school was harmful to their future, their parents could not afford their books, stationeries, uniforms, and other associated costs.

But today, the 3 girls are among 23,000 others in Niger and Sokoto States who have drawn inspiration from UNICEF’s Cash Transfer programme to pursue relevance through formal education.

UNICEF’s CTP, which is implemented under Girls Education Project 3, GEP3, funded by the UK Department for International Development, DFID, is now being sustained in Sokoto by the Sokoto State Government.

Under the CTP, female caregivers of girls within the ages of 6 and 15 are supported with the sum of N5, 000 each per transfer, three terms a year. Initiators of the programme insist that the money is not payment for parents to enrol their wards in school but an incentive to reduce the growing number of the over 10.5 million out-of-school children in the country.

While the primary aim of the CTP was to boost girl child enrolment in the catchment areas, the far-reaching impact of the programme was the growth of household incomes, increase in expenditures and motivation among caregivers to engage in small businesses.

Azuka Menkiti, the UNICEF Education Specialist in Nigeria, said the programme significantly increased the income of poor households up to 15.9 per cent and 12.6 per cent in Niger and Sokoto States respectively; adding that “the change in average weekly income of caregivers in Niger and Sokoto States was N1,123.40 and N419.91 respectively.”

Menkiti said “Evidence from the results of the analysis attest to the effectiveness of the CTP in removing financial barriers to girls’ enrolment and attendance at school in Niger and Sokoto States.”

She added that “68.9 per cent and 60.7 per cent of caregivers interviewed in Niger and Sokoto States respectively stated that the CTP has to a very large extent helped in removing financial barriers to girls’ enrolment and attendance at school.”

The success story of the cash transfer programme notwithstanding, failure to roll out a sustainability programme after two years of ending the CTP could reverse all the gains made during the programme as indicated by report.

To avoid a burble and burst situation, the Sokoto and Niger State Governments have undertaken to sustain the CTP and ensure increased girls enrolment, retention and completion of school.

While the state sustainability programme in Sokoto is thriving, during a Media Dialogue in Sokoto State, one of the facilitators, Dr Dayo Ogundimu, advocated a bottom up approach where caregivers capacity is built to sustain themselves beyond the cash disbursement.

Ogundimu’s position is part of the sensitisation and awareness campaign that was embedded in the CTP, which has been embraced by Uwani. Although dotted with prospects, the Abdullahis are not under any illusion of an easy journey through their career paths but are displaying sheer determination to steer through and achieve their ambitions.

To ensure her daughters’ dreams come true, Uwani disclosed that she has joined “local contribution” and any time soon, her money will be paid and used to purchase goats for the purpose of selling them to fund her children’s education.

Elated Uwani expressed determination not to withdraw her children even if the CTP stops, stressing “I cannot stop my children from going to school even if the programme stops; I will make sure that through my small business, they are retained in school.”

She however appealed to UNICEF to allow the programme continue while assuring that she was not completely relying on the cash transfer money for her daughters’ education.

The mother of four said she also engages in laundry services for wealthier neighbours in order to save some money for her children’s education.

While Uwani’s optimism indicates a huge breakthrough in parental involvement on the enrolment of their children in that part of the country, the cash transfer programme now being sustained by the Sokoto State Government has thrown up infrastructural challenges as the growth in school population is overstretching available facilities.

The New Rimawa Model Primary School attended by Sumaya, Amina and Asmau lack basic school furniture as pupils take lessons while sitting on bare floor. There is also gross shortage of teachers; for instance, only 11 teachers are available to cater for a population of 1170 pupils, representing a ratio of 106 students to 1 teacher.







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