Like many parents in Emonu-Orogun community in Delta State, and indeed across Nigeria, their opinion was that a daughter’s worth was in getting married young and bearing children. Only in this way does she become a favourite child and a blessing to the nation.
For this reason, Patience was not permitted to continue her education after secondary school. School was seen as an unnecessary cost and a distraction. Instead she was made to stay at home waiting for a suitor to come and marry her so she could ‘fulfil her duty’ of bearing children.
Patience, now 23 years old, did as her parents dictated but was deeply unhappy. “I cry anytime I see some of my classmates whom I do better than in academics, who are now in higher institution,” she says. “I feel sad whenever I see them during weekends and holidays.
Also my parents would beat me with cane - mostly my mother - when she hear me talk of going to school or anything related to education, as I was warned severely to wake up from the dream of going to higher institution.
One day the town crier announced the start of a new youth-focused programme in the community; it was called Peer Education Training on HIV/AIDS. Its purpose was to educate youths on HIV/AIDS and sexual and reproductive health and then to empower and train them to become peer educators in their communities. Patience, with her constant desire to learn, was quick to join. She was among 1500 teenagers in 12 communities in Delta Sate who benefited from this programme by ENVIRUMEDIC and ActionAid.
At the end of the training, Patience was nominated as the coordinator of the Peer Educator group in her community. She had shown a strong commitment and was among the few girls in her community who could read, write and communicate well in English. She held many sensitization sessions with her peers and even older people within her reach; be it in schools, around her neighbourhood, at social gatherings or in public, social places.
Her leadership position, along with the skills and knowledge she acquired through the training, spurred Patience into deciding to take the University Matriculation Examination (UME) to study Industrial Chemistry and Petrol Chemical Technology.
She did not tell her parents, but the news of her successful examination results reached them through her uncle.
Her parents resisted to her schooling – vigorously. But with the support of her uncle, Patience was able to convince them to allow her to attend. They swore, however, never to contribute a dime to her university education.
Luckily, Patience was able to pay for her enrolment to Delta State University with the little money she had saved from clearing brush and farms for people in her community. ‘’I am a very happy girl now that am in school studying the course of my choice,” Patience says, smiling.
The impact of ENIVRUMEDIC and ActionAid’s programme on the youths – and specifically the female youths - in Emonu-Orogun community has been immense, says Patience. It is not only that they have learned how to protect themselves from HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies, she explains, they have also been empowered by the knowledge and the trainings to make decisions, speak up and take control of their lives and futures. Patience links the increase of female enrolment in higher education in her community directly to the programme. “Just this year 14 girls gained admission into different institutions as against [the usual] one or two," she says.
Yet it is not just the young participants who have benefited from the programme. Patience’s parents, for example, have also been significantly impacted. And as an extension, so have her sisters and other members of her community. As Patience explains:
When I came back home after my first semester examination, my parents had a mix feeling of me… With my present knowledge and skill I now engage my parents on talk concerning early marriage and other cultural norms which they practice. Gradually they are beginning to see things differently. Today they encourage and support my education in fees and bills. They also make sure my younger siblings who are girls take their education seriously so that they too can get better education before marriage. My father is now the one advocating for a change over parents forcing their children into early marriage rather than allowing them to pursue their set dreams in life.
With young participants like Patience who are committed to creating lasting change in their communities, the effect of ENVIRUMEDIC’S programme extends well beyond the 1500 youths reached; countless more individuals will be impacted, and their changes cannot but affect generations to come.
As for Patience, she is now in her 300 class, studying hard and looking forward to seeing where her new life takes her when she graduates in 2015.
By: Lucky Enegide, Programme Officer for Environmental and Rural Mediation Centre (ENVIRUMEDIC), an ActionAid Local Rights Programme partner