A route for most to school

In Bassan Jiwa, a rustic hamlet on the fringes of Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, children of school age make tough choices to getting education. Chineme Okafor writes

“We follow this road to school, through this water and it is not good because we have to swim inside the water,” said 15-year-old Blessing David, a class five female student of the Government Secondary School.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day and the UNESCO is celebrating it under the banner, ‘Reading the Past, Writing the Future’.

But what exactly does the theme mean? It means in very simple terms, societies looking back to their past actions and mistakes on educating their people to pick lessons that could advise their future actions on educating their people.

In the context of reading the past, has Blessing’s experience always been the case in Bassan Jiwa?
“During my time, that stream was the only route to school, we either swam past or forgot going to school, not now that they have the choice of bike and a dry road,” affirmed Gomina Ayuba: A young Bassan Jiwa community leader, who led THISDAY through Bassan Jiwa’s nooks and crannies, patiently explaining how community folks contend with their livelihood challenges. He said he passed through the same route to school before he graduated in 2003

Situated on the periphery of Abuja’s International Airport, Bassan Jiwa has over 300 households living in it. Even though it is reportedly a legitimate settlement, it has no single infrastructure to indicate that it is within or part of the opulent Abuja. Its only primary school is glorified and offers very little in value to its attendees.

Bassan Jiwa is divided into two – upland and lowland, with residents on the lowland apparently fortunate to be closer to this only ill-equipped primary school, as well as a poorly structured government secondary school located right within the airport compound. It is on these two schools that the community rely to educate its children.

As told to THISDAY by her pupils, getting to school on school days for those of them in the secondary school – Government Secondary School Airforce Base, involves two things – a swim through a narrow flowing brook, or a minimum trek time of 35 minutes from their homes through a dry route. Either choices, they said come with its consequences, and all of which make education not so handy for them.

“We either follow this route or go through the main road with bike. But going through the main road means that you have to pay for bike and if we don’t have money to pay for bike, it is compulsory we have to follow here and it is closer too.

“We walk inside when the water is not much, but when it is much we swim through it. At that time, it can get to above my belly area and even up further, but when that happens, we have to pull our skirts, fold them into our bags and swim across.

“It is closer and we have to follow this route, but I don’t go through it when I’m in my monthly cycle,” Blessing added.

Blessing David and others including male students have to swim because there is no bridge across the water. Going through this route every day to school, they face real risks. These risks include drowning, disease infection, and possible reptile and insect attacks.

Along the water route is a thick sugarcane plantation and shrubs that extend into the stream, these could harbor dangerous reptiles and insects such as snakes, scorpions and other stinging insects.

The students said they’ve never been attacked by reptiles on their swim across to school but that three young pupils had in the past drowned in the river when they attempted to swim across on a day it had very high flows.

When it rains or shines, pupils whose primary option to school is the stream, have to go in or take other options which include trekking through the longer dry route or forfeit school totally for that day.

For some students, they are either provided bike fare or made to wake up very early to do their morning chores before setting off to school. This option, one of such ‘privileged’ pupils, Basirat, said has also not come with ease.

“When the bike drops me, I have to walk small to get to school. Maybe seven or 10 minutes, I have not calculated it but then I have to be fast or I will still not meet up with the beginning of the first period,” Basirat explained.

She said if she hopped on the bike, it costs her parents N100 each time but that such luxury does not come every day, hence the inevitability of her missing at least an early morning period in school each time she trekked.

Basirat said her home was quite some distance away from the stream, which makes it quite unreasonable to go through the stream. She added that it would amount to almost the same time walking through the dry main road to school and using the stream path.

She told THISDAY though that she has never used the stream route to school and that she either walked or go on bikes to school.

According to Basirat, it take her 25 minutes on the minimum to walk to school from her home, while a ride on bikes to school do not absolutely guarantee her early attendance to classes given that she also has to make the short walk to school from the cutoff point that bikes are allowed to get to at the airport.

It is in knowing that these factors could have negative impacts on the literacy ability of Bassan Jiwa’s children and against the particular context of working closely with the Centre for Media Information and Narrative Development (MIND), a non-profit organisation that pushes to strengthen the public voices of groups who rarely have a chance to air their views in public – including women and girls, that THISDAY is putting the challenge of access to literacy in Bassan Jiwa on the front burner on this occasion of 2016 International Literacy Day.

“Bassan Jiwa is quite peculiar, the mothers complain that their children have health issues which are traceable to the stream. They complained that they have rashes or pee blood and when they go to hospitals, the doctors relate these to the water, that is something that is unique to Bassan Jiwa in all the communities we have worked,” said Ummi Bukar, a project manager in MIND.

Bukar further said that for grown up school girls who are on their monthly cycle, their chances of missing school for that period was quite high.

“They cannot go through that stream if they are in their periods because the school does not even have water for them to wash with, and so I can imagine two things happening, it is either they miss out on school at that time or use the alternative route.

“Some of the mothers admitted that their girls don’t go to school at that period because they are not adequately prepared,” she added.

Bukar also shared some of the striking data MIND got from its Gender Needs Assessment (GNA) survey in Bassa, which buttressed claims that it could be difficult for community folks getting education for their children.

“Of the respondents in Bassan Jiwa, 55 per cent dropped out of school, 23 per cent dropped out because they cannot afford the school fees, 15 per cent are out of school because of the distance to the school, 21 per cent dropped out because of high cost of materials and 15 per cent because of money requests by staff.

“Complaints about schools in Bassan Jiwa, 26 per cent of respondents complained about lack of teaching materials, 28 per cent of respondents say the schools lack toilets, 26 per cent of respondents complain about water and sanitation and 26 per cent complain about sexual harassment and bullying. These are some of the most striking data that came out of the GNA we conducted,” Bukar explained.

Against the backdrop of these realities of urban poverty in Bassan Jiwa, it becomes pertinent to ask how much of its feature can urban poor communities write as the world celebrates International Literacy Day 2016.