Naomi, 17, is a peer educator in FHI 360’s Four Pillars PLUS project in Nigeria. The Four Pillars PLUS project, funded by the GE Foundation, uses the model of scholarships, teacher professional development, mentoring of girls and community participation to improve the quality and relevance of education for orphans and other children, especially girls, in secondary school. An additional key component of the project is addressing the challenges of youth employment by helping young women successfully transition from school to the workforce.
Naomi is one of four youth delegates to this week’s 2014 InterAction Forum in Washington, DC. In this Q&A, she discusses her experience with the Four Pillars PLUS project and her views on girls’ education.
What prevents girls in Nigeria from receiving a quality education?
Girls in Nigeria face many obstacles. These include high school fees, gender inequality and other social pressures that cause them to drop out. Security is a big risk for many girls, especially since the recent kidnappings. Some girls are just too afraid to go to class. The conditions at school can also be a challenge. My class has 50 students and no fan. Some classrooms have no ceiling, no fan and even more students. At certain times of the day, like when the sun is directly overhead, it is too hot for students to even sit in the classroom and impossible for them to concentrate and learn.
Some policies also limit girls. If a girl is pregnant, she cannot return to school after she has her baby. One mistake should not be the end of a girl’s education.
How has the Four Pillars PLUS helped you overcome these challenges?
Without this project, I would not have been able to afford my secondary education. For many girls, the cost of secondary education is the barrier that causes them to drop out. The Four Pillars PLUS project paid for my school fees, textbooks and school uniform. Beyond that, the project provides mentors in school and in the community who teach life skills and help us to make good decisions so that we can continue with our education.
What is involved in being a peer educator and what made you decide to do it?
As a peer educator, I give support and counsel to other girls to handle problems in and out of school. For example, teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS are real issues in Nigeria. If a girl becomes pregnant, she is not allowed to stay in school or return after she has her baby. My home community has one of the highest percentages of HIV/AIDS in the country. I teach my peers how to say “no” to advances from men, which helps to reduce teen pregnancy and infection. I do this because I believe that one smile can save a soul. Even if I cannot help my peers financially, I can give them my smile.
Why is the Four Pillars PLUS project so important?
As more girls learn about the project, more girls are looking forward to being part of it. We need this project to help reduce gender inequality, because it is still very difficult for girls to attend and complete secondary school. Some in the community do not believe girls need to go to school, but all of the girls in the project want to continue on to university. I hope that this project can help many more girls.
Naomi recently won the Best Speaker Award in the Nigerian National Inter-Secondary School Debate Championship. She is applying to university, where she hopes to study medicine.