On 15th August 2020 when schools were all still closed due to Covid-19 pandemic, a photo of Aisha reading a storybook on the roadside while still fraying Awara (tofu) for sale quickly went viral on social media. The photo captured people’s attention 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 which is from including Mr Abubakar Yahaya, a proprietor of El-Buhaj Royal Academy, a standard private school in Kano who offered her a scholarship.
After a day of an extensive search, the girl named Aisha was located on Tal’udu Roundabout along Kabuga Road, Kano where she helps her mother to fry and sell awara for a living. Three days later a delegation of three people visited her mother to notify her of people’s desire to support her daughter’s education.
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 discovered that she has been widowed for the past 10 years and supports herself and 5 daughters from the infinitesimal income from the awara that Aisha was pictured frying. Upon this realization, the team rushed to support the mother with food and other necessities even as they kickstart the process to enrol Aisha in school even though the campaign was initially scuttled by suspicion from the local traditional authority who suspected that it had an ulterior motive.
“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.”
After weeks of planning and individual donations, Aisha was enrolled in a special class at El-Buhaj Royal Academy in Kano. A special teacher was assigned to her, who later discovered the challenges Aisha must overcome.
“For the few weeks I have been with Aisha Abdullahi 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 on communication and reading skills. Within a few weeks, Aisha can write and speak Basic English terms. With supervision, Aisha has been able to perform better than previously expected.
“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.”
As the management of El-Buhaj Royal Academy has already offered the girl a full scholarship, which meant that Aisha can no longer fry awara to support her fragile mother, Mr Ibrahim opened another crowdfunding to cater for Aisha’s basic needs such as transport fare and capital for the mother to start a food vending business.
“People were excited and very supportive 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 education are disadvantaged by poverty and the nonchalant attitude shown to girl-child education.
It is against this backdrop that the group who led Aisha’s project saw the need to expand the program that can include other poor children to get an education and have started the process to register a non-profit that will support exceptional and diligent disadvantaged children like Aisha.