La Jolla girls raise awareness, funds for education in Nigeria

In recognition of the International Day of the Girl Child (Oct. 11) — a United Nations event aimed at empowering adolescent girls across the world — five girls representing La Jolla High School and Muirlands Middle School tasked themselves with raising awareness about the struggles girls in Nigeria face trying to get an education. They are also raising money to send girls to a school facilitated by the non-profit organization The Center for Girls Education, under the auspice of Champions for Change.

In the months leading up to the International Day of the Girl Child, La Jolla students Isha Raj-Silverman, Sofia Rodriguez, Amaya Duncan, Emma Fish and Sabrina Duong researched the challenges Nigerian girls face and engaged in a cultural exchange in which the American and Nigerian girls posed questions to each other about their lives and what education is like in their respective countries. The girls presented their findings at the International day of the Girl Child celebration, held at USCD.

“We wanted to learn about their experiences in getting an education and why it’s worth it to them despite the dangers involved,” said Isha, a freshman at La Jolla High. “They really want to get an education — even though they could be kidnapped — because it’s a way for them to empower themselves and help their communities.” (The kidnapping of 276 girls by Islamist extremists Boko Haram in April has sparked global outrage and an online campaign, Bring Back Our Girls. The girls were taking exams at a boarding school in Nigeria at the time of the kidnapping.)

Because the school is privately run, Isha said it is a safer alternative to most schools in Nigeria, but the girls are still aware that they face danger in getting there. “One girl said she walks miles to school every day despite the danger. It’s that important to them,” Isha said. “Getting an education is a way for them to escape some of that and a way for them to contribute to their community. Some of the women we spoke to said by being educated they could help other women facing the same issues.”

Isha recalled one girl who said she wanted to be a doctor because women in her northern Nigeria village were dying because their husbands didn’t want them going to a male doctor.

Emma, an eighth-grader at Muirlands, said she was taken aback by one of the questions sent to her from Nigeria. “They asked if we got flogged for breaking school rules,” she said. “Flogging was something we never heard of.”

Sofia, a freshman at La Jolla High, added that there are some areas In Nigeria where there is only one school, so flogging (whipping as a means of torture) was preferable to being expelled.

“I knew that there were some countries where girls couldn’t get an education ... but I didn’t realize that even in countries where it is allowed, it’s still dangerous for them,” said Amaya, also a freshman at La Jolla High.

Although the International Day of the Girl Child has passed, the La Jolla girls intend to continue their efforts. They discussed starting a school club and speaking at assemblies to raise awareness — and hopefully some money.

“It only costs 24 American dollars to send a girl in Nigeria to school for a year (through The Center for Girls Education),” Sofia said. “I feel like there is more we should be doing, and I’d like to try.”

The girls also plan to research other countries in which they could offer help with getting girls a formal education.

Isha spearheads the group, and said she has had a longtime interest in the topic. “My interest started when I was 11 and I heard about Malala Yousafzai (the human rights advocate who was shot in the head while attempting to go to school in Pakistan) and I realized she was only a few years older than me and she was shot just for going to school,” Isha said. Upon further research, she found out the shooting happened a few miles from where her grandfather lived. “In another life, that could have been me,” Isha said. “I could have been shot. I could have been barred from getting an education.

“I identify as a girl who is good at schoolwork and academically oriented. To have that taken away from me, to not be able to read — which is one of my favorite things to do — shocked me because I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t getting an education and didn’t have that part of my identity.”

Students keep in contact with their Nigerian counterparts and continue to raise money for the cause of sending girls to school.

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